The media has managed to paint Israel in a negative light in terms of tourism, but with the proper safety precautions, you can enjoy a visit to Israel without the worry.
Travelling to Israel is an experience that everyone should take advantage of at least once in their lifetime. The culture, history, and attractions have a mythical way of connecting you to the people there, and thereby opening your mind to their views and beliefs.
Before you set out on your trip, however, it’s important to make yourself aware of the safety issues surrounding Israel so that you don’t become a victim of crime, political fallouts, and religious persecution.
When entering Israel, expect to be questioned thoroughly about your intentions on entering the country and where you’ve visited previously. If you have an Arab-sounding name, don’t be surprised if the simple questioning procedure turns into a full-out interrogation. This profiling is necessary for Israeli National Security, so rather look at it as a means of maintaining your safety during your visit, as opposed to perceiving it as an invasion of your privacy and rights.
If you have been to Palestine recently, you may be subject to additional questioning. It won’t necessarily cause you to be denied access into Israel, but you need to be up-front and honest about your time spent on Palestinian land. For the most part, casual travellers who show no ulterior motive are permitted entry into Israel. Giving vague answers or lying to security can not only result in you being denied entry – it can get you arrested.
If you plan to visit other countries such as UAE, Libya, Syria, etc., an Israeli stamp in your passport can cause your access to be denied. For this reason, you are permitted to request the stamp on a separate piece of paper.
Nobody likes to hear on the news that a tourist got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed. Israel, being the political hot-spot that it is, requires a little more effort on your part to maintain your safety during your visit.
Here are a few common-sense tips that will help keep you safe:
- Carry your ID with you at all times – you may be asked to provide it randomly by authorities.
- Avoid crowded areas such as busy markets, shopping centers, bus and rail stations. While you can’t very well avoid all crowded areas during your visit, it’s best to limit your time spent there and stay alert for possible impending danger. If something doesn’t seem right to you, get out quickly.
- Stay away from political demonstrations or protests. It would be wise to subscribe to travel advisories for any country you are visiting to better plan your visit around possible protests. See travel advisories for Canada and the US.
- Just like any other country, mugging, pick-pocketing, and physical assaults can happen in Israel. It is recommended to carry only what valuables you must (money, passport, etc) and leave the excess at home (jewellery, etc). Carry your purse tightly in your hand instead of allowing it to hang from the strap, and put your wallet in a safe spot on your person. A pick-pocket won’t waste time trying to find it if it isn’t readily accessible. Travel in groups, especially at night.
- Instead of carrying money and credit cards, use traveller’s cheques. They are insured and can be replaced if lost or stolen
- If you are a woman visiting Israel, make sure you dress appropriately to maintain a low profile.
- Do not enter any Jewish Ultra-Orthodox area. This is especially important during on Shabbat in Jerusalem (Friday evening to Saturday evening).
- Avoid purchasing any alcohol or pork products.
- Keep track of the media and any alerts they may be putting out.
- Don’t take pictures of police or military personnel
The Gaza Strip and The West Bank
While a ceasefire came into effect in November of 2012, it is still inadvisable to travel to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Current military operations surrounding the area are unpredictable and volatile, and it’s not uncommon for intruders to be shot or taken hostage.
Despite common safety issues, Israel can be a happy and memorable tour for the well-prepared traveller so don’t delay your visit.