What makes Israel a unique country to travel to?
The State of Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a modern economy. Following the 1967 War, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. In 1994 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The resulting division of responsibilities and jurisdictions between Israel and the PA in the West Bank is complex and subject to change. PA security forces are responsible for keeping order in those areas where the PA exercises security functions. Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and exercises de facto control there. Tourist facilities are widely available with certain exceptions, particularly in Gaza. Travelers may visit the websites of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism for tourist information. Read the Department of State Fact Sheet on Israel for additional information. Information about embassies and consulates in surrounding countries is available at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates. Official guidance on entry, customs requirements, arrests, and other matters in the West Bank and Gaza is subject to change without prior notice.
The crime rate is moderate in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Break-ins of parked vehicles are common at beach areas, the Dead Sea, cemeteries, and national parks (especially Caesarea National Park). Car break-ins and purse snatchings in cities and cemeteries occur regularly throughout Israel. U.S. citizens should not leave their valuables (including passports) unattended, in parked vehicles, or unsecured in hotels.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
U.S. citizens have occasionally been the victims of high-pressure sales tactics in Jerusalem's Old City tourist shops. In some cases, vendors have not disclosed the true cost of an item and convinced the buyer -- who is unfamiliar with the exchange rate -- to unwittingly sign a credit card sales receipt worth thousands of dollars. Tourists visiting shops in high-traffic tourist areas should not sign credit card receipts unless they are certain of the amount being authorized.
While you are traveling in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Penalties for breaking the law can be more serious than those in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Israeli or PA laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking illegal drugs in Israel and PA-administered areas are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Modern medical care and medicines are available in Israel. A few hospitals in Israel and most hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, however, fall below Western standards. It is recommended that visitors have health insurance. Travelers can find information in English about emergency medical facilities and after-hours pharmacies in the Jerusalem Post and the English-language edition of the Ha'aretz newspaper, or refer to the Embassy's or Consulate General's medical lists.
Safety and Security
The current Department of State Travel Warning advises U.S. citizens to take due precautions when traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. U.S. citizens who visit or reside in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza should closely consult the Travel Warning to ensure that they are aware of the security concerns. It is strongly recommended that you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that you can receive the most up-to-date messages from the Department of State regarding safety and security developments.
Jerusalem: In Jerusalem, travelers should dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Most roads into ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Jewish holidays. Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being "immodestly dressed," have occurred in these neighborhoods.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Israeli roads and highways tend to be crowded, especially in urban areas. Aggressive driving is commonplace, and many drivers fail to maintain safe following distances or signal before changing lanes or making turns. Overtaking on high-speed undivided two-lane roads is common and results in frequent accidents. Drivers are also prone to stop suddenly on roads without warning, especially in the right lane. Drivers should use caution, as Israel has a high rate of fatalities from automobile accidents.
U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem and their families have been prohibited from using public buses and their associated terminals. (Please review the Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for more details.)
The Government of Israel requires that all passenger car occupants use their seat belts at all times and that headlights be used during all intercity travel, both day and night, during winter. As of January 1, 2006, all drivers are required to carry fluorescent vests in the car with them at all times, and they are required to wear these vests whenever they get out of their cars to make repairs, change tires, etc. If a vehicle is stopped for a traffic violation and it does not contain a fluorescent vest, the driver will be fined. These vests can be purchased for a nominal price in all local gas stations. While cellular handset phone use is prohibited while driving, hands-free units are authorized.
West Bank and Gaza: Crowded roads are common in the West Bank and Gaza. During periods of heightened tension, cars with Israeli license plates have been stoned and fired upon. Emergency services may be delayed by the need for Palestinian authorities to coordinate with Israeli officials. Seat belt use is required and drivers may not drink alcohol. Individuals involved in accidents resulting in death or injury may be detained by police pending an investigation.