Is It Safe to Visit Israel and The West Bank During Conflict?

The recent rise in tension in the Middle East has fully occupied the media of the world over the past week and one of the questions many have asked me is: “Is it safe to visit Israel and Palestine during the conflict?”

The situation between Israelis and Palestinians was relatively quiet until, around a month ago, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped whilst travelling home from school near the city of Hebron in the West Bank. Two weeks ago, it became known that Hamas terrorists had murdered them and tensions began to rise, with the murder of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem by Israeli extremists alongside outbreaks of racially motivated attacks.

Hamas in Gaza began to fire increasing numbers of rockets into Israel targeting the cities surrounding the Gaza Strip (and reaching the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), which are intercepted by Israel’s weapon defence systems. Israeli forces responded with targeted airstrikes on the rocket launching sites, weapon storage sites, and the homes and offices of Hamas leaders, although innocent civilians have been killed or wounded in the process.

The Israel and Palestine question has always been a complex subject for centuries and no straight resolution is close by.

I travelled in Israel back in December to seek my own answers, except I returned home with more questions. However, I came home with friends from both sides and one key lesson:

That it’s all too easy for people to take a side WITHOUT separating the governments and those of nationalistic mind from the people who want resolution and peace.

I always tell people to go and see it for themselves and formulate their OWN opinion. I felt completely safe there and had no trouble crossing from Israel to the West Bank and back again. Go learn about the history while admiring the landscape, meet the people, see the normality of life outside of the radical politics, try to understand the tensions from both perspectives and shock yourself at existence of peacekeeping Israel-Arab organisations and individuals who try to bridge the gap and love thy neighbour.

Because when you see that, what you see in the news becomes even more sad, and twisted and obscured by miscommunication.

Gaza is controlled completely differently to the West Bank and by an entirely separate and extremist Palestinian regime, which makes applying a ‘one mind set fits all’ notion to this entire situation… all to easy.

It’s not easy at all. Otherwise the world would find a solution. I’m sad for the average civilians – the non-nationalistic, non-religious hating people… on both sides.

But now tensions have flared up again, tourism is taking a hit and that’s not surprising. With the images of chaos and destruction emerging in all forms from the world press, would you now want to visit? And will this recent turn of events now put tourists off with the fear of: “When will it happen again?”

With this in mind, I put the question of “Is it safe to visit Israel and the West Bank?” to friends who live on BOTH sides.

After all, I check in with them almost daily as my preferred news source. You might well be surprised by their answers. Would I still visit? Of course, except I would take into account areas that could be at more at risk in the far North of the country or very close to Gaza. Always stay open to developments.

Life and Travel in Israel

Ben Julius, Founder of the online Israel travelling resource, Tourist Israel, lives in Tel Aviv and so I asked him to outline what life is like in Israel and what tourists should come to expect there right now.

What’s life like in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at this time?

Perhaps surprisingly to the outside world, life in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as most of the rest of the country (apart from the immediate area around the border with Gaza), is continuing pretty well as usual. People are working, kids are playing, and we are eating out in the restaurants and drinking in the bars, relaxing on the beach, watching the World Cup, and enjoying normal life.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism estimates that there are 100,000 foreign tourists in Israel at this time, and there are very few reports of tourists who have left Israel following the recent events. People do not feel under threat.

Is it Safe?

Israel has invested billions of dollars in advanced systems to protect its civilians. At the first line of defence is the Iron Dome (interception system), which has successfully intercepted and detonated over 90% of rockets fired from Gaza to Israeli cities. After a rocket has been launched from Israel, based on its trajectory, sirens are sounded in the area it is estimated to be targeting. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the sirens have sounded around 5-6 times over the past week. The siren gives 90 seconds of time to move to shelter – most buildings have shelters within their structure, and those who don’t generally have protected staircases. At this time, there have been no deaths or injuries in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or any major tourism area of Israel”

Although it’s hard to imagine normal life under those headlines, you have to remember that every city or region in the developed world has its own dangers – whether it be murders, stabbings, rapes, gang crime, drug crime, earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes. Statistically, the situation has not changed, and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are still statistically far safer cities than most in the Western World.

