In light of the recent events in Israel and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you are probably wondering, is it safe to travel to Israel?
In short, Yes!
Israel is quite safe, the crime rate here is low, and except for some places you should avoid visiting at night, most of the country is safe and welcoming, with kids running freely and people who are usually willing to help anyone in trouble.
Now let me elaborate further on the issue, plus give you ten tips on how to make your visit safer, what to avoid, and some regulations regarding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
(Cover image from Shutterstock by Protasov AN – Tel Aviv beach)
- 1. Covid-19 – That annoying little bug
- 2. Prepare for Takeoff – The Airport Experience
- 3. Security checks at malls, shopping centers and stations
- 4. Don’t leave your belongings unattended
- 5. Safe rooms
- 6. Areas to be cautious at night, especially if you are a woman
- 7. Hitchhiking
- 8. Land mines
- 9. West bank and Palestine
- 10. The Desert and the Dead Sea
1. Covid-19 – That annoying little bug
With the covid-19 pandemic still lingering in the world, let us tackle that first. Before booking and planning your trip to Israel, I suggest you check the latest updates on who is allowed in or not and under which conditions. Being the country with the highest vaccination rate of over 55% and almost reaching herd immunity, life in Israel is returning to normal again with most of the restrictions removed. With the vaccine rate rising around the globe, places and countries have begun to open their gates; traveling to Israel is just around the corner. I recommend checking the Ministry of Health website for the most updated info about who, when, and how to enter the country.
If you have been vaccinated or recovered, you can find further details and the forms required for entering the country here.
2. Prepare for Takeoff – The Airport Experience
Since Israel is considered every terrorist’s dream, we must conduct more checks and take more precautions in airports; hence, I would like to share some info and tips to make those checks smoother and more pleasant.
Expect longer or several security checks upon boarding a plane to Israel or leaving the country. Some airports will have separate gates just for Israel; these might be farther than the usual gates, so make sure to be prepared for a hike and wear comfy shoes. You’ll be required to answer more questions regarding your trip and belonging. Sometimes you might be asked to search through the luggage too. Don’t be alarmed; it’s a normal procedure that Israelis occasionally follow to ensure everyone will be safe and have a good flight. Be nice, answer calmly, and it will go smoothly.
While you usually get your passport stamped when entering a foreign country, in Israel, you’ll get an entry card upon entry and when departing the country. That is to avoid any unpleasant events if you are planning on traveling to any country that doesn’t have any diplomatic relations or is hostile toward Israel.
Israel has two Airports;
The main airport, Ben Gurion, is located in the center of Israel next to the city of Lod, where you will most probably be landing. From the airport, you can travel by train to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or any other town connected to the railroad, take a bus to your desired destination, rent a car or take a cab. Jerusalem and Haifa also have a shuttle service, which can be a good solution when there is no public transportation available, like on Shabbat or the night.
The second airport is the Ramon Airport in the southern part of the country, next to Eilat. It is newer and smaller, however, sometimes you can get better deals when flying here, and if you plan to visit Eilat and the Negev, it can be a win-win situation. It also serves as an emergency airport in times of warfare, as we have experienced lately. From there you can get to Eilat by bus, taxi or rent a car.
I’ll be making a post about transportation in Israel, so stay tuned by subscribing to my newsletter or following me on one of my social channels.
If there are more topics you wish me to address, feel free to comment below.
3. Security checks at malls, shopping centers, and stations
I’m sure you understand that in Israel, we love to ensure that it is a terrorist-free zone. Another measure we take, which you might not be used to, is security checks upon entry to public places like malls, shopping centers, supermarkets, and bus and train stations. There you’ll have a security officer check your bag by hand, a scanner, or a metal detector. It is a normal procedure that everyone goes through. The security officer might also check your car’s trunk if entering a parking lot.
It is prohibited to carry sharp objects with you, such as knives, axes, etc., unless you have a good reason to do so. And no, raiding the neighboring village doesn’t count even if you are a Viking. However, if you are hiking or camping, and it’s part of your gear, then it’s all good. While, in general, no one will search you in the middle of the street, you are likely to be searched when entering public areas that require security checks, such as shopping centers and public transportation stations. You might need to go through a metal detector to scan your belongings. In that case, if you are carrying a sharp object, I suggest you notify the security officer in advance to avoid any unpleasantries, especially when you are just passing through a station while backpacking. Suppose you keep a utility knife or something similar; you might need to leave it by security while entering places like malls, museums, or government offices. The shopping centers and other public venues are not the best at keeping your sharp objects, and they might get lost, so if you are not planning on using your Leatherman, ax, lightsaber, or whatever, leave them in your room.
