Trying to get an accurate rundown on the current safety status of Israel is no small feat. As a country that’s been marred by ongoing violence and messy political and religious discourse, traveling to Israel comes with some homework. And inconveniently, journalism today tends to be a capricious machine that can exaggerate drama and muddy the truth.
The hardest part is that Israel is such an incredibly alluring vacation destination. The high-class modernity and food culture of Tel Aviv, the expansive desert oases, the historical sites, and the birthplace of dominant religion — Israel is a place that gives the platitude “land of contrast” new meaning. If you’re considering visiting (which you should), we’ve compiled a succinct overview of the country’s current security status. The information is current as of August 2018, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled for any regional news leading up to your trip.
Places to Avoid
Gaza and the Border with the Gaza Strip
Hostilities between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and terrorist organizations, including Hamas, have been occurring intermittently over the last few years. Because the situation is particularly delicate, embassies and state departments around the world have declared this region to be extremely dangerous and have advised against all travel. Due to restrictions against foreign governmental authorities (including the U.S. and Canada), if you are injured in the Gaza Strip you will most likely be without aid.
The West Bank
The security situation in the Palestinian West Bank remains today (as of Summer 2018) still particularly volatile. In addition to potential terrorist threats, the West Bank often sees regular demonstrations and civil unrest that ignite with little to no notice, and can often become aggressive. Authorities in the area have been known to restrict travel and impose curfews on both locals and foreigners. It’s best to avoid the West Bank and areas around its border with Israel.
Generally speaking, Israel’s border regions have seen witnessed the most violent clashes, military conflict, and civil unrest. Avoid all travel to the Golan Heights region near the border with Syria, anywhere within three miles of the border with Egypt, and anywhere within 1,640 feet (500 meters) of the border with Lebanon. Generally speaking, the more centrally located you are in Israel, the better.
What About Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is a fascinating city and one of the most important places to witness the collision of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It’s a hotbed of discourse and debate between not only religions factions, but also the varying political and nationalist interests at play. Jerusalem has traditionally been one of the safer cities in Israel, but matters have got a bit more complicated since president Donald Trump decided to declare it the country’s capital in late 2017. This departure from long-held foreign policy (all embassies have traditionally been located in Tel Aviv) has ignited tensions between Palestinians, who consider East Jerusalem to be their rightful capital. In response, Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, accused Trump of “flagrant aggression” and called for Muslims to rise up against US interests.
Safest Places in Israel
Away from the danger zones, Israel is one of the most intriguing travel destinations in the world. The beaches are as idyllic as any anywhere in the Caribbean, the nightlife is unparalleled, the infrastructure is reliable, and the resorts are over-the-top luxurious. In a country known primarily for its status as a historical site entrenched in competing political and religious rhetorics, some parts are as modern and progressive as any city in the West.
Generally speaking, your best bet for a safe and wildly entertaining vacation is Tel Aviv. According to recent studies, in three neighborhoods of Tel Aviv — Holon, Ramat Gan, and Rishon Letzion — 78% of residents said they feel “extremely safe” going out at night.
Other safe and amazing places to travel in Israel include Haifa, the country’s third-largest city known for its friendly, laid-back atmosphere, Acre, another northern city known for its amalgamation of Ottoman and Judaic culture and architecture, the historical sites of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, as well as the saltiest body of water and the lowest dry-land point on earth — the Dead Sea.
General Tips for Traveling in Israel
Before traveling anywhere remotely dangerous, one of the smartest things to do is to let your State Department know where you’re heading. The United States in particular offers a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that keeps authorities up to date on your safety and whereabouts. Also, before your trip, discuss a contingency plan with loved-ones, establish an emergency contact, and share your itinerary with people inside and outside the country.
While traveling, the most important thing to keep in mind is to remain vigilant and exercise extra care in any given situation. Keep your head on a swivel, and be aware of exit routes. As tempting as they may be, avoid crowds, large demonstrations, and political gatherings as they often breed violence. Be sure to maintain a high degree of caution when using public transportation, as politically-motivated violence is often lashed out on trains and busses. Consider taking an Uber or hiring a private guide.
Finally, as of 2017, a new law in Israel allows authorities to deny entry to anyone who either “privately or publicly belongs to an organization that has called for a boycott of Israel.” In knowing that this law could be implemented somewhat whimsically, know that you could run into trouble at any border crossing.
For information on visas, customs, and immigration, visit the U.K. government site.