You know we don’t use the term bucket list around here at No Kids, Will Travel. We live with the philosophy that you don’t wait, you just go. Even so, we understand waiting is probably a good idea sometimes.
For years I have wanted to visit the Holy Land. I am (for the most part) not a deeply religious person, but my love of historical places runs deep and that little stretch of the Middle East that lies along the Mediterranean has some of the most important historical locations on the planet. The pull of the place on a historian like me is strong, but I’ve been hesitant to pack my bags and go. You seldom see a news report come out of Israel that doesn’t involve some sort of tragedy. I know the odds of getting struck by a Metro bus are probably greater than getting blown up while on vacation, but why take the chance, right?
The US Department of State’s last travel warning issued on June 19, 2013 and is still in effect starts like this…
“The security environment remains complex in Israel and the West Bank, and U.S. citizens need to be aware of the continuing risks of travel to these areas, particularly to areas described in this Travel Warning, where there are heightened tensions and security risks. The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, it cautions them that, with the exception of Jericho and Bethlehem, personal travel to the West Bank by U.S. government employees is prohibited.”
The warning goes on to say that safety in cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa and the surrounding areas are like most major global cities, and you should avoid isolated or economically depressed areas including the countryside.
But if you’re like me you aren’t going to Israel to visit Tel Aviv or Haifa (despite the nice beaches), you want to see Jerusalem, the city three of the world’s major religions claim as a holy place. It’s an ancient city that drew countless wars for its conquest and in many ways still does. The travel warning continues to warn that:
“In October 2012, a tour bus operating on an established route within East Jerusalem was the target of a stone-throwing attack that resulted in injury to a U.S. citizen tourist. Such attacks, however, are not common in the city of Jerusalem.
“In mid-November 2012, long-range rockets launched from Gaza in the direction of Jerusalem reached as far as the outskirts of Bethlehem.”
I wouldn’t let this discourage you, though. The tourism industry equates to nearly 4% of the national economy bringing $1.5 billion to the country. The state of Israel has a vested interest in protecting its tourists and tourist sites.
So is it safe? The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs says yes, Israel is a very safe country to tour. The country had close to 4 million visitors in 2012, and according to them “all of them went back home again safe and sound.”
Okay, but what about the Palestinian areas? The Palestinian Authority runs those so can they be safe? The crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is direct (no stopping along the way) and hundreds of tourist makes the trip each day. You see the little town of Bethlehem is dependent on tourism, too.
The authorities and powers that be say it’s safe, go ahead and plan your trip. If you’re still nervous, find a tour group. I would suggest doing a little research and choose one that has been doing it for a few years and has experienced guides. A couple of suggestions: Globus (we traveled with them to see Egypt and felt very safe) and Abercrombie and Kent.
Don’t let fear stop you for exploring the world. Travel smart, but don’t let fear keep you at home.