This guide was written prior to the October 2023 escalation of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militant groups. The ongoing conflict has markedly affected the safety and advisability of travel to the region. Please consult with relevant authorities and exercise extreme caution when considering travel to Israel and the surrounding areas.
Safety in Israel is a common concern for travellers in the region, but dangers in most of the country often appear more prevalent due to focused media coverage on specific conflict areas, overshadowing the relative safety in many parts of Israel. While there is a risk of terrorism, this is closely monitored by the Israeli military, and tourists are unlikely to visit dangerous areas.
Crime rates in Israel are relatively low compared to the US and most Western European countries, with minimal gun violence and a low risk of mugging. Expats in Israel who take the necessary precautions and avoid problematic areas will find the country as pleasant and safe as many other popular expat destinations.
While this article highlights safety from an expat's viewpoint, it's essential to acknowledge the daily experiences of local populations, especially those living in areas of conflict. Their lived experiences offer profound insights into the broader dynamics of safety and socio-political conditions in Israel and the surrounding regions.
Terrorism in Israel
There have been several terrorist attacks in Israel over the years, and it remains a threat, although the number of deaths from terrorist incidents is the lowest it has been in a decade.
Sustained tension between the country and its neighbours has done little to diminish the threat of terrorist attacks, which comes from various sources.
That said, the risk of terrorist attacks is substantially reduced by the measures taken by Israeli national security, which is among the most developed in the world. The Israeli Defense Forces are highly trained and effective, and care is taken in securing heavily populated and tourist-favoured areas. The Palestinian National Authority has also made efforts to counter terrorism in the West Bank.
Threat of rocket attacks in Israel
There have been recent instances of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, usually targeting large metropolitan areas. The chance of this occurring largely depends on tensions between Gaza and Israel.
Expats should stay informed about the current state of affairs at all times. It's also wise to follow the safety advice of one's national government. The current state of tensions between Gaza and Israel is high, with periodic escalations leading to exchanges of airstrikes and rocket attacks.
Israel has invested heavily in countering rocket attacks, evident in the Iron Dome rocket interception defence system which has an extremely high success rate. A smartphone app that warns of potential incoming missiles has also developed, providing its users with time to seek shelter. Expats in Israel should take heed of warning sirens and make sure they know the location of the nearest bomb shelter.
General safety in Israel
Expats in Israel will find that life in cities such as Tel Aviv is relatively peaceful and free from the threats usually associated with the country. Violent crime is low within Israel, and locals generally treat visitors well.
Expats should nevertheless keep an eye on their valuables when in public places, such as beaches or parks, as petty theft and opportunistic crimes have been known to occur.
Expat women should be aware that interactions with locals can be direct, and some Israeli men may be forthright in their approach, especially to foreigners. Communicating boundaries clearly can help resolve unfamiliar social situations.
Conflict areas around Israel
The volatility in Israel primarily has to do with several key regions, which many expats avoid. Problematic areas around Israel include:
The Gaza region, on the Egyptian border, has seen considerable unrest. Gaza is governed by Hamas, an Islamist political and military organisation, which often has political disagreements with the Palestinian National Authority and with Israel. These complexities can further contribute to the tensions.
The current situation is tense, with periodic outbreaks of violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. The Israeli state and most foreign travel advisories strongly advise against travel to Gaza, including to the waters off the coast of the region.
The West Bank holds significant historical and religious importance. Over the decades, changes in governance and ongoing territorial disputes, many of which trace back to deep-seated historical disagreements, have shaped the region. Expats can travel to the West Bank, although they will need to pass through Israeli military checkpoints to do so.
Changes in legislation related to settlements and displacement in the West Bank have heightened ongoing tensions. The Jordan Valley, in particular, has seen Israeli settlement expansion, displacing the Palestinian residents and creating a charged environment. Hebron frequently witnesses clashes between Israeli settlers and displaced Palestinians.
Expats travelling to Jerusalem should note that the city's eastern half is in the West Bank. Some governments have advised their citizens to stay alert when in East Jerusalem and the Old City, as protests and religious demonstrations are common.
The Golan Heights came under Israeli control during the Six-Day War in 1967. Its strategic significance and water resources have made it a contested territory since then. While it remains under Israeli control, its history with Syria marks its current volatile nature.
There have been cases of shelling across the border, and the region is potentially unsafe for both foreigners and locals. The situation remains unpredictable, and travel advisories for the area recommend caution.
Road safety in Israel
Regarding road safety, Israel ranks poorly compared to other countries, with a recent report ranking Israel last among regional countries in reducing traffic deaths. The situation is a systemic problem, with a lack of resources and neglect from the government contributing to the issue.
Given the dangerous driving conditions, it is often best for those unfamiliar with the roads to rely on public transport instead. Expats driving in Israel should take out appropriate insurance, especially if driving through conflict zones or more rural areas.
Those driving into the desert should take plenty of water and a mobile phone, inform others of their intended route before leaving, and stay on marked roads. Before departure, expats should ensure their vehicle is in good condition. They should also check weather and road conditions before travelling, as the rainy season brings a risk of flash floods.
*The security situation in Israel is highly complex and can change suddenly. Expats travelling in and around Israel should ensure they stay up to date with the latest news, travel alerts and warnings from the Israeli government.
►Read Cost of Living in Israel for an understanding of monthly expenses
►For a better understanding of how to adapt to local customs, read Culture Shock in Israel
What do expats say about safety in Israel?
"Luckily, over the past few years, there have not been any major terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. But that does not mean that the country is not vigilant.'" Jessica's expat experience provides some useful insights into life in Tel Aviv.
Are you an expat living in Israel?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Israel. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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