Is It Safe For Americans To Travel To Israel?

credit: Peter Parker

When Israel issued a Declaration Of Independence in 1948, it triggered an Arab-Israeli War that has never really ended. If not at war, Israel has been the center of conflict in the Middle East, with terror attacks, rocket fire, and political warfare a constant feature of daily life. Is it safe for Americans to travel to Israel?   

Despite the conflict and the ongoing volatile situation, Israel remains a destination for millions of tourists every year. Americans, whose country is a close ally of Israel, can travel there knowing that, with certain precautions, they can explore the many memorable and historic sites in safety.   

Is It Safe For Americans In Israel?

According to the Institute of  National Insurance, 135 foreign nationals have been killed in attacks against Israel at home and abroad since 1948, of which only 26 were tourists.

The last American tourist killed by terrorists in Israel was 28-year-old Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death in 2016 by a young Palestinian. All killings are sad and regrettable, but many Americans feel it safer to be in, say, Tel Aviv than in New York.

What Makes Israel A Safe Destination?

There are some areas in Israel where there is a risk to locals and tourists alike, but generally speaking, Israel is a very safe country. Why is that?

1. The crime rate in Israel is very low

Israel has an overall crime rate of 1.49% per 100,000 people, according to statistics from the World Bank.

The country also reports approximately 20 violent murders per 1 million people, less than half the figure in the US.

As far as gun-related crimes are concerned, there are fewer reported in one year in Israel than in one month in the US. Israel also experiences far lower rates of property crime, such as burglary and theft, than the US.

In a recent study, Israel was rated the fifth safest country in the world to travel to, ahead of the US and most European countries.

2. There is more security in public places

Because of the threat of terrorist attacks, the security at airports, public buildings, and on public transport is very evident, and while it might make visitors nervous initially, the result is that everyone is a lot safer.   

3. Israel has a trained population

Compulsory national service in Israel means that most young people, men, and women, have military training and are aware of the security risks in the country. You’ll see plenty of uniformed soldiers on the street. While they may be heading home for the weekend or reporting for duty, they are a great crime deterrent.

Which Areas In Israel Are The Safest For Americans?   

Much of  Israel is safe, but because of its size (it’s smaller than New Jersey), it’s not a great distance from danger zones like the Gaza Strip and the occupied zone. The safest places statistically include:

  • Rishon Lezion  – the 5th largest Israeli city, founded in 1882 by the first Jewish immigrants, where 90% of the residents say they feel safe walking around after dark.
  • Haifa – the 3rd largest city and Israel’s major port, boasts a very low crime rate but still offers visitors a vibrant nightlife, diverse cultures, and stunning views over the Mediterranean.
  • Tel Aviv – known as the Miami of the East, the city has experienced some terrorist attacks over the years. Still, it remains a safe destination for Americans and other tourists, with beautiful beaches, sophisticated nightlife, art galleries, and theaters.
  • Acre – one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the world, this harbor town has existed since the Early Bronze Age, was fortified by the Ottomans, and has a rich history to delight tourists.
  • Nazareth – the “Arab Capital” of Israel, and where Jesus was raised, this city is the religious destination for many pilgrims, as well as tourists interested in the archaeological significance of the local diggings. The only crime to be careful of in this holy place is pickpocketing.
  • Jerusalem – one of the oldest cities on Earth and the Holy City for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Despite the ongoing friction between Palestine and Israel, there have been no acts of terrorism in Jerusalem for several years, and Americans can visit the city relatively safely. Crime is mainly limited to petty theft and pickpocketing in the crowded Old City.

These are just six of the safest cities in Israel, but there are many others, including Eilat on the Red Sea, Beer Sheva, Tiberius, and Mitzpe Ramon, all of which are essentially crime-free and safe for Americans to visit as part of a tour of this historic land.

What Parts Of Israel Are Considered Unsafe?

Of all the areas in Israel that Americans can travel to, the only one considered really dangerous is Gaza. Violence in this region is unpredictable, but there is ongoing conflict. Under the control of the Palestine Resistance Movement (HAMAS), the two million Palestinians living here face poverty and political unrest on a daily basis.

As Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US government, Americans will get a hostile reception from the Gaza authorities, so should stay well clear.  

The West Bank is Palestinian territory, which includes East Jerusalem. It was occupied by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War but is partly administered now by the Palestinian Authority. Israel controls 61% of the West Bank, but international opinion is divided on the legitimacy of this power.

As a result, there are ongoing threats of violence, protest action, and terror attacks, and tourists are advised to stay clear of the area.

What Should Americans Do To Stay Safe In Israel?

A few dos and don’ts when traveling in Israel will make your visit a lot less stressful, help you avoid any unpleasantness, and keep you safe.

  • Avoid using buses, particularly close to high-risk areas like the West Bank. There have been attacks on buses in the past, so rather spend a little more on a private taxi.
  • Pickpocketing is the one crime that is quite common, especially in Tel Aviv. Reduce the risk by keeping your wallet in a safe place, like a zipped inside pocket, stay out of crowds, avoid getting jostled, and keep your valuables in your hotel safe.
  • Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it, particularly at night. If you’re visiting a tourist site, join a group and get a guide – you’ll learn a lot more, and it’s safer.
  • Dress casually for all venues, including restaurants, but cover up if you visit religious locations. For women, long skirts or trousers are appropriate wear, and tops that cover the upper arms.
  • Be prepared to go through a rigorous interview at the airport when you arrive – it’s part of the strict security measures.
  • Keep the separate visa paper issued on arrival in a safe place to show when asked and submitted when leaving Israel.                  
  • Show respect to security and soldiers you see on the street – don’t get into a political argument with them, even if their presence makes you uncomfortable.
  • Be prepared for the Sabbath (Shabat), which starts at sundown on Friday and ends on Saturday at the same time. Public transport doesn’t operate and many businesses close.   

Is Israel A Safe Place For American Women To Visit?

Israel has a very low incidence of sex crimes. It is considered a very liberal country regarding gender equality – discrimination against women is frowned on, and they even have to complete their national service in the armed forces.

Traveling solo can be daunting in a strange country, but Israelis are generally very friendly, most speak fluent English, and there is a strong pro-American sentiment in the country. Many female adventurers find visiting Israel, either with friends or alone, along with their male counterparts, a very positive experience.