Should I still travel to Israel?

It’s hard to imagine that life in Israel is normal at this time, but really, it is. Tourists who are already here are staying, but the industry is seeing a lot of cancellations from people booked in the future – remember, as of now there are no government travel warnings issued against travel to Israel, and those who are here are continuing as normal.

Tourism in the Middle East is one of the only unifying industries in which there is large-cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Jordanians. An event like this has a terrible impact on the tourism industry for all involved, we are joint partners in showing the world the reality and beauty of our region, and we jointly suffer on the actions of a few. Be sensible and only travel if you feel comfortable, but do not base your decision based on what you see solely in the news. Speak with your hotel, your tour operator, your local friends, and make an informed decision. We wouldn’t encourage people to come here if it was actually unsafe.

Travel in Israel

Travellers hang out on the rooftop of Abraham Hostel in central Jerusalem

Life and Travel in the West Bank / Palestinian Territories

Tamer Halaseh, Founder and Tour Consultant from Tamer Tours, describes life on the other side and if it is still OK for travellers to visit to the Palestinian Territories.

What’s life like in the West Bank at this time?

Life in the West Bank was affected by what happened, starting from the kidnaping of the three settlers and now with the ongoing war on Gaza, but that hasn’t stopped tourists from visiting the West Bank and its main cities including Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah. Those interested in the conflict and the current situation are actually more likely to visit, since they want to see the daily life of Palestinians during this complicated time.

Is it safe? Should I travel to the West Bank during my time in the Middle East?

Some visitors at this time may experience some clashes. Usually tourists like to experience Ramadan here (the month of fasting), since there is always celebrations and events during this holy month from the time of ending the fast in the evening until the early hours of the morning. However, because of this situation there has been no celebrations. Instead, Palestinians went on protests and sometimes clashed with the Israeli army in some parts of the West Bank in solidarity with Gaza.

Does this affect tourists and their safety? Not at all. Be vigilant of what is going on (which is why we are here to provide guidance). Since we are still under the control of Israel, tourism numbers are affected since people enter and leave through Israel. It is safe to come to the West Bank as long you have a contact that can arrange everything for you and know what’s going on the ground.

Travel in Palestine

Tours to the West Bank continue

While my contacts on both sides treat these situations as ‘normal’, it is all too worrying for the traveller and people who are observing from the outside. However, what you hear in the news is more heightened and, in this case, we must be aware of fact that this present conflict exists predominantly in Gaza – an area that no tourists are ever allowed to enter.

Do you have any plans to visit Israel and the West Bank soon? Have you cancelled your trip there because of the recent unrest?

Photos copyright of Abraham Hostel and Tamer Tours

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Very interesting and great timing!
    But I can’t understand how Ben above mentions that life is going on as usual in Israel “relaxing on the beach, watching the World Cup, and enjoying normal life” The fact that “normal life” includes so many horrifying things going on right next door is worrying, to say the least.

    • says

      Hi Zara.

      You’re right, it is worrying that normal life includes horrible things. But I think it’s the same across the world. It’s as if to say that Londoners stop normal life because there are murders and stabbings in the streets that they could be tied up in, the Dutch stop flying because a plane which left from Amsterdam was shot down, that French stop traveling by train because there was a crash, or New York shuts down because a hurricane is on the way.

    • says

      not sure about balanced and honest but it is safe to travel in the country at this time even at worst times it was still ok if you avoid points of clashes.

  2. says

    though it’s not pleasant running to the bomb shelter, we still go to the pool, watch the kids fight, laugh at Modern Family (season 2), and cuddle with the cats. so it is. you did a nice job becki. thank you.

