Israel, The West Bank and Gaza Travel Warning
September 10, 2014
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza due to the complex security environment there and the potential for violence and renewed hostilities.This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning issued on July 21, 2014.
The Department of State continues its longstanding strong warning to U.S. citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip; the U.S. government does not permit employees to conduct official or personal travel there. Please see the section below on the situation in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, U.S government officials may only travel to designated parts of the West Bank for personal travel. Please see the section below on the West Bank.
During the recent conflict between Israel and terrorist organizations in Gaza, long-range rockets launched from Gaza reached many locations in Israel and the West Bank - including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities in the north and south. A ceasefire was announced on August 26 and, as of the date of this Travel Warning, is holding. The Government of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully intercepted many rockets. However, in some cases missile impacts caused damage and injuries. U.S. citizen visitors to and U.S. citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank should familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest bomb shelter or other hardened site. Consult municipality websites, such as those for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for lists of public bomb shelters and other emergency preparedness information. Visitors should seek information on shelters from hotel staff or building managers. We advise all U.S. citizens to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command on proper procedures in the event of rocket attacks or other crisis events.
Ben Gurion Airport is open and commercial flights are operating normally, although delays and cancellations can occur. Travelers should check with their airline prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. Other border crossings are generally operating as normal; however, travelers should check the status of crossings before embarking on trips. See information on the status of the airport and other crossings.
U.S. citizens seeking to depart Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. U.S. government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no viable commercial alternatives exist. The lack of a valid U.S. passport may hinder U.S. citizens' ability to depart the country and may slow the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General's ability to provide assistance.
U.S. citizens who do travel to or remain in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza should take into consideration the rules governing travel by U.S. government employees:
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to conduct official or personal travel to the Gaza Strip;
U.S. government personnel are restricted from conducting personal travel to most parts of the West Bank (see below for details); travel for official business is done with special security arrangements coordinated by the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem;
Because of the security situation, travel restrictions remain in effect for southern Israel, including Be'er Sheeva and areas south of Be'er Sheeva.
All travel south of Ashdod remains prohibited for embassy employees and their families.
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel east of Route 90 without advance approval;
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel east of the Jordan River or east of Route 92 in the Golan area (although Route 92 itself is permitted if approved in advance);
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use public buses anywhere in Israel or the West Bank due to past attacks on public transportation.
View a map of the Golan area.
Major Metropolitan Areas in Israel
Personal safety conditions in major metropolitan areas, including Tel Aviv and Haifa and their surrounding regions, are comparable to or better than those in other major global cities. Please see below for specific information regarding Jerusalem. Visitors should observe appropriate personal security practices to reduce their vulnerability to crime, particularly late at night or in isolated or economically depressed areas, including in the countryside. Visitors are advised to avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and keep current with local news, which is available through numerous English language sources.
The Government of Israel has had a long-standing policy of issuing gas masks to its citizens and, starting in 2010, it began issuing replacement masks. It stopped this distribution process in early 2014 in response to regional events. Visitors and foreign residents in Israel are not issued masks and must individually procure them, if desired. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General do not provide gas masks for persons who are not U.S. government employees or their dependents. For further emergency preparedness guidance, please visit the website of the Government of Israel's Home Front Command, which provides information on how to choose a secure space in a home or apartment, as well as a list of the types of protective kits (gas masks) issued by the Government of Israel to its citizens.
The Department of State recommends against travel to areas of Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip. Travelers should be aware of the risks presented by the potential for military conflict between Hamas and Israel. In July 2014, Israel conducted ground operations in Gaza. Travelers in the regions immediately bordering Gaza may encounter small arms fire, anti-tank weapons, rockets, and mortars launched from inside Gaza toward Israeli cities and towns. These attacks can come with little or no warning. Visitors to these areas should remain aware of their surroundings and of the location of bomb shelters and should take note of announcements and guidance provided by the Home Front Command.
Both Embassy and Consulate General personnel are currently not permitted to travel south of Ashdod, and travel to and south of Be'er Sheeva requires approval from the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Visitors to these areas should remain aware of their surroundings and should take note of announcements and guidance provided by the Israeli Home Front Command.
Travelers should also be aware of the heightened state of alert maintained by Israeli authorities along Israel's border with Egypt. There have been cross-border incidents from Egypt, including rocket attacks and ground incursions, such as an attack that took place in August 2013 and one on January 20, 2014. Rockets were fired from Sinai in the direction of Eilat on July 15, 2014.
Rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanon have occurred without warning along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Tensions have increased along portions of the Disengagement Zone with Syria in the Golan Heights as a result of the internal conflict occurring in Syria. Sporadic gunfire has occurred along the border region. There have been several incidents of mortar shells and light arms fire impacting on the Israeli-controlled side of the zone as a result of spillover from the fighting in Syria. Travelers should be aware that cross-border gunfire can occur without warning. Furthermore, there are active land mines in areas of the Golan Heights, so visitors should walk only on established roads or trails. The Syrian conflict is sporadic and unpredictable. U.S. government personnel who wish to travel east of Route 90 require advance approval. In addition, personal travel for U.S. government officials is not permitted east of the Jordan River or east of Route 92 in the Golan area, although Route 92 itself is permitted with advance approval.
