Israel is home to many of the world’s most significant cultural and historical sites. Israel was formed in the 20th century, but the region has been at the crossroads of history since biblical times.
A visit to Israel is comparable to a crash course in ancient and modern history and an extensive survey of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith.
With impressive archaeological sites, delicious food, and a Mediterranean climate, it’s no wonder Israel receives over four and a half million tourists annually.
Of course, as one of the cradles of humanity, Israel should receive at least double or even triple the number of visitors it does — right? The comparative lack of tourists in Israel is partially attributable to the ongoing conflict with Palestine.
International media’s coverage of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank has also inadvertently characterized Israel as a dangerous country. Despite its reputation for violence, Israel is a relatively safe country to visit.
Is Israel Safe to Visit in 2023?
The majority of Israel is safe to visit. Aside from highly concentrated areas of armed conflict and terrorism, Israel experiences relatively low rates of property crime and criminal assaults on residents and tourists compared to other countries.
Israel’s low crime rates are partially attributable to the 70-plus-year conflict with Palestine; all of the armed conflicts over contested territory have led to a militarized state with state-of-the-art public surveillance technologies.
The ubiquitous presence of security and surveillance means tourists are incredibly safe within Israel so long as they steer clear of Gaza and the West Bank.
However, due to the extreme nature of Israel’s conflict with Palestine, we recommend tourists exercise increased caution when visiting Israel. Israel is close to serious armed conflict, and there is no guarantee that anywhere is 100% safe from terrorist attacks.
In general, tourists should avoid confrontation with the local population. A cautionary measure that should be easy to exercise since Israelites are tourist-friendly.
It also pays to remain vigilant in highly populated areas like metro stations, museums, and malls, as the possibility of crime is never zero.
Crime in Israel
International media coverage of Israel often focuses on the violent conflict and terrorism in Gaza and the West Bank.
The intense international scrutiny of the geopolitical situation in Gaza and the West Bank has inadvertently painted Israel as an overtly dangerous place. However, as many visitors of both Jewish and non-Jewish ethnicity will attest, the majority of Israel is safe to visit.
These personal accounts are backed up by the most recent crime statistics in Israel from the World Bank, which states the country has an overall crime rate of 1.49% per 100,000 people.
Violent Crime in Israel
The most salient threat to tourists visiting Israel is terrorism. According to OSAC, Israel’s major tourist destinations, Tel Aviv-Yafo and Jerusalem, are high-threat locations for terrorism.
However, the high-threat warning isn’t a high-frequency warning: Tourists visiting Israel are at increased risk of experiencing a terrorist attack but are infrequently the victims of terrorist attacks.
Terrorist attacks target the Israeli military and are concentrated in the contested territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai peninsula.
Civil unrest is also common in Israel’s contested territories and frequently results in violence. Israeli security forces generally have good intelligence on anticipated protests and demonstrations and issue security warnings to residents and tourists accordingly.
Still, tourists visiting Israel should stay abreast of current events, as the geopolitical situation between Israel and Palestine is constantly in flux. In general, tourists should avoid organized demonstrations and protests.
In context, Israel is far safer than its reputation lets on. The United States, a country internationally recognized as a safe place for tourists to visit, is — by the numbers — a more dangerous place to visit than Israel.
Despite its international reputation for violence, Israel experiences 12 times fewer gun-related crimes than the US. Israel also reports approximately 20 violent murders per 1 million people, which is less than half the rate of violent murders reported in the US.
Israel also experiences far lower rates of property crime than the US. The US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) most recent report on crime and safety in Israel reports that US-based nationals are at increased risk of terrorism when visiting Israel.
In general, this increased threat of terrorism extends beyond Americans to any tourist visiting hotly contested areas of Israel. That is to say that OSAC’s report emphasizes the unpredictable nature of violence in Israel due to its complex geopolitical tensions with Palestine.
Tourists can reduce their chances of encountering or suffering a terrorist attack by avoiding Israel’s contested territories, particularly Gaza and the West Bank.
Non-Violent Crime in Israel
Tourists who avoid Gaza and the West Bank when visiting Israel are more likely to experience vehicle or petty theft than violent crime. Highly taxed vehicles make attractive targets for criminals in Israel.
Israeli tourists with vehicles should exercise caution when parking their vehicles in popular tourist destinations. Israeli tourists can reduce the chance of a break-in or vehicle theft by locking their vehicles and securely storing personal valuables out of sight.
Petty theft is moderately common in high-traffic tourist areas but can be avoided by staying vigilant and traveling in groups.
Tourists should avoid carrying all of their identification documentation and valuable belongings on them and opt to travel the city with only the most essential documents and personal effects.
Other Safety Concerns
Domestic police forces report their primary concerns within Israel are financial schemes, fraud, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and arms trafficking.
Of these security concerns, tourists should be particularly aware of kidnapping and fraud. The most recent data on kidnapping in Israel reports 3.5 kidnappings per 100,000 people.
Kidnapping can occur anywhere in Israel but is common in high conflict areas such as near Gaza and the West Bank. Kidnapping is also common in ports of entry. In Israel, as in most countries, kidnapping disproportionately targets women.
Women can lower their chances of being kidnapped by organizing their travel to and from their destinations ahead of time with established, trusted travel guides. When possible, group travel is preferred to solo travel.
Like kidnapping, fraud can occur anywhere in Israel. Fraud and financial schemes are more common in high tourist areas such as Old City Jerusalem.
Tourists should avoid shops without clear signage and avoid transactions where they are unsure of the exchange rate. Tourists can avoid high-pressure sales situations by explicitly asking for the price of commodities.
