Stay Safe in Israel
Crime and terrorism
|What to do when a rocket siren sounds|
|Hamas and other Gaza-based groups have often launched missiles towards Israel. In the past, Hezbollah in Lebanon has fired rockets, and a few have strayed into the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights from Syria’s ongoing civil conflict. However, Israel has developed a new system known as the Iron Dome, which launches missiles in order to intercept rockets. It is critical to understand that it does not always intercept rockets, since some have slipped through and struck their objectives. To remain safe, you must know what you’re doing to avoid being blasted by a rocket. When a siren sounds, you must seek refuge in a safe location. If there is no nearby shelter, go to a building and get as far away from windows and other delicate items as possible. If there is no structure nearby, lay down on your stomach with your hands on your head. Make certain that the rocket siren is not confused with the Holocaust Remembrance Day siren. As a result, double-check the calendar.|
Travel to Israel is generally secure, especially when there is no conflict between Israel and Hezbollah or Palestinian terrorists, and most crime rates are considerably below those seen in most other Western nations. Having said that, Palestinian terrorist organizations have been targeting buses and bus stations since the early 1990s. Bombings of buses and bus stops became uncommon after the West Bank security barrier was built in 2005, but some Palestinians have lately driven automobiles or other vehicles into people waiting for the Jerusalem Light Rail, for example. However, the odds of getting engaged in a traffic accident are much greater than the chances of being involved in an assault.
It is nevertheless a good idea to keep up with developments both before and during your visit. Caution is especially advised in contested regions and places bordering the Gaza Strip, notably in the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which have been targeted by rockets fired from the Strip, as well as on and near the Jerusalem Light Rail. Notify the police if you notice someone behaving suspiciously or discover an unattended package. Also, never leave a bag alone in a public place, since it may be mistaken for a bomb.
Israeli police use light blue or very dark navy uniforms with flat hats, while Israeli Border Police (similar in function to the Gendarmerie) wear dark grey uniforms with green berets or police ball caps. It is not uncommon to see troops (and sometimes civilians) carrying weapons (military rifles and pistols) in public. The vast majority of these troops are merely on leave from their bases. Soldiers have no power over people, except in specifically defined zones like borders or military bases, where they may hold you until a police officer arrives.
Israel is a highly safe nation in terms of ordinary crime. Israel has one of the world’s lowest crime rates. You may wander around cities and towns at night without worry since muggings and drunken violence are uncommon. Single women, in particular, should exercise caution late at night, although the dangers are much lower than almost everywhere else in Europe and America.
Private armed security guards are widespread (and even mandated by law) at every public entry (for malls, stores, restaurants, etc.). The guards may search your luggage and use a metal detector on your body. When entering underground parking garages, your vehicle’s trunk will be examined. Do not be alarmed: this is just a matter of national policy. If you’re carrying a large bag, you can usually get away with simply presenting your passport, and the guards will be just as relieved as you are.
As demonstrated by the Israeli–Lebanese conflict in 2006, a visitor should constantly be aware of Israel’s ties with its neighbors. Despite the present truce, there is a minimal risk of the war resuming. Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, respectively, have stable relations with Israel. The border between the Israeli-ruled part of the Golan Heights and Syria has also been generally quiet since 1974, but there have been recent attempts by Hezbollah to place missile batteries in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, and some stray rockets from Syria’s civil war have hit the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights.
Fighting and hostilities restarted in the Gaza Strip in mid-2014, confirming that any travel to the Gaza Strip region should be avoided at this time, and in the past, numerous notable foreigners (including volunteers) have been abducted by armed militants during escalations. Keep in mind that Israel does not permit travel to the Gaza Strip; the only route in is via Egypt.
Also, be warned that, as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Muslim-Jewish disagreements over the status of the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif, violent confrontations may sometimes erupt in and around that holy site, with stones being hurled at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below. Before visiting the section of Jerusalem’s Old City, check the weather.