4. Don’t leave your belongings unattended
While in most of the world, we are usually worried about getting mugged, in Israel, that is also a relatively small concern. I wouldn’t worry much about that. However, we do need to ensure not to leave any of our belongings unattended. They probably won’t be stolen, but an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team will most likely dismantle them and even blow them up. Since the first Intifada that took place between 1987 and 1991, people in Israel began to be super attentive to packages and bags left unattended in fear of being a bomb (past experiences). Hence, it will immediately be reported whenever anyone notices a piece of unattended luggage or a bag. The EOD team will arrive shortly, close the perimeter, and blow up what is left.
5. Safe rooms
With the latest week’s events, having rockets flying overhead from Gaza to Israels’ southern and central cities, traveling to the Holy Land might seem scary for some of you. Well, it’s scary for us too, although we got used to it. The good news is that it doesn’t happen so often, and when it does, let’s say we are lucky Hamas is pretty bad at aiming. More precisely, we are fortunate to have our kick-ass Iron Dome. And no, it’s not the name of some Sci-Fi movie, although it might sound and look like that, rather it is an Israeli-developed defense system that intercepts short-range rockets. Aside from Hamas’s shitty aim and the Iron Dome, many of the buildings in Israel have an adjacent safe room or areas. Normally you shouldn’t be bothered by that. Still, if by any chance you arrived in Israel, and it’s Star Wars season, I suggest checking for the nearest safe area and going there whenever you hear a siren alerting you of incoming rockets. For many Israelis, these bomb shelter meetups can be great opportunities to get to know their neighbors and shower schedule while sharing some good meals and booze in the hope you won’t get hit by one of the rockets.
You probably ask yourself how we live like that. Doesn’t that sound crazy and depressing, and how does it affect kids growing up like that? At times it does add to our anxiety and forces us to live on constant alert, but we learn to cope with that; to help you understand that better, let me tell you my story, which was the one that inspired me to make this photo shoot and this post.
Let me start with my arrival in Israel. I wasn’t born here, but rather in Kyiv, Ukraine.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union fell, my parents and family decided to make Aliyah to Israel.
It was January, and I still remember the Novi God tree (aka Christmas tree) standing in our empty apartment in Kyiv as we took our belongings and headed for a new start. We arrived a day before the Gulf War began. My most vivid memory of the new country is our drive to get gas masks on the first evening after arriving. This may explain my love for post-apocalyptic and Industrial styles and music.
The night after that, the war started.
It sounds scary, but recalling this period brings back some great memories. As someone who came from the USSR, especially during perestroika, the first thing I can remember from this wartime is that the safe room had many candies and, most importantly, lots of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Being raised in a communist country, we didn’t have a wide variety of colorful candy. I remember my parents used to buy me Disney chewing gum, and it was so cool. I loved them. They had these little mini-comics inside, but the gum was super pricy, so I rarely got them. When we came to Israel, my relatives, with whom we initially stayed, already had a safety room prepared. Inside was a hidden treasure; tons of candy with cool prints and plenty of gum, especially Bazooka Joe. So this is what I remember the most from that period. Sitting with the whole family in the safety room, with gas masks on, which I found pretty cool even back then, and sneaking candy from the safe room. ?
Before the latest rocket exchange that started in May 2021, I planned several posts about some creepy places and rituals in my city, Jerusalem. Due to the situation, they all had to be put on hold. Sitting bummed out at home with no motivation due to the current events and looking at how this affects my kids took me back to the childhood story mentioned above.
It’s good that I had a leftover gas mask on hand. I got this Gulf war relic from a friend who found it and immediately thought of me. Instead of punching the wall, which might have resulted in swollen knuckles, I decided to take my anger and feelings out more productively. I used the power of makeup, Punk Rave, and Demonia and ventured into my private abandoned house next to where I live with my talented soulmate and photographer, Sarel Rich. Getting up and doing all that, expressing what I felt by doing what I love, really helped me and brought me back on track. Plus, I got some kick-ass photos, which I hope you’ll like. You can find more pictures from this set by visiting my Instagram page.
6. Areas to be cautious at night, especially if you are a woman
As surprising as it may sound, especially after the safety stories mentioned above, Israel is a pretty safe country with a low crime rate. Overall, it is safe for kids, women, men, and LGBTQ+ to travel in most areas in broad daylight and at night, especially in the downtown areas of major cities. However, some places are better avoided at night, especially if you are a woman. In Tel Aviv, you should cautiously approach the Tikva neighborhood and the central bus station areas. In Jerusalem, the areas to be cautious of are Haredi communities, the Old City, and many neighborhoods in the city’s eastern part. Visitors should avoid neighborhoods in other cities, so if you plan on traveling outside well-known tourist areas, it would be best to consult a trustworthy local or your concierge. I would always suggest staying in more public places, and if you feel insecure, there is a wonderful new app for women that I would recommend using just for that called SafeUp. It’s an Israeli-developed, community-based app that helps women who feel unsafe and require help by talking to someone or receiving active assistance. This app is available worldwide, so I recommend checking it out if you are unfamiliar with it.
