jerusalem

Is it Safe to Travel to Israel?

More often than not, Israel seems to be in the news when it comes to a crisis in the Middle East.

The nation has long been at the centre of disputes, whether it be Palestine, the West Bank, or conflicts with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or Jordan. The region is infamous for the number of wars and conflicts that always seem to play out here, be it Roman invasions two thousand years ago, the Crusades of the Middle Ages, or the Six Days’ war just a few decades ago.

Israel has a reputation, and that keeps many travellers away. But while some areas are best kept away from – namely border areas and disputed territories – Israel has much more to offer. As long as you keep up to date with the news while you’re in the country, then it’s a fantastically exciting place to visit.

The beaches of Tel Aviv are party central, while there are ancient sites and dramatic desert and mountain scenery across the country. Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating and eventful cities in the world, while the Dead Sea is a phenomenal place to experience.

Jerusalem-Jews at wall

Here’s everything you need to know about staying safe while travelling through Israel!

Health Concerns in Israel

Anyone travelling to Israel needs to be up to date with any required vaccinations before departing.

For the most up-to-date information, it’s always best to check first with the GOV.UK website and with the excellent Fit For Travel Website. Both offer an insight into the health and safety situation and the vaccination requirements.

You will also want to book an appointment with your local GP or travel nurse, where you can learn more about staying up to date with vaccinations and receive any required boosters or immunisations that you might be lacking.

At a minimum, you will want to be up to date on Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Typhoid, Polio and Diphtheria.

Health care is not free in Israel, unlike in the United Kingdom, and if you need to receive medical care or if you visit the doctors, then you will need to pay for treatment.

All medical costs are expected to be paid up front, which is why it’s so important to have adequate medical insurance when travelling to Israel. If you have a bad accident or contract a serious illness then medical costs can spiral, quickly.

You will need to be sure that your policy covers you for all areas of Israel that you are planning on travelling to. The West Bank and the Occupied Territories are generally on travel exclusion zones and most standard travel insurance won’t cover these areas. Double check the policy you take out if you’re planning on visiting these disputed areas.

While medical services within Israel are incredibly modern and efficient, in the West Bank and the Occupied Territories it’s a different story entirely, and infrastructure is seriously lacking.

Israel is also at major risk of terror attacks due to its geopolitical situation, especially so in Jerusalem and the voter areas. Again, make sure that your medical policy covers you for all potential incidents, including evacuation if needed.

Food and Water

Before travelling to Israel, it’s best to make sure that you’re aware of the potential health and safety concerns when it comes to the local food and the water.

Israel is a very safe country in this respect, and the tap water across the country is universally seen to be drinkable, with the exception of certain areas around the Dead Sea where you will want to drink mineral water only.

While the tap water is generally safe, you will want to be careful if you are only in Israel on a short trip, as different mineral contents can mean an upset stomach if you’re not quite used to the consistency. For short trips you might want to consider using refillable water bottles and replenishing from hotel or accommodation water coolers where available.

As a primarily Jewish nation, the food in Israel is often Kosher, with the exception of Christian communities or more secular cities such as Tel Aviv. In practice this isn’t an issue as it simply might limit the range of food you might find available at a given restaurant, as the dishes they serve might be based on kosher laws.

Vegetarians can rejoice because Israel is a country with an abundance of excellent veggie and even vegan dishes. It’s also a wonderful country for foodies, and you’ll be able to indulge in a range of local cuisine from hummus to falafel.

You’ll find a wide range of international cuisines available in the cities if the local fare isn’t going down well, while the country’s Middle Eastern location ensures that there is a huge range of regional restaurants available here.

Food hygiene is generally of a high standard, especially in hotels and restaurants, but as with the water, you may find yourself unsettled if you’re not used to particular foods, spices or ingredients.

israel-fruit market

Crime

When it comes to crime, Israel is incredibly safe and when travelling around the country it’s very rare to be caught up in acts of violent crime or assault.

Petty theft, as with anywhere else in the world, can be an issue, especially in crowded tourist spots, so always keep an eye on your pockets and your belongings.

Likewise, in hotels and hostels always ensure that your belongings are locked away if you leave the room. The beaches can be susceptible to thefts too, so if swimming in the ocean, never leave your belongings unattended; always have someone watching over them to avoid being the victim of an unwanted crime whilst on your holiday.

Terrorism Risks

While Israel might be an incredibly safe country to visit when it comes down to food, water, and crime aimed at tourists, this is a country that is very much at high risk from terror attacks.

