Thursday, November 06, 2014

Is is safe to travel to Israel?

Is it safe to travel to Israel?

That's the number one question/concern that I get when I talk to people about visiting the Holy Land.

In general, I have to say, "Yes, very much so."

I recently returned from my second trip to Israel. Just two months before the trip an intense conflict between Israel and Gaza was raging. Hundreds of rockets were being fired into Israel every day.

The media like to focus on those conflicts, and it's easy to get a sense that the region is dangerous. In reality, the conflict is typically confined to a small area that is miles away from the major tourist areas.

Gaza is approximately 50 miles from Tel Aviv, home to Israel's international airport and the starting point for most visitors. Rockets fired from Gaza have reached the outskirts of the city, but have not reached into the city. (And don't forget that Israel's "Iron Dome" defense system shoots down a larger percentage of those rockets).

The bulk of Christian touring is done in the Galilee area, which has been completely removed from any danger in recent years.

The other hot area is Jerusalem. The Old City itself is divided into four quarters and tensions, especially in the Muslim Quarter, tend to flare.

During my recent visit, tensions were indeed flaring, especially in East Jerusalem. A shooting in the Old City even resulted in a brief closure of the Temple Mount.

The result for tourists - 1) We didn't hear about the shooting until the next morning even though we had spent that day on a walking tour of the Old City, and 2) Some tour operators adjusted their plans on the next day and visited other sites instead of spending time in the Old City. 3) Finally, two days later (a Saturday), we spent the entire day in the Old City shopping, even venturing into a busy and peaceful Muslim Quarter without incident or fear for our safety.

Tourism is a leading industry in Israel. The dollars spent are important to the Jewish and Muslim communities. The last thing any of them want to see is a tourist get injured or killed.

If you're thinking about going to Israel, consult with a knowledgeable travel agent with connections to experienced tour operators on the ground in Israel. They will have your best interests at heart.