Spring Holidays in the Holy City: Health and Safety Risks for Travelers in Jerusalem
March 14, 2023
Categories: Destinations, Safety, Security and Intelligence, Travel Tips,
Steeped in history, culture, and religion, Israel is a country of stark contrast and complexity. It’s a land where faiths collide and diverge, where ancient ruins stand next to modern skyscrapers, and where the spiritual is tangible. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jerusalem. But is Jerusalem safe?
One of the oldest and holiest cities in the world, Jerusalem attracts roughly 1.5 million Jews, Muslims, and Christians combined each spring, whose pilgrimage during the Passover, Ramadan, and Easter holidays, accounts for a 55% increase in the city’s year-round population of 970,000 residents.
If you plan to join the hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem who will flock to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, or elsewhere throughout the city during these religious holidays this spring, you may ask yourself: Is Jerusalem safe? As you get ready for the trip of a lifetime be sure to know the risks you need to consider before going. Here are five:
By far, the biggest risk of traveling to Jerusalem during the spring holidays is the sheer number of people. There’s no avoiding them; they’re just part of the deal. Avoid them when you can, embrace them when you can’t, with caution.
“Like any other place teeming with people, crowds can make it challenging to move around the city,” says Kent Webber, Senior Manager, Intelligence Products & Services at Global Rescue. “They also increase the risk of pickpocketing, car theft, identity theft, and other crimes.”
[Related Reading: Tips to Keep Kids Safe In Crowds]
To mitigate the risk, start with the simplest things, like visiting popular attractions during off-peak hours.
To thwart would-be pickpockets, Harding Bush, Senior Manager of Security Operations at Global Rescue, advises travelers to wear clothing with zippered pockets or pockets on the inside, like a vest or a sport coat, that make it difficult to snatch a wallet. Also, leave that expensive watch back home. To foil identity thieves, travelers should hide things with their names, phone numbers and addresses on them. No exposed luggage tags.
Basically, “try not to be the ‘easiest’ target,” says Bush. “Criminals do surveillance. Travelers should pay attention, and not let down their guard.”
- Security Risks
You’ll be exploring one of the most deeply divided and contested areas in the world, with heightened religious tensions and crowds during the spring holidays. Understand that there are risks of violent incidents and terrorist attacks. “Violence can occur in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza without warning,” according to the U.S. Department of State. Escalating violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been reported in recent weeks.
So, what do you do? Visitors should stay informed about current situations in several ways. First, keep that cell phone charged and frequently check your “My Global Rescue App” for up-to-date information on developing situations in your area. Keep an ear tuned to local media as well. You can download the My Global Rescue App here for Apple and here for Google Play.
Travelers should also register with their country’s embassy and sign up for alerts and advisories. American citizens in Israel, for example, should join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive emails and text messages from the United States Embassy in the event of emergencies in the area.
And as alarming as it seems, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various warning sirens Israel sounds and where to seek shelter immediately in the event of mortar or rocket fire.
- Road Closures and Traffic
Pack in an extra 1.5 million tourists and pilgrims to an already dense population center and you’re going to have some serious traffic. Expect delays and, perhaps, the inability to access certain areas.
Hiring a local professional driver will help streamline your adventures and get you around some of the congestion. “Driving a vehicle in a foreign country is a high-risk activity. Always hire a local driver who knows the area. Being unaware or confused by directions can bring you to a vulnerable location or make you an obvious target for attack,” said Bush.
- Availability of Services
Just because you’re there, doesn’t mean the locals need to be, too. Stores and markets may not be fully operational, or open at all, during the holidays, which means you need to have an alternate plan for food, water and transportation should you need it while out and about.
Medical services in Israel are modern and generally of high quality, but treatment can be expensive. Some hospitals may require payment up front or in cash, however, most facilities will accept credit cards. Ask the staff at the hotel for a list and a map of these services and make sure they’re open. Local knowledge is the key here.
- Religious and Cultural Sensitivities
You can find parts of the city that resemble New Orleans nightlife, but Jerusalem during the spring holidays is not Mardi Gras. Remember, the influx of travelers in the city during this period are there either on religious pilgrimage or religious tourism. This means specific customs and practices abound.
Visitors should be respectful of these traditions and avoid behavior that may be seen as discourteous or, worse, profane. If you expect to party hardy, consider going another time of the year.
As of the time of this writing, Israel still enforces strict entry requirements for all visitors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Travelers must:
- Be fully vaccinated with a vaccine recognized by the Israeli Health Ministry (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson).
- Present a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before departure to Israel. Rapid antigen tests aren’t accepted.
- Complete a health declaration form before boarding their flight to Israel.
Some travelers may still be required to quarantine upon arrival, depending on their country of origin, vaccination status and test results. And very important: all travelers must have travel insurance that includes coverage of COVID-related medical expenses and quarantine costs.
Overall, Israel is a reasonably safe place to travel. From a health perspective, it’s one of the safest in this part of the world, with a “low” risk rating from Global Rescue’s health assessment. At the same time, it receives a “moderate” security risk rating owing to the persistent possibilities of a terrorist attack and ongoing political violence.
Travel Protection and Safety Information at Your Fingertips
If Jerusalem during the spring holidays is on your travel bucket list, it’s thoughtful planning, monitoring, and diligence that will help make the trip a success. Adding a Global Rescue membership provides access to worldwide intelligence about travel, health and safety risks and information. When you’re ready to travel, get peace of mind with a Global Rescue membership for everything from destination reports and event alerts to emergency field rescue and medical evacuation.
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