Safety in Israel
Safe Travel in the Holy Land: Thoughts on Israel, Conflict, and Security
The Holy Land often tops the list of Christian travel destinations. Despite this area’s historical, cultural, and spiritual significance, many would-be visitors are concerned about the safety of travel in and around Israel. How does the tension resulting from diverse religious beliefs, different nationalities, overlapping claims of ownership at holy sites, and armed conflict impact Inspiration’s tours in the area?
First, it should be stated that the success of our company is built on a number of things, from first-class itineraries to knowledgeable tour operators to dedicated service. But more important than any of these things is the safety and security of our groups. We will absolutely not send anyone—whether they are employees, partners, or travelers in our care—into an unsafe situation.
Security in Christian Travel
Over the last three decades, Inspiration has taken more than 20,000 travelers to Israel without incident. We have never sent passengers into an area where we thought they might be less than absolutely safe. When rare occasions of questionable safety have occurred, we have cancelled tours altogether and issued complete refunds. The last time this happened was in 2000, at the beginning of the Second Intifada—a period of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we view a cancellation as a last resort, we will not hesitate to do so if necessary.
That said, we work very hard not to be reactionary when it comes to travel in Israel, because the situation there is a complex one. As with every country we visit, we work closely with the U.S. Department of State and local governments to monitor events, anticipate problems before they occur, and adjust our tour schedules and routes when necessary. We have found, however, that the distance between continents makes it necessary for us to rely more on the instant, on-the-ground information provided by our trusted network of friends, partners, and suppliers in Israel. The personal contact of these relationships gives us a more accurate pulse on the area. (As an example, this 2012 Israel travel update from Sar-El, one of Inspiration’s travel suppliers, describes a much different experience in Jerusalem than reported in online media sources.)
How Safe is Israel?
According to the State Department, “Personal safety conditions in major metropolitan areas, including Tel Aviv and Haifa and their surrounding regions, are comparable to or better than those in other major global cities.” In fact, crime statistics show that a tourist is more likely to run into trouble in almost any major U.S. city—Chicago, New York, Atlanta—than in Israel. Traveling to the Holy Land is no less safe than traveling in the United States or any other global metropolitan area.
About Israeli Culture
Upon arriving in the Holy Land, you’ll notice a number of soldiers in public places. Don’t let the military presence give you the wrong impression. In Israel, the military also serves alongside the local police. Every citizen must enlist and serve—men for three years and women for two—and Israeli soldiers are required to keep their weapons with them at all times, even when off duty. This means you should not be surprised to stand outside a store, for instance, next to someone with a rifle hanging across his or her shoulder. While the sight of armed Israelis may be unsettling at first, their presence helps ensure everyone’s safety—crime in Israel is virtually non-existent—and should not cause alarm. In fact, you will find members of the military to be warm and inviting, even when on duty. Most are even accustomed to having their photos taken with respectful tourists.
As a whole, we have found Israel to be warm and welcoming toward visitors. Middle Easterners of all backgrounds are known for their longstanding tradition of hospitality toward outsiders, and Israelis are no exception. This tradition of caring for guests and visitors is why seasoned travelers rank Israel so highly as a destination.
The Best of Everything
While most visitors come to Israel to see ancient and historic sites, the country itself is fully modern. Israel is a democratic state with a $100 billion economy exceeding all the economies of its immediate neighbors combined. It offers every luxury and amenity you’d expect at home, from five-star hotels and restaurants to beautiful and clean beaches. Visitors can expect to be greeted with the best of everything.
Tourism has long been a major industry in Israel, but recent years have seen it grow significantly, at a rate of at least 7% per year. Construction has begun on multiple new hotels as a result of this steady expansion, and we believe it is largely a reflection of the comfort and security guests feel during their stay in the area.
Occasionally, our ministry partners request that our tours make stops in biblical sites like Jericho or Bethlehem, or otherwise have plans that require travel through the West Bank. Due to the long-standing tension between Palestinians and Israelis, this may be of some concern to our guests. Let us alleviate those concerns. Over the years we have traveled into Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank, and always without incident. We always use licensed guides, who accompany our buses at all times and take us through the safest routes. Furthermore, we continue to find the Palestinians we meet to be spectacular hosts.
It’s worth noting that tourism is such a profitable industry in both Israel and Palestine that neither country wishes to do anything to harm it. The local population is highly aware that hurting tourists or offending western nations can bring disastrous repercussions and deeply impact their livelihood. This is not something you hear in the American news cycle, but it is very much on the minds of the people in and around the Holy Land.
Israel and the News Cycle
“But we just saw on the news…” Strife in the Middle East is a popular subject for the 24-hour American news networks, and we sometimes field nervous questions from travelers concerned by news reports—or from families back home who worry about their loved one’s safety in the Holy Land. After all, they say, Israel is a small country marked by ongoing tension. Should they think twice about traveling there? While we understand these concerns, we believe they are worsened by the media’s portrayal of the Middle East.
Inspiration has led Israel tours without incident while news reports portrayed conflict in the region. We have observed that media networks often use dated file footage to accompany stories when current video is unavailable. For example, a five-minute incident of children throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers is represented on the news as a “violent Palestinian protest”—even though it was quickly contained and resulted in no injuries. The mainstream media’s reporting about the Middle East can be more dramatic than the real events.
We are committed to the safety of our tours and travelers, and monitor every instance of conflict, unrest, or potential danger with your security in mind.
Tips for Traveling Safely
While Israel is a very safe country, we do recommend a number of basic travel tips to help you protect your personal belongings and yourself. These are the same tips we share for all international travel destinations:
- Don’t let safety concerns distract you from enjoying the destination itself. Relax and let us take care of security so you can immerse yourself in these sites of historic and spiritual significance. As you would anywhere, keep your eyes open and feel free to ask us about anything.
- Watch for pickpockets and unethical street vendors. As in any tourist-rich area, people exist who hope to take advantage of obvious travelers. We will let you know when and where to be cautious and are always available to help you navigate purchases.
- Keep a close eye on your belongings, regardless of the destination. Lock your passport in the hotel safe. Bring a Bible, camera, purse, or wallet with you on day trips, but leave the rest of your belongings at the hotel.
- Use caution when traveling alone. It is generally safe to walk alone in much of Israel, but we advise travelers to spend free time among a small group of people—just like you would in any large, unfamiliar city.
We, at Inspiration find Israel to be a beautiful and safe place to visit, as well as a place of enormous cultural, historical, and religious significance. Millions of travelers discover this for themselves every year, including thousands who do so under our care.