Personal reflections on safety by a frequent visitor to Israel

It is natural — and very understandable — that people would have some concerns about travel to the Middle East, including Israel, at this time.

As a general comment, I remind people that Israel is actually a very safe destination for travel. While not entirely reassuring, I often observe that the most dangerous thing about being in Israel is driving on the highways. Then I assure them that our bus drivers are very good, and accidents involving tourist buses are rare.

Short of an outbreak of full-scale war with a mass attack on Israel by its Arab neighbours, there is almost no risk of a Western tourist falling victim to military action or terrorist activity. Since most Arab neighbours are working in coalition with the Western powers to contain the threat posed by ISIS, there is a very low risk of an Arab attack on Israel at this time. Following the recent conflict in Gaza, it is unlikely that Hamas will initiative any military action against Israel for a couple of years.

There are safety issues around certain locations that are the focus for internal tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel and on the West Bank. The most notable of these is Gaza, and no responsible tour leader would take a group to such locations. We monitor the local situation on a daily basis and adjust our itinerary if we discern a need to avoid places that we had otherwise planned to visit. For example, I routinely avoid having people in the Old City on Fridays as that is the day for Muslim prayers at the Haram as-Sharif and there is a higher potential for demonstrations and riots. These pose no serious risk to tourists, but I prefer to be somewhere else on Fridays!

The venues where we stay all have arrangements for security and personal safety, including air raid shelters.

Despite all these precautions, it is impossible to guarantee that military activity will not erupt or that personal violence against an individual will not occur.

On the other hand, millions of people go to Israel every year, and it is exceptionally rare for any visitor to be caught up in civil unrest or military activity.

The program for the  Bethsaida archaeology project is mostly based in the north of Israel, and this is an area with very low risk factors.

As a program under the auspices of Charles Sturt University a comprehensive risk management plan is prepared prior to each year’s trip, and the University has formal arrangements with international travel insurance providers to ensure emergency support is available for individuals or groups that require assistance. If local tensions rise, as happened during the 2014 tour program, the tour leader is in daily contact with CSU by email or phone to monitor the situation and confirm that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure everyone’s safety.

Each participant needs to form their own assessment of the dangers involved in the travel and their own tolerance of the risks. Anyone who is deeply concerned about the level of risk is perhaps better advised to make other travel plans, even though they would almost certainly have a trip that is both safe and deeply rewarding.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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