  3. says

    Really interesting post Becki. These are just the questions I’ve been asking myself recently. It’s so important for people to understand more than one side of the story. Honestly, the whole conflict confuses me so much even though I’ve looked into it so many times. I’d love to go and see for myself…it probably the only way for me to really learn (and remember!) about all the details.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for this post. My family booked a tour to Israel and Jordan months ago and we’re still going in a few weeks. To be honest, as the date slowly approaches I’m getting more nervous, but this post reassures me that it may be okay after all. I am interested in learning about all the history Israel has, but also I hope this trip sheds some light about the situation and gives me a different perspective about the country than what is portrayed in the news.

  5. Jerusalemite says

    Great job Becki. It’s hard to explain all this to foreigners, and you did it here very well!

  6. says

    Hey Becki, I like that this article is well balanced. There is no good and bad or right and wrong in this conflict.

    The only one thing I would like to underline, Israeli and Palestinians do not think it is normal. They think it is super crazy, but as weird it sounds to us, they learned to live with it. I know it may be disturbing for our minds! You would think how can you sip coffee on Rothschild Blvd while Israeli army is bombing Gaza or how you can carry on with your day in Gaza City when Hamas is firing rockets on Tel Aviv. But believe or not you can, this conflict takes for decades now… people learned to live with it, and after all what t should they do? Sit, cry and live in shelters all their lives? This is actually what Hamas is up for and that is why Israel resist doing it so much!

    I live in Tel Aviv, for past weeks there are missiles alarms ever day. I can hear Iron Dome intercepting rockets in the sky above Tel Aviv many times a day, what should I do? Stop living my life? No, I carry on with my day and hope every day that this conflict will be solved in peaceful way, like most of Palestinians and Israeli :)

  7. Jose B. says

    Very good Becki for you informative brief about if is safe to travel to Israel in this conditions. Many people travel during the summer season because of the convenience of long vacations, and Israel is a must, country to visit and explore. I’ve to Israel in various occasions and there is always my desire to go back and visit new places and meet new people. But I know what a panic moment feels when it comes and you are far away from home. I am planning to go back very soon, and this informative article you put answers many of my concerns. Thanks again for it!

  8. says

    Very interesting to read. So many people would never even consider traveling to this area at this time, but the answers from people actually living their lives on both sides are very helpful and reassuring.

  9. says

    Hi there,

    I have a trip to Israel booked for the first week in September. I am flying from Turkey into Ben Gurion (I am a US citizen travelling around). In the midst of all the news updates and closely following the live updates I hastily cancelled my hotel booking in Tel Aviv, but still have my flights. I’m still on the fence about scrapping the entire thing altogether (at a hefty cost) or to pursue the trip.

    Any thoughts/conjectures on what the situation may be month from now? Of course none of us have a crystal ball, but any insight from past experiences or sentiments of people in-country would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hey Victoria

      From past experience, these operations last for a few weeks, and once they end, life in Israel is totally back to normal within a matter of days. I would be very surprised if this is still a talking point one month from now, let alone at the start of September. Even now, tourists in Israel and the West Bank are pretty well unaffected by the situation.

      Obviously you never know what will happen, but I would expect that things in September will be back to normal…

      Hope it helps?

  10. Barb Markway says

    Thanks for this article. My niece is in Israel now traveling and, of course, watching the news from the U.S. doesn’t make us feel very good about her being there. This actually helped put some things in perspective. I think she is getting quite the experience. She was in a bus today going to Tel Aviv when the sirens went off. They stopped, got off the bus, and had to get on the ground.

    • says

      I’m glad it helped. The media is not exactly helping and is bias – depending on which news source you choose of course. I am sure she will have a lot of stories to tell when she returns.