In desert and rural areas
The southern Israel desert area has excellent hiking routes in a gorgeous environment with certain unique geological characteristics that are not found anywhere else in the world. However, if you are new to desert trekking, do not go without an experienced hiker, appropriate equipment and clothing, enough of water, and the essential safeguards. Dehydration on hot days, hypothermia on chilly nights, and flash floods on rainy days all pose significant risks!
Hiking paths in southern Israel (including the Golan) are next to military firing ranges. Do not trek in this area if you are unsure where you are heading. These shooting zones are shown on official hiking maps.
Similarly, while trekking or leaving the roads, particularly near border regions, be cautious of standing and/or collapsed fences with a notice (yellow with a red triangle on it). Because of the potential of land mines, some locations are deemed off-limits. They may have been placed by the Turks, the British, the Vichy French, the Druze, the Israelis, the Lebanese army, the Lebanese Militias, the PLO, or the Syrians (Golan Heights, Lebanese border). It may take another century to clean up all of those places.
Gay and lesbian travel
Homosexuality is allowed in Israel, unlike in many other areas of the Middle East. In reality, some gains in homosexual rights occurred in Israel before they occurred in a number of other “Western” nations, including the United States. Attitudes toward homosexuality vary depending on where you travel, but in general, Israel is regarded safe for homosexuals and lesbians, since violence is uncommon and open opposition is mainly limited to certain areas of Jerusalem and/or religious communities.
All three main cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa) have an annual “Pride” march, while the yearly Love Parade in Tel Aviv draws a large crowd. Though Jerusalem has an annual pride parade, openly homosexual individuals are uncommon in the city, and you should avoid publicly displaying your sexual orientation in most public locations in Jerusalem or other obviously religious sites. In general, avoid blatant or provocative public displays of gay love or discussion in Jerusalem. While anything severe is unlikely to happen to you, it will certainly attract attention and identify you as a “tourist.”
Tel Aviv, on the other side, is extremely liberal and gay-friendly. It is usual to witness same-sex couples kissing in public places. Tel Aviv was named the world’s top gay vacation destination for 2012 in a poll conducted by American Airlines and GayCities.com, and with good reason: there are numerous LGBT friendly venues around the city, which is regarded a bastion of Israel’s homosexual population. The evenings of Tel Aviv are filled with hundreds of passionate, lively taverns, bars, and dance clubs that stay open till morning. The city is busy in all sectors of entertainment and is highly recommended for visitors seeking for interesting nightlife in general, and especially thrilling gay nightlife. After all, there is a rationale for the ancient saying “Jerusalem prays, Haifa works, and Tel Aviv dances.”
Emergency phone numbers
- Police (mish-ta-RA) — 100
- Ambulance Service (“Magen David Adom”-MADA, literally “Red Star of David”) — 101
- Fire department (me-kha-BEY ESH) — 102
Stay Healthy in Israel
There are no particular medical problems in Israel, and no vaccinations other than the standard regular vaccines are required for travel. Although rabies is not a significant danger for most tourists, the CDC recommends this vaccination for individuals who participate in outdoor and other activities in remote locations that expose them to animal bites (such as adventure travel and caving). Hepatitis A and B vaccinations may also be required. Travelers visiting the West Bank and Gaza should seriously consider being vaccinated against typhoid. Typhoid may be acquired via contaminated food or water. Typhoid vaccination is not often advised for those who are just visiting Israel.
All large cities have pharmacies and hospitals, and emergency and health treatment is of extremely high Western standards. All medical staff, including pharmacists, speak sufficient English. In Israeli pharmacies, “over-the-counter” medication is just that: over-the-counter. If you have any questions, ask the pharmacist. Travel health insurance is strongly advised; although all Israelis are protected by the national health insurance system, foreigners will be required to pay for any treatment obtained in public hospitals or clinics.
All of Israel’s tap water is drinkable and completely safe to drink, both in cities and in rural areas. Avoid taps in cultivated fields (for example, when hiking); they may utilize recycled water that is only suitable for irrigation.
Street food, including fried meals, seafood, and various salads, is safe and hygienic. It is nevertheless prudent to exercise caution and avoid anything strange.
Because of the scorching temperature in sunny Israel, remember to wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.