Is it Safe to Travel to Israel?
Yes. When I began to write this article I wanted to leave it at that. Three letters. But the reason you're here, and the reason this question continues to be asked, is that we are uncertain. The West views the Middle East through the lens our news stations create. The lens of violence, unrest, pain, and suffering. We are consistently bombarded with these images, and as an unfortunate consequence they inform our thoughts and beliefs about the region. What we see and hear about the other side of the world must mean that traveling there is unsafe, right?
Throughout all of human history, Israel, or its people, have experienced conflict. What we see and hear from our news outlets is not necessarily false, but we also must be careful to believe it gives us the full picture. Everyday in Israel people go to work, children go to school, parents take their kids to the park, not because they must in order to survive, but because it is normal. Friends go out to eat, children play in the street, and couples stroll down the sidewalk. Clearly they aren't watching our news stations.
Of course, I am intentionally making light of the very real threats that face these people and their country, but it is necessary in order to counter the excessive fear generated everywhere else. There is certainly risk in Israel, but its people have risen to meet it, and as a result do not need to live in fear. It is the response to this risk that contributes to their national identity. Both men and women are required to serve in the military upon turning 18. Think about that for a minute. Nearly every family of this small country on the edge of the Mediterranean surrounded by enemies has an active member of the military. This not only helps to create and maintain the security necessary for daily life, but binds all Israelis together in a unique way. Should you check travel warnings and the current status in the region prior to departing? Yes, you should do this no matter your destination. Always be aware. But does this risk make it dangerous? No, and I will explain why.
THERE IS SECURITY EVERYWHERE
The sight of security personnel openly carrying firearms or other weapons creates uneasiness and even fear in a lot of people. It should do the exact opposite. Those security forces are there to protect their families, friends, and you. Israelis are used to heightened security, and accept it for the necessity it is. You are statistically safer within Israel than you are in most US or European cities. So when you have to go through a metal detector to enter a shopping mall in Jerusalem, be respectful, patient, and above all, grateful.
BEN GURION INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IS ONE OF THE SAFEST IN THE WORLD
There is a reason that other nations study the Israelis and their security methods at Ben Gurion International Airport. It works. The security screening begins before you even board the plan from your place of origin, and uses many methods to ensure those entering the country do not pose a threat. The most important things to remember are to be honest, respectful, patient, and remember that each security member is doing their job to ensure that, above all, you are safe.
One of the consistent headlines we are used to reading is that of missiles being launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. What is missing from these headlines is that nearly all of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip have had a range of less than 25 miles. Additionally, one of the recent tools implemented by Israel in response is the Iron Dome, a missile defense system that literally shoots down missiles in the air. Is it 100% effective? No. But with a nearly 90% effective rate to-date, it represents more than a small improvement. And if that still doesn't allay your fears, remember that unless you are traveling to Israel for a purpose other than tourism, you likely won't go anywhere near the Gaza Strip.
If you have been dreaming of traveling to Israel but the fear of violence has kept you away, don't let it any longer. As always, be aware, do your research, and make the best decision with the information available considering the current state of the region. A transformative journey awaits, so long as you don't let the fear of your local news station keep you at home.