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Country Reports

Israel Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

The persistent threat of terrorism as well as domestic, political, and ethnic tensions (between the Israeli government, the Palestinian community, and Hamas, in particular), and regional geopolitical difficulties (e.g. between Israel and Iran and Israel and Egypt) continue to impact security conditions in Israel (population 7.5 million).

REGIONS TO AVOID

Western diplomatic services ask their travelers to avoid visiting the Gaza Strip due to the complex security environment which presents significant risks to visitors. It is also advised to avoid traveling to the Golan Heights (unless accompanied by organized tour operators) and to the border with Egypt's North Sinai and South Sinai provinces. The Golan Heights is historically an area of confrontation between Israeli and Syrian security forces; military operations, including airstrikes, have been conducted in and from this area near the Syrian border, which should only be visited under the guidance and supervision of organized tour operators with knowledge of the evolving security environment.

TERRORISM

Israel's terrorism risk is very high.

Many terrorist organizations (e.g. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah) are involved in an ongoing conflict with Israel. Clashes often occur between Israeli security forces and militants associated with these groups. Rockets and missiles may explode without warning on Israeli territory, even in times of relative peace. Furthermore, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has called for its supporters to attack Western citizens and interests in the Middle East; Israel represents an ideal target for Islamist militancy.

Lone wolf attacks often occur throughout the country. These attacks are usually conducted by young Palestinians and target Israeli forces and Jewish civilians, particularly around religious sites and Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories. Most lone wolf attacks involve stabbings, firearms, or vehicle-ramming attacks.

Several attacks occurred in the second half of 2017. On July 28, 2017, a Palestinian attacker was killed while attempting to stab Israeli soldiers at the Gush Etzion checkpoint in the West Bank. On September 26, 2017, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed three Israelis near the Israeli settlement of Har Adar in the West Bank. On October 15, 2017, IS militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula fired two rockets in the Eshkol area of southern Israel; no casualties or damage were reported.

Foreigners staying in Israel should be aware that the government regularly organizes civil defense exercises that can sometimes last for several days. During these exercises the freedom of movement of both visitors and residents can be restricted.

CRIME

Over the past few years, Israeli authorities have noted a rise in organized crime activity. On September 11, 2017, a gang-related car bomb exploded in Nesher (Haifa district). Other types of crime (e.g. break-ins, carjacking, purse snatching) also occur in the country, including in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; the risk of such crimes increases after nightfall. However, these cities are considered relatively safe.

Petty crimes often occur in tourist places, religious sites, and popular locations. Residential burglaries are frequent, particularly in affluent neighborhoods. They usually occur without violence, at night, or in an empty residence.

POLITICS

In May 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a national unity government. Several members of the nationalist party "Yisrael Beiteinu" entered this new government coalition, including former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who was appointed as Minister of Defense. His controversial appointment sparked anger among pro-Palestinian groups who consider his presence to be a significant threat for the ongoing peace process.

The erratic relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which alternates between dialogue and diplomatic breaks, often fuels violence within the Palestinian Territories (Gaza Strip and West Bank).

The current Israeli government continues to support the building of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories. These settlements, deemed illegal by the UN, are often attacked by Palestinians; Israeli settlers have also attacked Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. Continued Israeli settlement of the West Bank and associated violence has deepened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and the international community.

SOCIAL UNREST

Social tensions are high - particularly in East Jerusalem and the West Bank - and various issues can spark social unrest, among both Israeli and Palestinian populations. Spontaneous protests take place regularly in East Jerusalem, particularly on Friday afternoon (time of Jumu'ah prayer). Some neighborhoods of Jerusalem should be avoided as clashes can erupt at any time. It is advised to avoid all demonstrations as violent clashes cannot be ruled out. The West Bank is subject to high tensions and clashes between the population and Israeli security forces, especially in the northern areas.

Among the many sources of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian Territories are the status of the holy sites of Jerusalem, the status of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and the military draft for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

The Temple Mount (Haram Al-Sharif) in East Jerusalem was temporarily closed in July 2017, after three Arab-Israeli gunmen attacked a group of police officers near the Lions' Gate the Old City, killing two people. The site is considered sacred to Muslims and has been a flashpoint throughout the conflict. As such, Palestinians began a series of protests, often turning violent. After two weeks of protests, at least five Palestinians were killed and over 1000 Palestinians were wounded. Despite a return to the status quo, further protests may erupt without warning.

Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike in late April 2017, after which the Palestinian population was encouraged to plan demonstrations and protests in support of the prisoners, significantly increasing tensions in the West Bank and elsewhere. Numerous clashes were reported in May 2017, during which many Palestinians were killed or wounded by Israeli security forces. The 40-day hunger strike ended on May 27, 2017.

Finally, following the Supreme Court's decision in September 2017 to strike down a law that granted exemptions from military service to ultra-Orthodox men, protests by those communities have become common in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and Beit Shemesh.

TRANSPORTATION

For security reasons, people traveling to Israel can be randomly selected for questioning upon arrival. If this occurs, cooperate with authorities and remain patient. Israeli airlines implement strict security procedures and long wait times at airports are common.

Roads are in good condition, however driving can be difficult due to differing norms (e.g. signaling, changing lanes, merging) and aggressive drivers. In the West Bank, it is advised to remain extremely vigilant due to poorly maintained roads in rural areas. Moreover, it is advisable to allow additional time for travel due to the presence of checkpoints on major roads, especially near Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus. Collective taxis called "service" are the only available public transport in the Palestinian Territories.

A railway network connects the cities of Nahariya, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Beer-Sheva, as well as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

HEALTH

Though Israel's healthcare infrastructure is of high quality, medical treatment can be expensive. Travelers are advised to obtain travel medical insurance before travel to the country and to have appropriate sums of money to cover medical treatment abroad as hospitals always check the health coverage and assets of their patients.

There is a risk of contracting leishmaniasis, which is spread by sandflies; take appropriate measures to protect yourself from insects. The risk of contracting the disease is highest in rural and suburban areas.

Animal rabies is present in Israel. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals, notably street dogs (e.g. bites, scratches). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

NATURAL RISKS

The Jordan Rift Valley forms the northern part of the Great Rift Valley, which is at the tectonic border of the African and Asian plates. It is a seismic zone. The last recorded earthquake of note occurred in May 2014 and registered as magnitude 4.1 on the Richter scale. No major earthquake has struck the country since its founding in 1948.  

Flooding can occur in the country during the winter, especially in the southern region of Negev.

Sand and dust storms occasionally occur and can reduce visibility as well as disrupt traffic.

OTHER

During Shabbat (typically from sunset on Friday until Saturday night) and during Jewish celebrations, travelers are advised to be discreet and respectful in religious neighborhoods.

During the month of Ramadan, do not publicly smoke, drink, or eat in Muslim neighborhoods. 

Alcohol consumption is permitted in the country; however, it is advised to not drink alcohol in the Palestinian Territories.

Photographing military sites may result in your arrest.

Climate

Winters are generally mild and summers are hot and humid. Rain can fall between November and March, sometimes even into May.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +972 Police: 100 Fire Dept.: 102 Ambulance: 101

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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