The recent bloody clashes in Thailand and the escalating opposition from the protestors, as well as the warnings issued by the Israeli Foreign Ministry against traveling to the Thai capital Bangkok, have been met with indifference among Israeli travelers. While local security forces are making great efforts to remove women and children from the location of the clashes, Israelis continue to arrive, heedless of the dangers.
"Nobody is leaving at all," said Alex Avidan, an Israeli who lives in Thailand and runs an internet café. "Israelis take an interest, ask questions and talk a bit about the events, but that's about all – and just don't come to the site of the riots and killing."
"The centers of violence are in very specific locations," he continues, "so that there's a strange situation – in one street riots, and in a neighboring street a flower festival is held with songs and dancing. None of the Israelis takes much notice."
Nonetheless, some find it hard to ignore the reality, and are amazed by Israelis' indifference.
"There's a feeling that the real chaos is still to come," said Meir Smolevitch, who has lived in Bangkok for a number of years and is married to a local woman. "Tourists are simply concentrated in other areas and continue as normal. Thailand is considered the 'country of smiles' but right now it's not quite like that. We hear the shots and the shouts, and see the smoke from burning tires. Transport is disrupted, the trains are not running and some cell-phone networks have been blocked."
Smoke billowing over Bangkok (Photo: AP)
Smolevitch says that in some parts of the city, residents are having to cope with a situation of war.
"We bought food, drink and equipment," he says. "I have a friend who lives in the area of the battles, and he simply cannot go out. There's a food problem which is getting worse, and the villagers are threatening to break into stores to plunder food. It's almost become civil war. People think it will spread to other areas."
When the tension began, Smolevitch, who lives on one of Bangkok's busiest streets, walked next to the Red Shirts and even taught the village children to play tennis on one of the public courts. But since then, the picture has changed completely.
"Until a few days ago I could still walk there, but now it would be suicidal," he says. "The area is completely closed off, and it's impossible to enter. The authorities said they would only fire on protestors, but in practice many innocent people are also hurt, including journalists and foreign reporters. People wave a white flag and they still get shot at. It's just chaos."
From the windows of his apartment, Smolevitch looks over the events in the heart of the clashes, and says that the army has started concerted efforts to regain control of the area.
"Many armored personnel carriers are arriving with security forces in every corner," he says. "Thousands of soldiers have arrived and are waiting for the order to engage. They have set up barbed wire fences and tents. The whole area is covered in roadblocks where citizens are searched, all in an effort to prevent villagers from reaching the zone of the clashes to reinforce the rioters."