When I was a teenager, I hitchhiked a lot, and frankly, it’s pretty safe to do that in Israel. You might meet new people and have some great experiences. However, since you are unfamiliar with the country, I wouldn’t recommend doing that when you are abroad, even in Israel and especially in the West Bank.
8. Land mines
Since Israel has a long history of war with the neighboring countries and some ongoing ones, some areas along the borders and Palestinian territories still have land mine areas, especially the Arabah, Golan heights, and the Bika’a. These areas are fenced off and have signs indicating land mines on them. Be sure to be aware of them when hiking, especially in the areas mentioned, and don’t go off-trail. If you have entered one of those areas, stop, stay where you are, and call the police. It would also be a good tip to pay attention to the signs while traveling in Israel, particularly while hiking in nature or the desert.
There are also army training zone areas, so be aware of signs and don’t enter. During Israeli holidays like Passover and Sukkot, those areas might be open for travelers, so if you plan to visit some sites within these places, check that in advance.
9. West bank and Palestine
Divided into three distinct political sections is the west bank, which are designated areas A, B, and C. Area A is administered exclusively by the Palestinian National Authority; the Palestinian Authority and Israel administer area B; and Area C, which contains the Israeli settlements, is administered by Israel. Upon entering each area within the West Bank, a sign will indicate which area you are about to enter.
Most of the main roads in the west bank are within area C. The Judean desert and The Jordan rift valley are within Israeli-governed area C. You know you’ve entered the West bank when you pass a checkpoint stationed at the entrance and exit of the region. An important note for tourists on this matter; you should always carry your passport and documents with you if you plan to visit the West Bank and present it when asked. A soldier or a police officer might ask you some questions at checkpoints, but no worries, it’s a normal procedure, just like at the airports, so answer nicely and calmly, and you have no reason to worry about it.
You can travel freely in area C, and it’s usually pretty safe, although it depends on the current events in the country. I would also suggest traveling with locals there. Regarding areas A and B, I have never been there because as an Israeli the law forbids me to enter area A, but I’ve heard only good things from people and friends who are not Israelis, so it is worth visiting there as well. There are many beautiful and interesting ancient sites in the west bank, like Jericho, and if you are planning to travel there, I would suggest booking a tour guide familiar with the area.
East Jerusalem, populated mainly by Palestinian Arabs, can be a very interesting place to visit, here too I would suggest taking a tour guide. I personally suggest visiting the Valley of Hinnom, otherwise known as Hell, which leads down from Jaffa gate into the Silwan neighborhood. Another great spot to visit is the market in the old city of Jerusalem, there are wonderful shops and quaint alleyways to explore there.
10. The Desert and the Dead Sea
If you plan on visiting the desert area or the Dead Sea (sounds good, right ??), you should consider some important things. Besides the regular necessities required while traveling in the desert, like plenty of water, a hat, high walking shoes, sunscreen, etc., you should be aware of local events and dangers such as flash floods and sinkholes. They are super dangerous and can be deadly.
When traveling during the Israeli rainy season (October through April), it is advisable to stay tuned to any travel announcements and weather forecasts. If it is raining and flooding is expected, avoid traveling unless you are trained in how to behave in those cases. If you are in the desert when it starts to rain, make sure to get to higher ground ASAP (like the top of a hill and avoid staying in valleys, ravines, and dry river beds).
If you are driving around the Dead Sea area, keep an eye out for sinkholes resulting from karst processes in the area. Usually, sinkhole areas are indicated by signs and located mainly along road no.90. The sinkholes occur naturally along the shores of the dead sea and can swallow a car whole, so drive cautiously and avoid driving off-road or visiting abandoned seashores. You can read about our road trip through the Israeli desert in this blog post.
These are my ten tips for traveling safely in Israel and getting to know the little things you might find only here, considering the ongoing conflict and Israels’ unique nature. I hope it will help you plan your trip to this beautiful country, and if you have further questions, you are welcome to ask me in the comments below.
Disclaimer: We have to have one, so here it is…
This article is based on my personal experience, knowledge, and opinions; hence, it should be taken as such and not as professional advice. This blog is for entertainment purposes and to share my thoughts and experiences with the world. Even though I strive to provide good information and be as objective as possible, I’m not professional safety personnel. Therefore I recommend checking official safety regulations and listening to the local authorities whenever and wherever you are traveling, be it Israel, Earth, or any other planet for that matter. In short, don’t sue me, and everything you do is at your own risk.
I’m not affiliated with any of the parties linked in this article.