This post has been updated following the lifting of the FAA ban.
JERUSALEM, Israel — The US Federal Aviation Administration's suspension of all US carriers arrivals and departures from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport lasted only 36 hours, but hit Israelis like a punch to the gut.
Transport Ministry Director General Uzi Itzhaki called it an "unfortunate, miserable decision" and said he hoped it would be reversed quickly.
On Wednesday night, when the FAA renewed its directive for a further 24 hours, only 27 out of the hundred carriers that normally serve the bustling airport were active, and the transportation reporter for Israel's Channel2 news referred to the impasse perhaps hyperbolically as "a national crisis, with tens of thousands of Israelis stuck abroad.”
By Thursday morning, having "carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," the FAA announced the ban had been lifted.
The FAA's original decision came after a rocket, it claims — or merely the shard of one intercepted and shot down by Israel's anti-missile system Iron Dome, claim Israeli authorities — fell in the town of Yehud, about a mile from the airport.
Leisure travel may sound like a luxury during wartime, but for Israelis, the summer season is a sacred thing.
So hallowed is the tradition of vacationing during the hot months of summer that some 4,000 Israelis found themselves trapped in Turkey, unable to come home, when European carriers followed suit — and Israeli airlines, still flying, could not land in Turkey due to a two-month-old travel advisory.
The trapped tourists? They had simply ignored the advisory.
Late Wednesday night, Israel was organizing an elaborate air and ship convoy using neighboring countries to bring its citizens stuck in Turkey home.
Israelis' sense of their society as open and accessible was dealt a heavy blow by what authorities in Jerusalem universally referred to as an attempt to curtail freedom of movement.
"We won't give Hamas a prize for affecting normal life in Israel," Itzhaki asserted.
Yitzhak Ahaonovich, the minister of internal security, echoed him in an interview with Israel Army Radio, saying, "It’s a miserable decision. There was never any danger to the airport. I was there and I know exactly where [the rocket] fell. It is far from the airport."
Many observers assumed the FAA was particularly jumpy only days after a Malaysia Airlines flight was downed over eastern Ukraine, but Giora Romm, the director general of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority, dismissed the comparisons in frustration.
Speaking to Reuters, he rejected any association between the relatively primitive ballistic rockets launched out of Gaza and the high-tech missile believed to have downed MH17.
"I am a little upset by the hysteria from that rocket [from Gaza]," he said. "One of the most unbelievable arguments is that there is a connection with rockets and the ground-to-air missile that shot down the Malaysian aircraft in Ukraine."
Some observers, such as American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, saw in the FAA decision a victory for the Israeli right, which has long claimed West Bank settlements can never be abandoned because of the danger of an armed Palestinian state mere yards from Israel's only international airport.
Hamas' victory over Ben-Gurion Airport may very well mean that Israel holds the West Bank forever. Congratulations, everyone.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) July 22, 2014
From the opposite perspective, elsewhere in the US, far-right critics of the Obama administration argued that the FAA move was the action of a generally anti-Israel administration, using the FAA to force Israel to a premature ceasefire that would end the Gaza conflict.
Meanwhile, defying the ban, US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv for another leg of his determined pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
And former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg flew in, too. Earlier he declared: "This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel. Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely."
But the last word of the long night was had by Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's leader in exile, speaking in Doha. It appeared to confirm the opinion of those who believe that Hamas, frustrated by the lack of casualties caused by its constant barrage of rockets — 80 were launched into Israel on Wednesday, according to the IDF — and stymied by Israel's ground assault on its network of tunnels, is trying to hit Israel where it hurts: at its cosmopolitan port.
"What is happening in Ben Gurion today is a taste of what we suffer from. Continue to surround us and we will surround you."