Israel tourism: New hotels, festivals and anti-terror training
Religious travel is big business, but what to do when a religious destination is dangerous? Although Israel is regarded by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the biblical Holy Land, travel to the country is questionable, including perhaps the country’s most famous tourist destination of Jerusalem.
According to a travel advisory at the US Embassy in Israel website, travelers are advised to exercise increased caution due to terrorism and that some areas have increased risk. The Embassy flat out says not to travel to Gaza, due to terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict. Instead it recommends reconsidering travel to the West Bank.
The advisory explains: Terrorist groups and lone-wolf terrorists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Violence can occur in Jerusalem and the West Bank without warning.
In Jerusalem, violent clashes and terror attacks have occurred throughout the city, including in the Old City. Acts of terrorism have resulted in death and injury to bystanders, including U.S. citizens. During periods of unrest, the Government of Israel may restrict access to and within portions of Jerusalem.
With all this unrest, danger, and warnings, the country is still busy promoting tourism with new hotels and new attractions, scheduling of events and festivals, and even new flights. Israeli tour operators have even gone so far as to offer anti-terrorism training camps and adventures.
In fact, tourism to Israel is continuing to increase at record-breaking rates. In January – August 2018, an estimated 2.6 million tourist entries were recorded, an increase of 16.5% on the same period in 2017 (about 2.3 million) and 44% more than in 2016. Brand-new information centers for tourists are also being opened in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
United Airlines will begin a new nonstop flight to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv from Washington Dulles International Airport starting on May 22, 2019, the first to be operated by a U.S. carrier between the two cities. Delta also announced it will be launching a second daily flight between New York and Tel Aviv for the summer of 2019, complementing the late-night flight already in operation from JFK.
It seems that travelers are undaunted by the potential danger and even the US Embassy travel advisory. Tourists should be forewarned, however, that the U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Gaza as U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling there.
U.S. government personnel can travel freely throughout Israel, except throughout the West Bank and for areas close to the borders with Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Additionally, portions of Jerusalem are occasionally placed off limits.