Israel's international reputation as a target for suicide bombings and terrorist infiltrations has scared off tourists for years. But now, that might be what brings them back.
The Israel Challenge Experience's (ICE) army fantasy camp, to open in May, lets tourists spend a week getting "anti-terror training" from the IDF experts.
"Unfortunately Israel has become the world leader in fighting terrorism. Who better to train with than the people who have written the book on antiterror warfare?" asks ICE president Ben Goldstein, a Memphis native who made aliya and served in the Givati Brigade.
So while Israelis jet off to Istanbul and Goa to get away from it all, foreigners can plunk down $3,600, plus air fare, and take a relaxing break in the thick of terrorist warfare.
In seven days, participants are trained in shooting, hand-to-hand fighting, surveillance, hostage rescue and more, culminating in a staged battle on the final day.
While other fantasy camp vacations let you break the sound barrier on Russian MiGs or herd cattle a la Billy Crystal in City Slickers, this mock adventure offers much more practical experience for the post-9/11 world.
Goldstein estimates that the daily training in hand-to-hand combat, for instance, could help you ward off a mugger if confronted by one. And, he says, "If you find yourself on a hijacked bus and you just happen to have a mini-Uzi on you, then, yeah, you definitely have an advantage over somebody who didn't come on this program."
He adds, "That's why we call it fantasy. Because most likely you'll never never have to storm a house full of terrorists or rescue hostages on a bus."
That's apparently a disappointing thought to the 275 people, from Australia to Switzerland, who have e-mailed Goldstein with inquiries about the program. On the first day of registration alone, six people signed up to spend their May holiday in the training camp, located near Netanya.
"Most of your friends were sitting in a cubicle all week, and here you were leading a unit into an attack on a terrorist camp," said Goldstein, explaining the program's appeal. "I run across very few people who wouldn't like to spend some time being James Bond."
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