Israeli travelers avoid Turkey

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Israelis are cancelling planned trips to Turkey, in the wake of tensions following the killing of nine Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound aid ship convoy. That could have an impact on the Turkish economy. Matthew Brunwasser reports from Antalya, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, one of Israelis' favorite international vacation spots.

MARCO WERMAN: A favorite destination of many Israeli tourists is Turkey. But Israel has urged its citizens to put off travel plans to the country. Tensions between Israel and Turkey have been high since last week. That's when Israeli commandos raided aid ships heading for Gaza. Nine Turks were killed. Anti-Israeli demonstrations followed in Turkey and thousands of Israelis have canceled trips there. Matthew Brunwasser reports from one of the prime vacation spots of Israeli tourists Antalya, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

MATTHEW BRUNWASSER: In this bazaar in the center of Antalya, shop keeper Hussein Koseoglu has been selling traditional Turkish clothes to tourists for more than 30 years.

HUSSEIN KOSEOGLU: I think that they behave silly. I can tell you that.

BRUNWASSER: Koseoglu says there's no good reason for Israelis to stay away from Turkey. There are no safety concerns, he says, nor have there ever been. And while he notices the absence of Israeli tourists, Koseoglu says it's not that big a deal. The number of Israeli tourists in Turkey has gone up and down along with the two countries' rocky political relations.

KOSEOGLU: Israelis are not our only customers. Turkey is a big country and we still have the Europeans, we still have Russians, there are so many people coming all around the world.

BRUNWASSER: Two years ago more than half a million Israeli tourists visited Turkey. This number fell by 45% last year, following tensions around Israel's incursion into Gaza. The numbers were going back up, until the shock of last week's raid on the Gaza bound flotilla. Yashar Sobutay is the owner of Pamfilya, a tour agency which has worked with Israelis for decades.

YASHAR SOBUTAY: Sometimes business goes down, but never stopped this much. All the reservations and flights are canceled until end of June.

BRUNWASSER: Sobutay says he lost a quarter of his business in an instant. But he is not laying off staff because he expects it to pick up again. If the politicians would sit down and work things out, he says, tourism would flourish again.

SOBUTAY: It will start again. But it will take time, not like before. Before it was they were forgetting one week, two weeks later and the reservations were starting. But this time I'm afraid it will take a few months, maybe more.

BRUNWASSER: The bar in this huge hotel overlooking the sea was once popular with Israelis. Kagan Akturks' family owns a car rental company with an office here. He says he's always had warm feelings for Israelis, but now it's different. He says the tensions will cost him between two and three thousand dollars, but he doesn't mind.

KAGAN AKTURK: I'm really happy. Because one of the country have to show behaviors of Israeli people, Israeli government. It's not right.

BRUNWASSER: The Turks' feeling of injustice can be felt back at the bazaar too. Asked about the Israelis who no longer come, shop owner Sevil Kaya says good riddance.

INTERPRETER: Israeli people see Turks as inferior. They are trying to hurt Turkey's reputation. The government is telling Israelis not to go shopping in Turkey. They look down on Muslims and they're trying to finish off a Muslim nation. There is a war going on and I don't want them here either. I don't like them.

BRUNWASSER: At the same time, Kaya admits she does miss the Israelis business. Despite the anger expressed by Kaya and many others around Turkey, salesman Mehmed Karakush says Israelis have never had to worry about their physical safety in Turkey, not even now.

INTERPRETER: If an Israeli tourist arrived here today, I wouldn't punch him in the face. I wouldn't so much as give him a dirty look. These killings were caused by politicians and military commanders, not by ordinary Israeli citizens.

BRUNWASSER: The Turkish Prime Minister today repeated his insistence that he would not tolerate any different treatment for Israeli tourists in Turkey, Israeli diplomats, or Turkish Jews. While the world watches how the crisis unfolds, Antalya is following developments from a different angle. The high season for tourism starts up in July. For The World, I'm Matthew Brunwasser, Antalya, Turkey.