by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer
These are the questions friends and family ask—from the day I announced I was moving to Jerusalem and all throughout the past three years of living in Israel. In describing what they think of Israel, most people who have never set foot in the Holy Land paint the same picture: war, explosions, stabbings, a violent desertscape flowing with blood and plagued by terror attacks and killing. Yet the reality on the ground is very different from what people see in the media.
There certainly have been times throughout its history amid wars and conflicts with Israel’s neighbors—as well as periods of spiked violence within the Land during the intifadas (Arabic for “uprising”)—when traveling in Israel was deemed unwise. Yet despite the relative calm of the past few years, many Western governments continue to issue travel bans and warnings against the Jewish state, urging potential visitors to use extreme caution—especially within the contested biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. Of course there are areas today within the tiny nation where travelers should exercise more caution—but no, Israel is not unsafe, especially compared to other countries with significantly higher crime rates and violence.
Unfortunately for Israel’s security forces but fortunately for tourists, most of the terror attacks over the past few years have targeted Israeli soldiers, Border Police at security checkpoints and police officers. While tragic attacks against Jewish civilians occur occasionally—most often within Judea and Samaria, the so-called West Bank—few tourists have been attacked over the past several years. The last recorded death of a visitor to Israel took place in 2017.
The Jewish Virtual Library keeps a comprehensive list of terrorism victims in Israel, recording 11 deaths in 2019. Five of those deaths were related to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. 2018 saw 13 Israeli fatalities, 12 of which took place in Judea and Samaria, where tensions run higher—and four of those 12 victims were uniformed soldiers.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also regularly announces terror attacks it has thwarted, most of which are targeting IDF soldiers and other security personnel. Very often, terrorists are neutralized within minutes or seconds of beginning an attack—because in Israel, there is almost always a good guy nearby with a gun.
Don’t let the few acts of terrorism scare you out of visiting the Holy Land. Remember, these attacks are few in number when taken in context of a tiny country boasting a population of 9.2 million—nearly 2 million of those people being Arabs.
Many of the people from Western countries who fear visiting Israel are actually living in countries with higher crime rates than the Jewish state. Israel is ranked for crime index 105 out of 135 countries (with number 1, Venezuela, being the most crime-ridden and 135, Qatar, being the safest). That makes Israel safer than France, which ranked 47, the United States, which ranked 56, the UK at 65, Canada at 82 and Germany at 94.
Interestingly enough, some Israelis who have never traveled to the US ask if it is safe to visit the Land of the Free. And from their perspective, it’s a good question. In 2019, the US suffered an estimated 366.7 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. That same year only saw one homicide in the city of Jerusalem—a city with a population of 936,000. Chicago, which boasts 2.71 million residents, saw 492 murders in the same year. That’s nearly three times Jerusalem’s population and almost 500 times the murder.
The entire nation of South Africa averaged 57.6 murders per day from April 2018 to March 2019, according to BusinessTech, giving the country a rate of 35.8 homicides per 100,000 people. Even London, a relatively safe city, saw 149 of its nearly 9 million citizens murdered in 2019. That’s low, but still more than Jerusalem’s one victim throughout the entire year.
While people are cautioned not to go out after dark or alone for safety reasons in other places across the world, the reality in Israel is very different. Walking around Jerusalem and other Israeli cities late at night, it is very common to see teenagers chatting on the sidewalk, unaccompanied kids playing in the park and parents leisurely pushing young children in strollers. If anything, the biggest threat in this country seems to be insufficient sleep rather than a terrorist attack.
Israeli residents throughout most of the country go about their daily lives without fear of danger or violence. The story is sadly different in Israel’s south, however, near the Gaza Strip. Residents bordering the terror enclave live in near constant fear of the drone of the Code Red rocket alert siren as well as the booms of rockets, debris and Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system. Visitors to Israel should certainly use discretion in planning a trip to the Gaza border region, though the area does enjoy periods of peace and calm between flare-ups.
Remember, if anything does go wrong, most Israelis go through required military service—meaning at any given moment, there are at least a few people in the crowd who are not only carrying guns, but went through military and weapons training. Many attempted attacks are unsuccessful because they are thwarted by nearby soldiers—even those who are off duty but are still required to carry a gun—or other citizen vigilantes who are prepared for such a time.
The people of Israel make a point to go about their daily routines and live life to the fullest in order to show the terrorists they will not be overcome with fear. Follow their example. Don’t let fear stop you from visiting this beautiful, diverse country. Skip the trip to Chicago, and come and pray at the Western Wall, float in the Dead Sea, hike one of the many beautiful trails that crisscross the land, and enjoy a leisurely meal at one of Tel Aviv’s restaurants. This is a safe place.
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