Israel

Know Before You Go: Israel

Sunrise from Masada. Image by Colleen Hagerty.

In my original “Know Before You Go” post, I mentioned my personal experience having to make a difficult decision about whether or not to cancel a trip to Israel due to safety concerns. While I ultimately was able to visit (albeit with an abridged schedule), the country has been making headlines again as of late due to clashes between Israeli and Palestinian citizens.

As always, I was so grateful to have the insight of Global Rescue this month to help break down this complicated situation. In addition to their regular work of providing protection for travelers, implementing rescues, and partnering with Wanderful, they provided an extremely comprehensive view of safety in Israel!

Of course, conflict in this country is rapidly changing, so it is also important for prospective tourists to stay engaged in coverage and continue checking trustworthy news sources and State Department alerts about the region.

Israel
Inside the city of Tsfat. Image by Colleen Hagerty.

Your Israel Primer

  • Israel is located in the Middle East.
  • The country declared its independence in 1948.
  • Israel’s borders have been contested but are recognized by the CIA World Factbook as Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank.
  • The capital of Israel is Jerusalem.
  • Its currency is the shekel.
  • At just 20,770 sq. kilometers, Israel is just slightly larger in size than New Jersey!
  • Israel is a parliamentary democracy; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently at the helm.

Israelis and Palestinians

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been the on the rise since September over rights to visit a holy site in Jerusalem. On October 1, 2015 an Israeli couple was shot and killed in front of their children by members of Hamas, which sparked outrage and was followed by days of intense, violent clashes between soldiers and civilians.

In the time since, incidents of street violence between Palestinians and Israelis have unfortunately remained on the rise, resulting in the deaths of least 59 Palestinians and 11 Israelis. While some of the attacks have been centered around holy sites, including Jerusalem’s Old City, they have overall been widespread throughout the country.

Officials Say…

The U.S. State Department is urging travelers to remain aware and informed when considering a trip to Israel at this time due to the rapidly changing security situation. While U.S. citizens have not been directly targeted, some have been killed in recent attacks, including one Israeli-American citizen in October.

Travelers are “strongly warned” against travel to the Gaza Strip and encouraged to exercise caution traveling to the West Bank, along with northern border regions. Caution is also advised for visiting Jerusalem, where, “numerous political, cultural, and religious tensions….have the potential to fuel protests, civil unrest, acts of terrorism, and retaliatory attacks against groups and individuals.”

The U.K. State Department goes on to suggest that tourists “take extra care” when using public transportation, specifically in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It also encourages extra vigilance after Friday prayers and on religious holidays.

Despite the headline-making violence, Israel is a popular tourist destination, and it is important to note that most travelers enjoy a safe visit to the country. In fact, more than 3 million tourists visited Israel in 2014 alone! The State Department notes that measures are in place to protect visitors, and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism recently told Yahoo Travel, “Headlines about the situation in Israel can be alarming, but the reality is that everyday life in Israel is normal.”

Israel
Jerusalem. Image by Colleen Hagerty.

Global Rescue Says…

“The threat of terrorism in Israel is high, and the country faces a persistent risk of terrorist attacks and indiscriminate rocket fire. A number of terrorist groups are active in the country, including Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Recent attacks have typically involved knife stabbings, but firearms and explosives are occasionally used as well. These incidents most frequently occur in crowded public areas, aboard public transportation, and during controversial political events, particularly in Jerusalem or near borders with Palestinian Territories. Also, petty theft is often reported in the vicinity of public beaches, national parks, and other tourist-frequented locations.

“Israel’s borders with Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria are generally unstable. Indiscriminate attacks and an increased military presence are possible in these areas. Israel also has a very strict state security apparatus, and security measures are particularly strict near border regions. Militants and terrorists in the Gaza Strip and Egypt occasionally launch rocket attacks into Israeli territory. While many rockets have been intercepted and destroyed by the air-defense system or land in less-populated areas of the country, some have reached major cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“Demonstrations occur regularly in major cities and near settlements in Israel. In Jerusalem, a number of demonstrations have occurred in the Old City and in East Jerusalem, particularly following Friday midday prayers. These events typically cause widespread disruptions, especially to travel, and frequently devolve into violence.

“During the past few weeks, a number of attacks—mostly knife stabbings targeting Israelis—have occurred nationwide. Accompanying protests have also been held in majority-Palestinian areas. In response to these events, Israeli security forces have deployed additional personnel to sensitive locations, including public transportation infrastructure, particularly in Jerusalem. Security forces have also established checkpoints in East Jerusalem to limit movement, and similar measures are possible elsewhere.

“Travelers to Israel should maintain awareness of local developments at their destination(s), avoid any and all demonstrations, and be prepared for rapid changes in the security situation.”

What Do You Say?

Have you traveled to Israel? Is it a place you would feel safe going? Share your experiences or questions below!

This column is best when it’s a resource for you! If you are considering a trip but are unsure of the safety in an area, let me know in the comments. It may be featured in next month’s post!

  1. I visited Israel early this year and felt as safe there as I’ve felt in any foreign city. I’m in near daily contact with friends who live in Jerusalem and they say that life is normal there, even during the most recent rash of incidents. In fact, when my friend visited us in Texas recently his wife called him daily to make sure he was okay because of how dangerous the US is perceived to be. Violence happens all over the world, it’s an unfortunate part of life. Another unfortunate part of life is the way the media often exploits and amplifies these situations.

  2. Also, I’m planning another trip to Israel for next year and I can’t wait! It truly is a unique place filled with amazing sites, friendly people, and wonderful food! Thanks for the informative article!

  3. I’ve traveled to Israel twice, once in the summer of 2009 and this past summer. I’ve been watching developments closely as I cover Israel as an international news writer and travel writer. I felt completely safe in Israel exploring solo, with our group, and with my girlfriend. We stayed in Tel Aviv and traveled to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. My concerns recently have been reports of American passports being confiscated by Israeli customs and American’s not being allowed into Israel (but I haven’t been able to confirm this) as well as the uptick in the tensions between Palestine and Israel. My best advice is to either chat with your travel agent or tour company who has contacts on the ground, make friends in America who have been to Israel recently and/or Israel via social media prior to going, and stay aware of media reports about what is happening (and not just American media, but the BBC, Israeli English language news sources like the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Ynet, and other sources.

  4. I traveled to both Egypt and Israel in 2009. Even though there were bombings at a marketplace in Cairo a few days after we went where people were killed.. and there were constant bombings on the Gaza Strip, I never really felt like I was in danger. I could definitely tell that there was a lot of tension between Israelis and Palestinians though… and I can only imagine how much worse it’s getting. Crossing from Jerusalem to any other area is really intense.

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