U.S. citizens visiting and living in Jerusalem should be aware of the numerous political, cultural, and religious tensions that permeate the city. These sensitivities have the potential to fuel protest-related activities, clashes, and civil unrest. Protest activities have occurred within the Old City and areas around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan, and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods. Recently, demonstrations and clashes have occurred in several East Jerusalem areas, such as Shufat, Beit Hanina, Mt. of Olives, As Suwaneh, Abu Deis, Silwan, Shuafat Refugee Camp, inside the Old City (near Lions Gate), Issawiyeh, and Tsur Baher. Such events have recently resulted in violence between protesters and Israeli National Police (INP). The intensity of these violent clashes appears to have diminished, although the possibility of renewed clashes remains, mainly during evening hours. The INP continues to deploy a heavy presence in many of the neighborhoods that have seen clashes and may restrict vehicular traffic to some of these neighborhoods without notice. The clashes and demonstrations have not been anti-American in nature to date, but U.S. citizens are advised not to enter any neighborhoods restricted by the INP and to avoid any locations with active clashes. Since June 2014, Jerusalem has seen a marked increase in random violent activities. These random acts of violence have not been anti-American in nature, yet underscore the sometimes volatile nature of the current local security environment.
Travelers are reminded to exercise caution at Muslim religious sites on Fridays and on holy days, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. There has recently been an increased police presence near the Damascus Gate, particularly on Fridays. The INP often imposes restrictions on visitors to the Old City's Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif. Travelers should be aware that the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is often closed without warning by the INP. Additionally, sporadic demonstrations can lead to violent clashes. U.S. government employees are prohibited from entering the Old City on Fridays during Ramadan due to congestion and security-related access restrictions.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid open air public parks after dark as they are poorly lit and policed. There have been numerous reports received of after dark criminal activity associated with these parks.
While U.S. government employees are authorized to use the light rail system in Jerusalem, there has been an increase in individuals throwing stones at light rail trains, particularly near Shufat and along the northern end of the route.
The West Bank
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers, including a dual U.S. citizen, were kidnapped and murdered after attempting to hitchhike near Hebron. Demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning, and vehicles are regularly targeted by rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire on West Bank roads. U.S citizens have been killed in such attacks. There have also been an increasing number of violent incidents involving Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers in the corridor stretching from Ramallah to Nablus, including attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian villages in which U.S. citizens have suffered injury or property damage, and attacks by Palestinians on settlements. U.S. citizens can be caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations, and some U.S. citizens involved in political demonstrations in the West Bank have sustained serious injuries. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all demonstrations for their own safety. During periods of unrest, the Israeli Government may restrict access to the West Bank, and some areas may be placed under curfew. All persons in areas under curfew should remain indoors to avoid arrest or injury. Security conditions in the West Bank may hinder the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens.
Personal travel in the West Bank by U.S. government personnel and their families is permitted to the towns of Bethlehem and Jericho and on Routes 1, 443, and 90. The Rachel's Tomb checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem has recently seen an increase in public demonstrations, which have the potential to become violent. U.S. government officials may also engage in personal travel to Qumran off Route 90 by the Dead Sea and to the Allenby Bridge crossing to Jordan, as well as stops at roadside facilities along Routes 1 and 90. All other personal travel by U.S. government personnel in the West Bank is prohibited. U.S. government personnel routinely travel to the West Bank for official business, but do so with special security arrangements.
The Gaza Strip
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 foreign terrorist organization. U.S. citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. Exchanges of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and militant groups in Gaza take place regularly, and civilians have been caught in the crossfire in the past. Although the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt normally allows for some passenger travel, prior coordination with local authorities - which could take days or weeks to process - may be required, and crossing points may be closed for days or weeks. Travelers who enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing must also exit through the Rafah crossing, and those entering the Gaza Strip may not be able to depart at a time of their choosing. Many U.S. citizens have been unable to exit Gaza or faced lengthy delays in doing so. Furthermore, the schedule and requirements for exiting through the Rafah crossing are unpredictable and can involve significant expense. Because U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. government are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip or have contact with Hamas, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens, including assistance departing Gaza, is extremely limited. The Consulate General and Embassy do not generally assist U.S. citizens to exit Gaza via the Erez crossing to Israel. U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Gaza cannot rely on the U.S. government to assist them in departing Gaza.
Some U.S. citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card, or who are of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank. U.S. citizens planning to travel to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza should consult the detailed information concerning entry and exit difficulties in the Country Specific Information.
Contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy for information and assistance in Israel, the Golan Heights, and ports of entry at Ben Gurion Airport, Haifa Port, the northern (Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein) and southern (Arava) border crossings connecting Israel and Jordan, and the border crossings between Israel and Egypt. An embassy officer can be contacted at (972) (3) 519-7575 from Monday through Friday during working hours. The after-hours emergency number is (972) (3) 519-7551.
Contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for information and assistance in Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, at (972) (2) 630-4000 from Monday through Friday during working hours. The after-hours emergency number is (972) (2) 622-7250.
For More Information
The Department of State urges those U.S. citizens who live in or travel to Israel, the West Bank or Gaza to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to obtain the most current information on travel and security within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Enrollment in STEP makes it easier for the Embassy or Consulate General to contact U.S. citizens in case of emergency.
For information on "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis," please visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Emergencies and Crisis link at www.travel.state.gov
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found, including the current Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. You can also follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and on Facebook. Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be accessed at http://israel.usembassy.gov, http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov or on the Embassy and Consulate General Facebook pages.
Up-to-date information on travel and security in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside of the United States and Canada, on a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).