While terror attacks can happen anywhere in the world, due to Israel’s foreign policies and due to the history of struggle and conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in the region, terror attacks are much more frequent than in Western European or North American countries.

Due to the tense situation with the Palestinian Territories, there are frequent rocket attacks launched from outside Israel. These are most commonly launched from Gaza, so most governments advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip and nearby areas within Israel.

It’s not uncommon for these rockets to be launched towards Tel Aviv either, and there have been numerous documented hits in the city. Israel does have a high alert air defence system and most rocket attacks are intercepted long before they can cause harm, but you do need to be aware of the potential danger and make sure that your insurance can cover you in the event of an injury sustained from such a terrorist attack if it came to the worst.

In Jerusalem and the West Bank areas there is also a high threat of terrorist attack due to the nature of the city. This is a holy city that’s revered by all of the three major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

For this reason, Jerusalem, while a fascinating city, can be a flashpoint for terror attacks. The city is also prone to demonstrations, and these protests can quickly degenerate into violence between the protestors and the security forces – don’t get involved if you see one taking place.

In the occupied Golan Heights – an area recognised as the territory of Syria – and along the Lebanon border, there can also be sporadic military clashes or rocket attacks. These areas are best avoided too.

This has long been a tense part of the world, so before travelling to Israel and while you are there, it’s best to keep informed of the political situation on the ground to pre-empt any major conflicts that might arise while you are in the country. As well as terror attacks, the threat of war with neighbouring countries should not be ignored either, so keep abreast of current affairs to stay safe in Israel.

barbed-wire-over looking Jerusalem

Family Travel Safety (Israel with Kids)

Israel isn’t traditionally seen as a family holiday destination; it’s usually seen as more of an experienced travel destination.

In reality though, it’s more than safe to travel here as a family, as long as you avoid the conflict hotspot areas and disputed border regions. It’s not wise to travel to Gaza or the border regions with children, as these areas are unpredictable.

A popular family destination is Tel Aviv, burgeoning beach resort city where you can find excellent hotels and resorts, many of which are perfectly suited for family travel.

Travel to Jerusalem as a family will be a fascinating if chaotic experience, but one that is sure to leave a lasting impression on the kids. If travelling in Jerusalem, keep an eye on your kids at all times, as the old city is a maze of streets and alleyways and it’s easy to become lost, quickly.

Tel aviv seaside sunset

Family Travel Safety (Israel for Women)

Israel is a very inclusive society and women will find that – especially compared to other Middle Eastern countries – Israel is a very safe country to travel around, even solo.

Israeli women are very much part of Israeli society, particularly as they have to serve in the military, just as the men do, and are often on the front lines too.

It’s not unusual for women to solo travel around Israel and you won’t be out of the ordinary.

Israel is strangely secular yet also incredibly religious in parts. In most places women can dress as they wish, and attire can be liberal. This is especially okay on the beaches and in secular cities such as Tel Aviv. Religious sites are another matter though, and women – and men – need to dress conservatively and appropriately when visiting these places, so as not to cause offence. It’s best to carry a scarf or a shawl around when sightseeing just in case you need to cover your head for religious sites.

Sexual harassment is not common in Israel, but of course as with anywhere else in the world it’s not unheard of either.

israel-street musicians

Tips for Staying Safe in Israel

Buy the Right Insurance

While much of Israel is incredibly safe to travel around, it’s always important to make certain that you have the right insurance before you depart.

Always check that your insurance covers you for the activities that you might be pursuing – be it scuba diving, hiking, etc. – and purchase specialist insurance if you need to.

For Israel, it’s also important that you check where you are covered, as insurance can become invalid in areas that are considered no-go zones by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In Israel, this includes border regions and territories such as Gaza and the Golan Heights.

Learn the Language

Israel is a surprisingly multicultural society, and the diversity of the country is represented in the number of languages you’ll hear in the cities, from Arabic and Hebrew through to English and other European languages.

The official language of Israel is Hebrew and this is the language you’ll hear most, and the language that you’ll see written down. It’s worth learning a few words to ingratiate yourself with the locals and to become more involved with the culture. However, you will also find that English is spoken to a high degree across the country.

Know the Laws

When travelling to Israel, it’s important to respect the local laws and customs of the country, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

Different communities have different regulations. In ultra-Orthodox areas you will need to respect the different laws, particularly on the Sabbath, as you will in Muslim areas during Ramadan. This is a diverse country and there is a diverse set of laws, traditions and customs to adhere to.

If you’re travelling to Israel, then stay safe and keep covered in the event of an accident by taking out a comprehensive travel insurance policy with Navigator Travel Insurance.