Israel: Updated Travel Warning
Source: U.S. Department of State
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about threats to themselves and to U.S. interests in those locations. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain mindful of security factors when planning travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. This replaces the Travel Warning issued June 22, 2011, to update information on the general security environment.
The Gaza Strip and Southern Israel
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization. American citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt allows for some passenger travel, though coordination with local authorities – which could take days or weeks to process – is reportedly required. Travelers who enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing from Egypt must also exit through the Rafah crossing. The Israeli authorities do not permit such travelers to exit through the Erez crossing into Israel except in situations of extreme humanitarian need. Travelers entering the Gaza Strip may not be able to depart at a time of their choosing. Delays of days or weeks are common. U.S. citizens should be aware that as a consequence of a longstanding prohibition on travel by U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Government into the Gaza Strip, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens there is extremely limited, including the provision of routine consular services.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, deportation and the confiscation of their personal items by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters.
Small clashes continue to occur along the boundary of the Gaza Strip. Rockets and mortars are still fired into Israel from Gaza, and Israel continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza, including airstrikes. Israel has also declared an exclusion zone inside Gaza along its boundary with Israel and has taken lethal measures against individuals who enter it.
In the past, some rockets have traveled more than 40 km (24 miles) from Gaza and landed as far north as Yavne and Gadera and as far east as Beer Sheva. As a result of possible military operations by the Government of Israel in Gaza and the ever-present risk of rocket and mortar attacks into Israel from Gaza, U.S. government personnel traveling in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip boundary, to include the city of Sderot, must make prior notification to the Embassy’s Regional Security Office. U.S. citizens in the area should be aware of the risks and should take note of announcements by the Government of Israel’s office of Homefront Command.
Israeli authorities have also maintained a heightened state of alert along Israel’s border with Egypt since an August 18, 2011, terrorist attack that killed eight and injured nearly 40 along Route 12 north of Eilat. As a result of the heightened threat in the area, U.S. government personnel must notify the Regional Security Office if they plan to travel south of Beer Sheva.
The West Bank
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces are now deployed in all major cities and other limited areas within the West Bank. As a result, violence in recent years has decreased markedly throughout the West Bank. Nonetheless, demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning. Vehicles have also been the target of rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire on West Bank roads. The IDF continues to carry out security operations in the West Bank. Israeli security operations, including incursions in Palestinian population centers, can occur at any time and lead to disturbances and violence. U.S. citizens can be caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations. Some U.S. citizens involved in demonstrations in the West Bank have sustained serious injuries in confrontations with Israeli security forces. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens, for their own safety, avoid demonstrations.
During periods of unrest, the Israeli Government sometimes closes off access to the West Bank and those areas may be placed under curfew. All persons in areas under curfew should remain indoors to avoid risking arrest or injury. U.S. citizens have been killed, seriously injured, or detained and deported as a result of encounters with Israeli operations in the West Bank. Travel restrictions may be imposed by the Government of Israel with little or no warning. Strict measures have frequently been imposed following terrorist actions, and the movement of Palestinian-Americans, both those with and without residency status in the West Bank or Gaza, has been severely impeded. Security conditions in the West Bank can hinder the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain vigilant while traveling throughout Jerusalem, including in commercial and downtown areas of West Jerusalem. Spontaneous or planned protests within the Old City are possible, especially after Friday prayers. Some of these protests have led to violent clashes. Travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Isolated street protests and demonstrations can also occur in areas of East Jerusalem, including around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan, and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. U.S. Government employees are prohibited from entering the Old City on Fridays during the month of Ramadan due to overall congestion and security-related access restrictions. U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate General and their families are prohibited from using public transportation networks, including buses and light rail services, and their associated terminals.
Travel Restrictions for U.S. Government Personnel
Personal travel in the West Bank for U.S. government personnel and their families is allowed in the areas described below. They may travel to Bethlehem from 6:00 a.m. to 11 p.m.; to Jericho; and transit through the West Bank using only Routes 1 and 90 to reach the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge or the Dead Sea coast near Ein Gedi and Masada. They may also travel north on Route 90 from the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge to the Sea of Galilee during daylight hours. Personal travel is also permitted to Qumran off Route 90 by the Dead Sea and all areas south of Highway 1 and east of route 90 in the Dead Sea area.
U.S. Government personnel and family members are permitted both official and personal travel on Route 443 between Modi’in and Jerusalem. All other personal travel in the West Bank, unless specifically authorized for mission-approved purposes, is prohibited.
General Safety and Security
Israeli authorities remain concerned about the continuing threat of terrorist attacks. U.S. citizens are cautioned that a greater danger may exist around restaurants, businesses, and other places associated with U.S. interests and/or located near U.S. official buildings, such as the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. U.S. citizens are also urged to exercise a high degree of caution and to use common sense when patronizing restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, malls, places of worship, and theaters, especially during peak hours. Large crowds and public gatherings have been targeted by terrorists in the past and should be avoided to the extent practicable. U.S. Government personnel have been directed to avoid protests and demonstrations and urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and situational awareness at all times. U.S. citizens should take into consideration that public buses and their respective terminals are off-limits to U.S. Government personnel.
Since December 2009, two U.S. citizens have been murdered in separate incidents while walking in the woods in the Beit Shemesh area near Jerusalem. Israeli authorities characterized the murders as terrorist attacks.
A bomb blast near the Central Bus Terminal in Jerusalem on March 23, 2011, injured several U.S. citizens.
There are live land mines in many areas of the Golan Heights, so visitors should walk only on established roads or trails. Near the northern border of Israel, rocket attacks from Lebanese territory can and have occurred without warning.
A terrorist attack on two commercial buses and two private vehicles on Route 12 north of Eilat killed eight and injured nearly 40 on August 18, 2011.