Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 18, 2015. The security environment remains complex in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and U.S. citizens need to be aware of the continuing risks of travel to these areas, particularly to areas described in this Travel Warning where there are heightened tensions and security risks. The security situation can change day to day, depending on the political situation, recent events, and geographic area. A rise in political tensions and violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has resulted in injuries to and deaths of U.S. citizens. In view of the ongoing security situation, the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority make considerable efforts to police major tourist attractions and ensure security in areas where foreigners frequently travel. Although threat mitigation efforts by authorities are not 100 percent effective, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Israel and the West Bank each year for study, tourism, and business.
The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip; U.S. government employees are not allowed to conduct official or personal travel there. U.S. government personnel require special security arrangements if traveling inside Israel within seven kilometers of the Gaza demarcation line. With the exception of Jericho and Bethlehem, U.S. government employees are prohibited from personal travel to the West Bank. Due to security concerns, U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public buses throughout Israel and the West Bank, and must obtain advance approval if they wish to travel within 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of the Lebanon border, or travel on or east of Route 98 in the Golan Heights. U.S. citizens should take into consideration the following information, including the rules governing travel in this region by U.S. government employees. This replaces the Travel Warning issued September 10, 2014.
Major Metropolitan Areas
Personal safety conditions in major metropolitan areas, including Tel Aviv and Haifa and surrounding regions, are comparable to other major global cities. Nonetheless, the July-August 2014 Gaza conflict (see below) and subsequent political and religious tension associated with access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem led to increased levels of violence, particularly in Jerusalem and West Bank environs, not seen in those areas in a decade. Attacks on individuals and groups have occurred in East and West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Bethlehem, as well as various places in the West Bank. We have no indication that U.S. citizens have been specifically targeted based on their nationality, however U.S. citizens have been directly affected. Six U.S. citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank were killed and others injured in multiple attacks in 2014. U.S. citizens involved in or observing political demonstrations have sustained serious injuries and the Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all demonstrations for their own safety. Due to security concerns, U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public buses in Israel and the West Bank. See below for specific safety and security information regarding Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and near Israel’s northern borders.
Travelers should be aware of the risks presented by the potential for military conflict between Hamas and Israel. During the conflict in Gaza in July and August 2014, 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. The Government of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system successfully intercepted many rockets. However, missile impacts also caused deaths, injuries, and property damage. There have been additional small arms fire and mortar and rocket launches from Gaza into southern Israel on several occasions between September and December 2014 that resulted in limited property damage.
Visitors to and 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 locations 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 take note of guidance on proper procedures in the event of rocket attacks or other crisis events by visiting the website of the government of Israel’s 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 attacks that took place in August 2013, January 20 and October 22, 2014. Rockets and mortars were launched from Sinai in the direction of Eilat and Israel’s Negev region in January, July, and August 2014.
Visitors should observe appropriate personal security practices to reduce their vulnerability to crime, particularly late at night or in isolated 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.
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 protests, civil unrest, acts of terrorism, and retaliatory attacks against groups and individuals. There have been frequent clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities, particularly in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. Travelers should be aware that protest activities and violence have occurred across Jerusalem, including in West Jerusalem, within the Old City, and in East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, Shufat, Beit Hanina, Mt. of Olives, As Suwaneh, Abu Deis, Silwan, Shuafat Refugee Camp, Issawiyeh, and Tsur Baher. The intensity and number of these violent events, which have caused the deaths of bystanders, remained at high levels during October and November. Such events often increase following Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif access restrictions, in retaliation for random attacks, or during Israel National Police (INP) operations in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods. The INP often deploys a heavy presence in many of the neighborhoods that have seen clashes and may restrict vehicular traffic to some of these neighborhoods without notice. U.S. citizens are advised not to enter any neighborhoods while restricted by the INP and to avoid any locations with active clashes.
To date, the clashes and violence have not been anti-American in nature. However, politically motivated violence in Jerusalem claimed the lives of U.S. citizens in October and November 2014, including a terror attack inside a synagogue. Other U.S. citizens have also been injured in such attacks. Travelers are reminded to exercise caution at Muslim religious sites on Fridays and on holy days, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. 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. 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 public parks in Jerusalem after dark, due to numerous reports of criminal activity associated with these parks.
Northern Israel and Golan Heights
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. Because of concerns about security on Israel’s northern borders, U.S. government personnel must obtain advance approval if they wish to travel within 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of the Lebanon border, or travel on or east of Route 98 in the Golan Heights.
The West Bank
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. In October 2014, a U.S. citizen teenager was killed in an encounter with Israeli security forces in Silwad, and in June 2014, three Israeli teenagers, including a dual U.S. citizen, were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas-affiliated individuals while hitchhiking near Hebron. Demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning, and vehicles are sometimes damaged by rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire on West Bank roads. U.S citizens have been killed in such attacks in the past. 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, as well as 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 U.S. government officials 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 after completing certain security procedures. The Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem has 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. U.S. government U.S. citizen employees are not allowed to travel to Gaza, in either personal or professional capacities. U.S. government travel within seven kilometers of the Gaza demarcation requires special security arrangements. 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. Since late October 2014, Egyptian authorities have closed the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt for extended periods with no indication regarding when it will reopen for normal traffic. When operating, the Rafah crossing normally allows for some passenger travel, however, 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 while attempting to exit Gaza. Furthermore, the schedule and requirements for exiting through the Rafah crossing are unpredictable and can involve significant expense. The ability of U.S. government personnel to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens, including assistance departing Gaza, is extremely limited. The Consulate General and Embassy are often unable to assist U.S. citizens to exit Gaza via the Erez crossing to Israel. U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Gaza cannot normally 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.
U.S. citizens seeking to depart Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. 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.
Travelers should check the status of border crossings before embarking on trips.
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).