Travel Risk Assessment – Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Written by Akshat Sharma

June 29, 2022

Travel

Risk Level: MODERATE

Image Courtesy: FlikrLicense Details

Country Overview

The State of Israel was born on May 14, 1948, and is the only majorly Jewish populated country in the world. Israel is located on the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Cyprus (maritime border), Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Jewish state’s currency is New Shekel and the nation follows Hebrew as its national language. The Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza are located adjacent to Israel and are not an internationally recognized state due to the conflict-ridden nature of the region and political instability due to the power division between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Personal Security

The Israeli heartland and conflicting border regions witness two different realities in terms of diverse dimensions of violence, safety, and security. These can be understood through the following:

  • Crime: Criminal activity in Israel is rare but petty theft (money, passport, credit cards etc), pickpocketing, purse snatching, vehicle theft as well as theft of unattended baggage have been reported and thus may pose a low level of security risk to travellers. The government mandates travellers to carry a green card as a minimum insurance cover to drive vehicles in Israel.
  • Road Travel: Many embassies advise travellers to exercise caution while travelling through vehicles on road as frequent accidents due to erratic driving or due to religious holidays, violent clashes, and demonstrations. Public transport such as buses in Jerusalem may be vulnerable targets during violent clashes in the city. In 2019, there were 355 road deaths in Israel.
  • Hazards: A seismically active zone includes Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In the winter, from November to March, flash floods can occur in the Judean Hills, and the Negev Desert. During the warmer months, sandstorms, dust storms, and bushfires may occur. 

Healthcare

Citizens and permanent residents of Israel receive universal health coverage through the National Health Insurance (NHI) legislation. While travellers are advised to cover themselves with insurance prior to visiting Israel, the emergency assistance system is reputed and prompt throughout the country, excluding disputed border regions and heavily militarized zones. West Bank and Gaza territories have an unstable healthcare system with unreliable registered data on essential indicators such as morbidity and mortality rates. Ministry of Health (MoH), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the Private Sector are the 4 types of operational healthcare providers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Violence

This section should focus on broader threats of:

  • Terrorism: Terrorism is a legitimate threat to Israeli regions such as Beersheva, Eilat, Haifa, Jerusalem, Netanya, and Tel Aviv. Tourist attractions, public transport, places of worship, government buildings, restaurants, bars, and hotels, may experience occasional terrorist bombings and Hamas airstrikes.
  • Militant/Rebel Presence: There is negligible militant presence in the Israeli heartland. However, Israel does face frequent confrontations with Hamas in the bordering Gaza strip. 
  • Civil Unrest: The Arab population in Israel and Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank as well as the Old City in Jerusalem frequently have direct confrontations with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). There is a high risk of violence during religious, political, and international events as there may be anti-Israel demonstrations by the Arab population against Jewish settlers in the regions.
  • Mass Killings/Shootings: The IDF conducts frequent military operations to combat anti-social behaviour in the West Bank. These operations have recently been conducted at midnight and have previously resulted in casualties.
  • Religious/Ethnic/Racial/Sexual Violence: Religious violence may be experienced due to frequent confrontations between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel ranks 27/170 and the Palestinian Territories rank 160/170 in the 2021 Women Peace Index, conducted by the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security.
  • Political Situation: With the recent dissolution of Parliament by the Bennet and Lapid coalition, the Israeli political system is to have its fifth election in three years, indicating political volatility due to a lack of a definitive majority. However, the political volatility may not indicate any immediate threat to the security of travellers in the country. The West Bank is politically unstable as the Israeli government and Fatah collectively administer the region and have a confrontational relationship. The security risk for the Gaza strip is high and embassies actively advise travellers to avoid travelling to the region due to the military rule of the designated terrorist organization, Hamas. While the Israeli heartland is characterized as ‘Free’ with a country rating of 76/100 by the 2022 Freedom Report, the West Bank and Gaza are both declared as ‘Not Free’ with ratings of 23/100 and 11/100 respectively.

Areas to Avoid/Exercise Caution

The specific regional areas to avoid are as follows:

  • Gaza Strip: Many embassies advise travellers to avoid all travel to the Gaza strip due to the lack of personal safety and security. The Israeli border with the Gaza strip also poses a high risk to the safety and security of the traveller.
  • West Bank: Travellers are advised to avoid non-essential travel to specific areas within the West Bank. However, non-essential travel to Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem may be possible but travellers are advised to exercise caution.
  • Golan Heights: Travellers are advised to avoid travel to the east of Highway 98 due to heavy military activity.
  • Highways 10 and 12: Travellers are advised to reconsider travel to Highways 10 and 12 are located on the Israel-Egypt border and may pose a threat to security due to the conflict in the region.
  • Lebanon Border: Travellers are advised to avoid travel within 500 metres of the Israel-Lebanon border due to heavy military activity.

Final Assessment

  • Travellers should be aware that travel to the Israeli heartland region does not raise the same level of risk as to the West Bank and Gaza region. The Israeli heartland poses a LOW  to MODERATE level of risk in terms of crime and terrorism. The West Bank and Gaza region pose a HIGH level of risk due to widespread crime, terrorism, and heightened military activity.
  • Government buildings, schools places of worship, travel infrastructure such as airports, and bus stations, tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, shopping centres, markets, and hotels may become vulnerable targets of terrorist activity in the region.
  • Public celebration and religious events such as Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Pesach, and Rosh Hashanah may become grounds for civil unrest and demonstrations that can turn violent.
  • Sitata does not recommend travel to the Gaza strip and advises exercising caution while travelling to certain destinations in Israel and the West Bank. Consider a Sitata membership which will give you disruption and threat warnings while you’re on the ground along with emergency travel assistance should you find yourself in a troubling situation. 

The overall travel risk to Israel and Palestinian Territories is MODERATE. Many countries advise citizens to exercise caution travelling to the border regions in Israel and to the West Bank. However, citizens are advised to avoid all travel to Gaza.

Travellers may consider a Sitata membership which can inform them about the current COVID situation for their destination in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. For businesses that require a more detailed report on the respective countries, please refer to our in-depth country analysis report which is available from our support representatives.

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