Israeli tour guide reveals how Oct. 7 massacre changed her views, talks Israel's tourism decline

Woman standing at The Old Town with the Dome of the Rock at the sunset from Mount of Olives
Woman standing at The Old Town with the Dome of the Rock at the sunset from Mount of Olives | Getty Images

EIN GEDI, Israel — An Israeli tour guide highlighted the dramatic drop in the number of tourists she has led through the Holy Land since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre and the ensuing war, a tragedy that the guide says changed her views about the Israeli military and how she believes the country should handle security issues. 

Sharon Pelleg has escorted various groups and families through Israel in her 15 years as a tour guide. Before the Oct. 7 attacks, Pelleg said her schedule was booked through the end of 2024. In an interview with The Christian Post, the guide said she typically leads tours around 200 days a year.

Israeli tour guide Sharon Pelleg leading a tour through Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in Israel on June 2, 2024.
Israeli tour guide Sharon Pelleg leading a tour through Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in Israel on June 2, 2024. | Samantha Kamman/The Christian Post

“I always thought I wanted to do something with extra meaning, not only for myself,” Pelleg said about the reason she became a tour guide, noting that she's a people person so it was a natural fit. As a guide, Pelleg added that she's able to share her knowledge and recount stories to those who visit. 

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“I felt that I’m doing something for my country,” Pelleg said, listing another reason why she became a guide. “And I always wanted to do something for my country.”

Since Hamas' attacks, however, Pelleg said she's only spent nine days guiding a tour within the last six months. The rapid decline in the number of tourists visiting Israel is a result of Hamas' attacks, which resulted in the murders of at least 1,200 people and the abduction of over 240 others, followed by Israel's war against the terrorist group in Gaza. Threatening activity from the Iran-backed group Hezbollah and Iran itself may also be a reason for the tourism drop.

Citing data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, The Jerusalem Post reported in May that some foreign airlines have resumed flights to Israel; however, tourism in the country hasn't fully recovered. According to the data, 206,700 tourists entered the country between January and March, a notable decline compared to the 966,200 tourists who visited during the same time last year. 

While the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported that tourist entries went from 68,100 in February to 79,500 in March, this number is significantly lower than the 375,600 tourist entries in March 2023. 

Pelleg urged prospective tourists not to fear traveling to Israel, stating that “life is basically normal,” and most of the dangers are to the North or near the Gaza border. According to the guide, Israelis residing in the center of the country have continued to live their lives with almost no changes. 

“Don’t forget that this is a very stable society, very warm and very protective, and very well-organized,” she said. “People here live their everyday lives regularly.” 

On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces worked in collaboration with the Israel Security Agency and Israel Police to rescue four Israeli hostages from Hamas captivity. The operation resulted in the successful retrieval of hostages Noa Argamani, Almog Meir, Andrei Kozlov and Shlomi Ziv, who were kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7 during the Supernova music festival near Re’im, Israel. 

After the announcement of the hostages’ rescue, Pelleg recalled that she “cried [her] eyes out,” but many people in her neighborhood went outside to dance in celebration. She explained that many in Israel have become invested in the hostages’ stories, particularly Argamani. A video of the young woman on the back of a motorcycle being forcibly taken to Gaza on Oct. 7 had circulated widely on social media. 

Prior to Oct. 7, the Israeli tour guide said she believed her country’s military should be a volunteer force similar to the U.S. armed forces. She also thought the country could settle for a smaller military force and rely more on technology instead. After Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7, however, Pelleg said she no longer holds those beliefs.

On the morning of Oct. 7, Pelleg recalled driving to Haifa to lead a tour of about 20 people on a cruise ship. She remembered panicking when she first heard the news over the radio, as it was unclear if the Hamas militants would enter Haifa. 

After learning that the terror attacks were farther away, Pelleg said she continued her tour, not realizing the immense scale of the attacks. When her tour concluded that afternoon, Pelleg said she received a phone call from her eldest daughter alerting her that the Israeli military was drafting Pelleg’s 20-year-old son that afternoon. He has since been relieved of his duties and is back home. 

“It was so difficult,” she said. “If something happens, you have three officers coming and knocking on your door. So I used to see those three officers knocking on my door every other day in my nightmares.” 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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