After our May 2016 tour to the Holy Land, one participant remarked, “What you read in the newspapers and hear on the nightly news is entirely different from what you experience in the Holy Land.”
Anyone who has traveled to the Holy Land will echo this statement, however, the question…..Is it safe to travel to Israel?…. is always the first question that we are asked when we talk about our tours to the Holy Land. Our answer is always the same….we have never felt unsafe in Israel and there are more reasons to go than reasons to not go.
Israel in the Daily News….
Although Israel seems to be a star in the daily news, visiting the Holy Land is not very different from vacationing and traveling any other place in the world. According to a June 2015 (updated on June 2016) article in the Huffington Post by travel writer/blogger, published author, TV commentator and tourism evangelist, John Nicholson, “There’s no doubt that the political situation in the region remains tense. But even while the political processes, dialogues, negotiations, and yes even occasional fights and skirmishes continue, the reality on the ground within Israel proper is that the country is certainly a secure and safe destination for international tourists to visit.” Violence anywhere should not be downplayed. Tensions between neighborhoods, ethnic groups, political groups, and authority and civilians can be found in most countries and Israel certainly has its share of all of them.
The Middle East
Because of the larger Middle East’s ongoing strife, any violence that crops up is widely reported around the world, quickly and efficiently, as we all know, bad news travels fast! The Middle East is a hotbed of war and strife and let’s be honest, has been that way for thousands of years. That is not to say that anyone planning to travel to Israel should ignore current events but a careful look at the news articles can actually be reassuring. A recent article in the Orange County Register regarding violence in Israel had a very provocative picture of masked protesters that seemed to be Palestinian. However, the caption of the picture, in small print, contained the fact that the picture was actually from a protest in Casablanca, Morocco. Obviously we need to be careful when taking a trip to the Holy Land, but we should not let the media, with its need for sensational news, deter us.
This current wave of violence by all accounts is unorganized and sporadic, and while we know that bloodshed is not unusual in this part of the Middle East, these stabbings, shootings and driving into crowds is very different from the orchestrated rocket attacks and suicide bombings of past confrontations. The Israeli military has successfully used the “Iron Dome” missile defense system to intercept rocket fire from Gaza in the south or other groups in the northern areas, plus the country has spent huge amounts of money developing an intelligence network to stop potential suicide bombings and terrorist infiltrations. Seemingly, as the October 15th article from CNN points out these latest waves of violent confrontations are, “ …the ultimate low-tech response to Israel’s high-tech, high-cost security.”
Why Travel to Israel?
Many people find themselves dreaming, wishing and actually feeling an urgency or need to travel to the Holy Land, the one place on earth where Jesus Christ walked. That urgency is not unusual, we have felt it ourselves and cannot overstate the impact that traveling to the Holy Land has had on our relationship with Christ, our Bible Studies and the desire to spread God’s Word. Wayne Stiles, Pastor, Teacher, and Author, writes a comprehensive blog, some of which is about traveling to Israel. He has a wonderful way of discussing safety while traveling to Israel, plus, what a difference the trip will make in your personal life. The following two excerpts are from Wayne’s blog, Connecting the Bible and its Lands to Life:
You Will Never Be the Same!
My first trip to Israel so impacted my life, I wondered, Is this normal? Have others also had similar experiences in the Holy Land? For the next few years, I did my doctoral research on how a tour to Israel affects the spiritual life of a Christian. After surveying hundreds of Christians who have traveled to the Holy Land, I discovered:
- 99% agree that experiencing the land of Israel has strengthened their spiritual life.
- 96% have increased in their love for God and the Bible through the study of Bible lands.
- 98% noted that knowing the land of the Bible helps their memory of biblical events.
Safety in the Holy Land
Traveling to Israel is safe. I know, I know, I watch the news as well. This trip marks my 10th trip to Israel in the last 14 years, and I have never felt unsafe. Not once.
- If all we knew of America came from what we learned on the news, we would have a very distorted perspective.
- Think of a large city near you. For me, it’s Dallas. There are parts of Dallas I don’t go to. And yet, I travel to Dallas often, just as I have thousands of times. I’ve even lived there! Going is no problem if you know where to go—and where not to go.
- I have known and worked with our tour operator for more than 12 years. They have as their top priority your comfort and safety throughout your journey. Believe me, it is in the best interest of the travel company that you are safe! And you will be.
- In fact, the number of tourists to Israel continues to rise. In September 2012, Israel had 305,000 visitors—the highest number in ever one month, reported the Central Bureau of Statistics. (Update: 3.1 million people traveled to Israel in 2015)
All of the above does not take away from the fact that on any vacation, precautions need to be taken. Common sense tells us to be aware of our surroundings and to make sure we are taking measures to be safe when we are out of our comfort zones and traveling to some place different.
- Make sure your tour guides are taking your safety into consideration
Our guide Ezer will be with the group the entire trip, he will meet us at the Tel Aviv Airport the first day, spend the nights in the same hotels and travel with us on the bus.
- Guides should be up-to-date on current events and in contact with officials
Ezer is in contact at all times with tourist officials, he is ex-military and has close contacts in that area.
- Tours and bus routes are limited to approved and secure locations
We do not travel to locations in the West Bank, i.e. Bethlehem, as Israeli guides are not allowed to take their tours into those areas, the tour must be handed over to a Palestinian guide and Ezer will not do that.
- Buses are never left alone or unlocked
You will get to know the bus drivers, they never leave the bus and when we leave the bus it is locked at all times.
- Hotel arrangements are limited to well-known hotel chains and in secure areas
We stay in well-know hotels, the Gai Beach Hotel in Tiberias and the Leonardo Plaza in Jerusalem. Both are in safe, clean areas of the cities.
- When traveling to Israel, use El Al, because all flights and luggage transfers are supervised by Israeli security
Our round-trip, non-stop flight from LAX to Tel Aviv is on El Al
- Don’t leave the group to travel to the Gaza Strip and West Bank
- Drink plenty of water
The bus drivers stock the buses with water each day, asking $1.00 a bottle, so water is readily available.
- Make copies of your passport and documentation
The fact that you have concerns and questions about traveling to the Holy Land is not unusual. No one makes that first trip without some trepidation, but everyone who has had the privilege of traveling to Israel will tell you that the experience changed their life and that while they were in the Holy Land they never felt unsafe.