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Israeli tour guides say leading groups to October 7 terror sites is the only way for them to make money now

Joshua Zitser   

Israeli tour guides say leading groups to October 7 terror sites is the only way for them to make money now
  • Amit Musaei, who survived the Nova Festival Hamas terror attack, now leads tours to the site.
  • BI spoke to four Israeli tour guides who say October 7 tours are the only ones in demand now.

Amit Musaei survived the Nova Festival terror attack in Israel late last year.

Now, months later, he's leading tours to the site where he narrowly escaped death, and where he lost three of his closest friends.

Musaei returns to the scene of his trauma at least three times a week, leaving him emotionally exhausted, all to earn a few hundred dollars a time to cover his mortgage, provide for his two kids, and support his friends' orphans.

"I'm in a situation where I need to make a living," he told Business Insider. "I need to support my family. I was unemployed for over six months."

On October 7, 2023, over a thousand people, mostly civilians, were killed in Hamas attacks on Israel, with the Nova musical festival being the site of the highest number of casualties.

Israel retaliated against Gaza, which, according to the UN, has led to more than 35,000 Palestinian deaths.

As a result, many tourists called off vacations and major airlines scrapped flights to Israel, ultimately leaving Musaei and other tour guides like him without an income.

Musaei says two years of pre-booked tours were canceled, and that he now tries to make ends meet by leading the small trickle of visitors to the sites of the October 7 atrocities.

BI talked to four tour guides, who said this form of dark tourism is their only means to make a living.

It takes a toll, but they feel they have few other choices.

Danny Herman, who runs "Danny The Digger" tours, said he was recently hospitalized for high blood pressure, which he attributes to the emotional stress of repeatedly visiting the "death sites."

"I had no desire to go see them," he told BI. "But I did it as I realized that if I want to earn a living, this is the only product right now in some demand."

For years, Herman gave tours of the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and other religious and archeological sites.

He said demand for these tours has practically dropped to zero, but he's fully booked for the next week with tours to the Gaza Envelope — the parts of Israel within about four miles of the Gaza Strip border.

"The last thing I thought I would be doing is these types of tours, which I call 'Holocaust tours,'" he said. "It's like going to Auschwitz or Yad Vashem, and it's something that I didn't think I would do, and I wish I wouldn't have to do."

Herman said that tourists mostly want to bear witness to history, pay their respects, and maybe even volunteer.

However, he noted that there's no avoiding the grim reality, be it roadside memorials to those who died, the sound of artillery fire in the distance, tanks rolling by, or the sight of smoke rising over Gaza.

Ari Melnik, another tour guide, said that for some tourists, that's a draw.

"Some people would freak out if I told them there's bombing going on, and some people want to hear that," he told BI.

Melnik added, "Then, if they don't hear that, maybe they're disappointed."

While Melnik said he feels comfortable taking tourists to the area bordering Gaza and educating them on recent events, he is uncomfortable with certain facets of the tours.

He said he's unsure how to respectfully show people the kibbutzim, with their burned-out houses and cars, conscious that victims don't want their community to become "a zoo."

"It's not a question of if to go there; it's a question of how to go there," he said.

Another source of discomfort, he said, is how much to charge.

Though Melnik said he's been hemorrhaging money for months, he lets those on the tour decide how much to pay.

"I have been flexible because I haven't even felt sure I feel comfortable charging money for this," he said.

Another tour guide, Slava Bazarsky, solicits donations to the local kibbutzim while charging a participation fee.

He'd rather not charge, but he said he has no choice.

"In order to survive, you have to do something," he told BI.

He added: "Whether you like it or not, you have family, you have kids. It's uncomfortable, unpleasant, and hard, but you have to do it."

Even after pivoting, he says his business is still struggling.

Bazarsky said he has "barely 10%" of the bookings for tours he had this time last year.

Bazarsky said that even if there were more demand and more tourists, he'd have to limit the number of tours he gives because it would be too traumatic to do too regularly.

But for Musaei, the survivor-turned-tour guide, going several times a week has given him unexpected solace.

"It's therapy for me to overcome my trauma," he said. "Every time I share my story, it's another opportunity to process it."

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