Is Israel Safe for Tourists Right Now?

Looking down into the old city of Jerusalem. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Three people were killed and over 20 people were injured in Jerusalem, Israel earlier this week in what is being labeled by Palestinian groups as a “Day of Rage.”

Four separate attacks on Israelis occurred in just a 12-hour period including the shooting of an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldier and the stabbing of both a 13-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man. Earlier in the day, two Palestinians, a man and a woman, were shot and killed by police after attempting to stab border patrol officers in two separate but similar incidents.

Additionally, the city has experienced more generalized violence including rock and firebomb throwing, rioting and arson along the West Bank.

Sadly this increased level of violence between Israel and Palestine is not unprecedented and follows several weeks of escalating civil unrest in the region that is based on an ongoing, deep-rooted conflict over the territory.

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The US State Department warns travelers, especially those wishing to visit Jerusalem, to be “aware of the numerous political, cultural, and religious tensions that permeate the city.” It states on it’s website that: "These sensitivities have the potential to fuel protests, civil unrest, acts of terrorism, and retaliatory attacks against groups and individuals. There have been frequent clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities, particularly in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.”

Yet despite instability in the region’s peace process, Israel remains a very popular tourist destination, with over 3 million visitors to the country in 2014 alone, almost one-fifth of whom came from the United States.

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In fact, 2015 is looking to be the best year ever for American tourism to Israel, with some 700,000 visitors traveling and returning home safely, according to the Government of Israel, Ministry of Tourism. Each year, more Americans vacation in Israel than in Thailand, New Zealand, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, South Africa, Morocco and India.

The port of Jaffa in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Even the State Department notes that the personal safety and security of visitors to the country’s major metropolitan areas, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, are similar to that of other major international cities.

And in light of the ongoing civil conflict, both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities make “considerable efforts” to secure and police the region’s main tourist attractions and hubs in order to protect visitors traveling in the area.

“All tourism areas and attractions are safe and secure,” the country’s Ministry of Tourism told Yahoo Travel in a statement.

The agency confirmed that tourism, and life in general, has continued within the country as normal, in spite of the trouble occurring in pocketed areas. In actuality, there are currently over 70,000 foreign visitors on vacation in Israel with no reports of any problems involving tourists.

"Headlines about the situation in Israel can be alarming, but the reality is that everyday life in Israel is normal,” the Ministry said. "Children go to kindergarten and school, local residents go to work and business continues as usual. The safety and well-being of visitors is paramount. Israel is well prepared and committed to handling all scenarios. If at any time we thought a trip to Israel was unwise, we’d have no hesitation in simply suggesting you postpone your trip.”

If you are planning a trip to Israel, be sure to read the up to date information about the country on the State Department website and enroll in STEP (the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) for continued updates before and during your trip.

And as with traveling to many countries across the globe, the State Department advises that “visitors should observe appropriate personal security practices to reduce their vulnerability to crime, particularly late at night or in isolated areas, including in the countryside.” “Visitors are advised to avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and keep current with local news, which is available through numerous English language sources.”

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