“Is traveling to Israel safe?”
This is probably the question I have been asked the most.
Whether you’re floating in the Dead Sea, lying on the beach in Tel Aviv, or hiking at Masada, you will feel safe (and be safe).
Most of the tourists I take on tours tell me they feel safer strolling around Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in the evening or at night than they do in their own hometowns.
Surveys shows that tourists feel a high degree of personal safety in Israel (and they rate taxi drivers very poorly – but that is a different matter).
So why do people think Israel isn’t safe?
Most of what you hear about Israel on the news won’t give you the impression that Israel is a safe destination: rockets from Gaza, terrorism, Hezbollah and the war in Syria that is filtering through to Israel…
The media, and mostly the news, creates a very selective (and mostly negative) portrait of Israel. The reality is very different.
Fear of visiting Israel comes from a lack of knowledge, which ironically comes from all of the over-reporting in the media.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the smallest conflicts in the world in terms of casualties. You hear a great deal about it for two main reasons:
1) Places in the holy land such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth are part of the West’s cultural heritage, meaning that every small incident that occurs there is reported on by all the different media outlets. If something were to happen in a city in China or Africa, most people wouldn’t have heard of the place and, therefore, wouldn’t pay any attention to it or place any importance on it.
2) If a tree fell in a forest and a hundred photographers captured the image, does that mean the tree fell a hundred times?
It’s very easy to be a foreign reporter in Israel. Israel is a Western country with a developed infrastructure and, more importantly, it’s a democratic country with freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and human rights. It’s easy for a foreign journalist to stay in a Jerusalem hotel, wake up in the morning and drive twenty minutes to Bethlehem, snap some pictures of a demonstration (and a demonstration of young people facing off with soldiers always makes for good pictures), before driving back to Jerusalem, sending the pictures to Western media outlets, and going out for a drink in the evening.
This is also the reason why there are more foreign journalists in Jerusalem than in most other important cities in the world.
Let me be clear:
I am not saying that the media is lying to you and that if you come you’ll find peace in the Middle East.
The political situation is complicated and won’t be solved any time soon. But just as you can travel safely in the U.S. even though there are mass shootings there once in a while, and just as you can travel safely in Europe even though terror attacks occur there, you can also travel and feel safe in Israel.
Since Israel has long history of dealing with terror, there is more security in public places.
The first place you’ll encounter it is at the airport. In the past tourists noticed it more, but today you see armed forces in most airports around the world so you probably won’t consider it to be unusual.
If you are (or were) a member of an extreme rightwing, leftwing, or religious organization, there is a good chance that you’ll be asked about it. Somehow they know.
There are two things that most Western tourists notice regarding security in Israel:
1) Upon entering public places you’ll encounter a civilian guard who asks you to open your bag and let them see what is inside. At entrances to train or central bus stations you will need to put your bags through a baggage scanner.
2) Israel has compulsory national service. Men have to serve three years and women two years. However a soldier won’t (and isn’t allowed to) approach you unless you’re going through a checkpoint.
I am mentioning it here because in Israel you do see more soldiers than in other countries. On Sunday mornings you’ll see a lot soldiers on the streets as they head back to their army camps, and on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings you’ll see them coming back home.
Be responsible for your own safety
No one can guarantee that nothing will happen, but there are things that you can do to minimize unnecessary risks. It’s quite simple really…
Don’t try to enter Gaza.
Don’t try to cross a border where you shouldn’t.
Distance yourself from violent demonstrations if you run into them.
And as Lt Dan said: Try not to do anything stupid, like getting yourself killed.
Here you can check with the U.S department of State to see if there are is any risk involved in traveling in the area.
And now that you know that Israel is safe, you can start planning your trip to Israel.