  11. Tanja says

    Thank You so much for the article.
    I’ve basically the Same concerns than the previous Poster just that our Trip is plannedfor the 12 th August Till 27th. We’ll planned to Travel from Jerusalem to Tiberias. Than the Dead Sea and than a week in Tel Aviv. Now we’re Not sure of wie should go or cancel behause of everything we read. I Knowledge that You can’t make this decision for me but may be you advise a bit.
    Thank yourfor your help!

    • says

      I would look at Ben’s previous response to a similar question and also check if your flight is still running, as many are being cancelled. Also, just keep up with the news and make a decision nearer the time, when hopefully it may have all calmed down a lot more.

  12. says

    I recently got back from Israel and Palestine. Two days before the rockets actually. And I like what you said about actually going there and seeing for yourself both sides and seeing so many people, both Israeli and Palestinian coming together to form peaceful organisations to get both sides talking to each other and mending relations. I did not go to the north or near gaza when I was there just because I study politics in school so I knew the tensions in those parts. I felt perfectly comfortable the entire time I was there except for maybe two instances. And I was there for 6 weeks. It is so sad what is happening now and although I cannot say for certain I think that it is still safe to travel there, I have friends still travelling there who tell me that they are doing good and I think as long as you avoid the Northern Border with Lebanon and Syria and the Gaza border everything should be fine. Just pay attention and keep informed like you would traveling anywhere else.

  13. Tanja says

    thankyouboth for yourreplies. We’ll wait another week before we decide. our flights are stll going, it’s El Al
    have anice day!,

  14. says

    Thanks for this
    I fly out to israel tomorrow. I will be there for three weeks – hopefully will get to see Ramallah! I’ve heard fantastic things but want to be safe.
    How against cameras are people. I have dslr and tripod because i shoot video but don’t want anyone to get mad because i’m filming a street or a statue or something….

    • says

      There is no problem with cameras in Israel or the West Bank. However, should you experience any clashes, exercise caution like anywhere. That’s when people or authorities do not appreciate the intrusion. For example, in Turkey, tourists can be easily arrested during riots for getting too involved.

  15. Amy Eini says

    Hi Becki,
    I am a Canadian living in Israel for almost 30 years, with a daughter travelling SE Asia ( that is why I came across your site in the first place – to find out more details about her next destination – Japan – great source of info, by the way…) and a son in the IDF army in the midst of the chaos you describe so aptly above. I firstly want to congratulate you on a beautifully written and balanced piece of writing. I also want to comment on the strange surreal normalization life has become here over the past few weeks. Thanks to the iron dome, we are able to conduct life as usual, except for the run to the bomb shelters whenever the sirens go off… it is a mad world indeed. As for tourists, since Jerusalem is a must see , and since things are rather hot there right now with riots going on, I would definately wait until there is a ceasefire before coming to discover the country.

    May our sons come home safely!
    Amy

  16. says

    I have two sets of friends that travel to Israel on a consistent basis. One of them has dual citizenship. He and his family are currently in Israel for their summer holiday. They spend about three weeks there twice a year, and the first thing I say when he tells me it’s time for another visit is, “Are you sure it’s ok to go”?

    I then realized if they waited until it was completely peaceful, they may never end up going. He swears that while there are infrequent air raid sirens to respond to, the Iron Dome takes care of the country pretty well. Now, they are used to this, so the response of someone visiting for the first time will probably be very different.

    I would review U.S. State Department guidelines whenever you’re traveling to areas of the world with hotspots and also seek out chat rooms of expats and others in Israel.

  17. says

    This was really informative. I’m going to be heading to the Middle East soon, and it’s easy to get worried when bombarded by images of violence constantly shown in the media. Thanks for sharing such a balanced view of what’s going on over there.

  18. says

    I really want to visit this area of the world, some day, but I have to say I probably wouldn’t go right now. Sorry Ben & Tamer.

    My friend posted a good account of the politics that was easy to understand on his facebook the other day, and it made incredibly interesting reading. It makes me think that you can’t take a side. It’s just not that simple.

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