Tourists should never advertise how much money they are carrying. Drug and weapons trafficking don’t directly affect tourists visiting Israel but are concerns that affect the overall safety of Israel.
Terrorism in Israel
Terrorism in Israel exists because of the country’s decades-long military occupation of Palestinian lands. The United Nations proposed a 60/40 split of Palestine to create Israel.
60% of Palestine was to become Israel; The remaining 40% would remain under Palestinian control. However, disagreements over the United Nations proposal led to armed conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Israel emerged from the engagement triumphant and imposed an 80/20 split of the contested territory on Palestine. This territorial dispute is the root of the terrorist and civil unrest safety concerns that affect tourists today.
Gaza and the West Bank are the most dangerous areas of Israel. Tourists are strongly discouraged from visiting Gaza and the West Bank, as the nature of these areas precludes the intervention of embassies during an emergency situation.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Israel has three areas all tourists should avoid: Gaza, the West Bank, and the Sinai Peninsula.
Gaza, or the Gaza Strip, is approximately 141 square miles of contested territory controlled by Palestine. Gaza is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the North, Egypt to the West, and Israel to the South and West.
The area known as Gaza has been occupied and ruled by several groups over its history, including the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Jews. Gaza became the hotly contested territory it’s today because of Israel’s occupation following the Six-Day War.
Although Israel has seceeded control of Gaza to Palestine, tensions between Israeli military forces and Palestinian military organizations remain high in the area.
Gaza is plagued by perpetual finger-pointing: Israel claims Palestine is the aggressor and Palestine claims Israel is the aggressor.
Either way, the violent attacks in Gaza mean tourists should seriously reconsider visiting the territory. Because of safety concerns, many countries have replaced restrictions on travel to and from Gaza.
For example, any member of the US government is forbidden from coming within 7 miles of the Gaza demarcation line. Tourists should check with their travel advisory board to learn about restrictions on travel to and from Gaza.
The West Bank
The West Bank is an area roughly the size of the state of Delaware, controlled jointly by Palestinian and Israeli forces. The West Bank is bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, north, and south.
The West Bank is home to both Palestinian and Israeli settlements. The animosity between Palestinian and Israeli settlements in the West Bank stems from the decades-long armed conflict between the two countries.
Local animosities in the region cause frequent violent outbreaks that threaten tourist safety. The cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem are located in Israel’s West Bank. Tourists must exercise extreme caution when visiting these cities and adhere to all security warnings posted by the Israeli government.
During quiet periods, some tourism is allowed in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. When tourists are permitted to enter these cities, they must exercise extreme caution, as violence is known to flare up without warning.
When traveling to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, tourists should stick to their tour guide’s itinerary, avoid large gatherings or demonstrations, and communicate any suspicious activity to their tour guide.
Additionally, the Old City of Jerusalem has a history of heckling tourists. Be wary of high-pressure salesmen when visiting the Old City. If possible, plan your meals ahead of time or speak with your travel guide about safe places to shop.
The Sinai Peninsula belongs to Egypt and borders the southeastern portion of Israel. Although Israel isn’t in direct conflict with Egypt, Egypt is aligned with Palestine and views the nation of Israel as an unwelcome colonizer.
Political tensions surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have poorly affected Israel’s relationship with Egypt. If possible, tourists should avoid traveling to the border between the Sinai and Israel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Israel is embroiled in a complex, violent geopolitical conflict with Palestine that often dissuades tourists from visiting. Below are some frequently asked questions about traveling to Israel.
Is Jerusalem safe for tourists?
Jerusalem is safe for tourists when the Israeli government states it’s safe. Tourists must understand that Jerusalem is more likely to experience terrorist threats than other parts of Israel because it’s located in the West Bank, a territory that is subject to frequent politically, ethnically, and religiously, motivated conflicts.
Travel to and from Jerusalem is frequently restricted because of the evolving geopolitical situation in the West Bank. During periods of relative calm, tourists are allowed to roam the streets of Jerusalem with a tour guide with relative confidence.
During periods of heightened tensions, travel to Jerusalem is severely limited by the Israeli government. Tour guides, locals, or your country’s embassy will be able to inform you whether Jerusalem is safe to visit during your trip.
What should I avoid in Israel?
There are several cultural norms in Israel that tourists should avoid violating. Familiarize yourself with Kosher food and refrain from asking for non-Kosher food at restaurants.
Orthodox and Hasidic Jews observe strict gender roles; limit your interactions with the local religious populations unless you are willing to familiarize yourself with their cultural norms. Tourists should also avoid discussing politics, as it will likely lead to unfriendly disagreements.
Is Israel safe to travel to?
Overall, Israel is safe to visit. Travel to and from Israel’s dangerous areas is regulated by the Israeli military and tourists will find it difficult to visit any area the military has deemed unsafe.
Who can’t enter Israel?
Israel allows tourists from every nation to enter the country, but some tourists will have to undergo additional security clearances to be allowed into the country. Certain anti-Israeli affiliations may limit a person’s travel into and within Israel, or prohibit entry into the country entirely.
People from Arabic states are likely to need additional clearance before entering Israel. Although, few Arab states recognize Israel as a legitimate state and are therefore unlikely to visit.
People with a criminal record may also have a difficult time entering Israel. Consult your country’s embassy to determine what documents and clearance you need to enter Israel.
What language do they speak in Israel?
The official language of Israel is Hebrew, but most Israelis are fluent in English or French, sometimes both.
So, Is Israel Safe to Visit?
In short, yes, the majority of Israel is safe for tourists to visit. Tourists strongly reconsider traveling to Gaza, the West Bank, and the border between the Sinai and Israel, as these areas are known for high rates of terrorism and civil unrest.