Israel is probably the safest place to travel in the Middle East by far – you are statistically far safer in Israel than you would be in most major US or European cities.
Violent crime levels in Israel are very low and robberies, drive-by shootings etc. do not exist. Israel’s safety depends on the implementation of strict security screening, particularly at international land and air borders, but also at any key site. These are more stringent than in most other countries and cause some travelers to Israel slight headaches when they arrive to Israel or when trying to go into the various sites. This of course has to do with Israel’s history and current Geo-Political situation.
Let’s be realistic and realize that 99% of visitors have no problems whatsoever exactly due to this. In fact, tourists and visitors to Israel commonly are quite shocked by the amount of armed personnel on the streets. That doesn’t mean that all Israelis are walking around armed, in fact, it is very difficult to get a license to own or carry as a private citizen in Israel. So who are these armed individuals? Police, military, undercover security teams etc. Why? Israel is incredibly dedicated to maintaining the peace and making sure everyone is safe at all times.
Wait. So if that’s true, is it even necessary to travel with your own security in Israel? That is a great question. In order to answer it, we need to understand what that means and who you are.
Some of the clients I’ve worked with in the past have been famous and attract attention, they need their own security team around them. Since only Israelis can act as security in Israel, in these cases there was no option but to use a local security team. The same goes for Government representatives, who may not necessarily be famous or recognizable, the nature of these visits draws attention and they are usually required by the countries they represent to have a security team with them. Some CEOs or high level executives may have an insurance policy that demands they have security with them when out of their own countries. Most schools and educational institutes demand to have a security guard / medic as part of the team so they are legally covered just in case. But what about you? Does a regular group or family require a security team with them? Let’s explore additional elements.
If your group doesn’t fall under any of the categories above, most would say that security is not needed in Israel. After all, there is so much of it around anyways, right? However, it really depends on where you’re aiming to go and what in the nature of your visit. Some would feel more comfortable knowing that there is a medic (who is also a security guard) present when going hiking up Masada at sunrise or in the Upper Galilee region. After all, dehydration is a major issue and this type of security isn’t as expensive as you may think. These are usually young men or women who have just finished their mandatory army service and now are making a living this way. The expense isn’t great and it provides peace of mind so why not? Maybe it’s worth investing there a bit and making everyone calmer. After all, you have a professional medic with you who is also a security guard and makes sure no one gets lost in the alleys of Jerusalem, falls behind on a hike etc. Peace of mind sometimes is worth it.
While crimes like mugging are not common in Israel, pick pocketing takes place, particularly in the Old City of Jerusalem, and visitors are always encouraged to be vigilant and sensible. Having a security guard with you most times will cause these elements to shy away. While Israel is very progressive and women can walk the streets at night with no fear, they do receive undue attention from local men, and are advised to walk in numbers. This is also reduced when a clear security presence is seen and felt.
However, many would say that the clear presence of a security guard actually draws attention to your group. In that case, the higher level of undercover security individuals or teams is better. We use many times ex-Mossad or ex-S.B. as our undercover security teams in case this is needed and desired. These highly trained men and women are not as easily spotted but they will diffuse any situation before it ever reaches you. I have seen a pickpocket reach for the pocket of a U.S. Senator and all of a sudden take a surprising fall that seems like a regular tumble until you notice one of the team innocently standing right next to it. The Senator, needless to say, remained unaware and continued his conversation with his daughter, not realizing his wallet and passport have just been saved.
If your interest is Geo-Political and areas of conflict like Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs are on your program, these teams are advisable. Special days in Jerusalem draw in big crowds and those are also times when you may consider having security with you.
At the end of the day, what matters is you enjoy this experience fully. I have handled hundreds of tours at this point and some were with security while others were without. I do not think that you necessarily NEED security in the safest country to travel in the region. However, I think that if you can afford it, it may be a good investment at specific times and places. When building your itinerary, we always advise if you need it, what level, and when. If you haven’t read it yet, look up one of my previous blogs – Hire the best guide when visiting Israel if you want to be amazed as it may contain some additional info on the matter.