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Israel 2019 Crime & Safety Report


This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Israel at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Reconsider travel to the West Bank due to terrorism, potentially violent civil unrest, and the potential for armed conflict. Do not travel to Gaza due to terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Review OSAC’s Israel country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

The security environment in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza remains complex, and tensions remain high. The Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both make considerable efforts to police major tourist attractions and ensure security where foreigners frequently travel. Throughout 2018, random attacks (e.g. stabbings, shootings, bombings, vehicle attacks) and mass demonstrations in Jerusalem and the West Bank continued, with specific anti-U.S. demonstrations occurring in the West Bank and outside U.S. government facilities in Jerusalem.

 

In recent years, in Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. citizens, including Israelis and Palestinians with dual citizenship, died or received injuries from acts of violence. Perceived religious affiliation was a factor in some of the attacks. Although there is no indication that U.S. citizens are direct targets because of their nationality, the large number of foreign travelers in the region increases the likelihood that crime, terrorism, or political violence may have an impact on U.S. citizens.

 

Throughout 2018, small arms fired from militants in Syria, and rockets, mortars, and incendiary devices from Gaza into Israel continued. There were approximately 1,000 rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, and approximately 2,000 fires caused by incendiary devices tied to kites, in areas near Israel’s fence with Gaza. In 2018, Israeli Defense Forces initiated Operation Northern Shield, in which they uncovered six tunnels along the Israel-Lebanon border. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Air Raid Sirens in Israel.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel’s crime rate is lower than many major cities in the United States. According to 2018 Israel National Police (INP) statistics, there were no major changes in crime stats from the previous year. Israel-Based Organized Crime Syndicates (IBOCS) remain a serious concern to host-nation law enforcement. A series of IBOCS-related car bombing assassination attempts occurred in several areas of Israel, including on Route 20 near Tel Aviv, and another in close proximity to a high school in Ashdod.

 

Despite the prevalence of property crime, violent confrontational crime is uncommon, typically limited in severity, and confined to specific high-crime areas. Sexual assault and violence remains a concern for local authorities. Petty theft is common and occurs in crowded tourist locations, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Old City. Crime tends to increase after dark in the Old City and the Promenade overlooking the Old City, and other high-traffic tourist locations.

 

Residential burglaries, vandalism, theft of personal belongings, and motor vehicle theft are always a concern. Security alarm systems, window grilles/shutters, exterior lighting, security patrols, quality locks, and sound residential security operational practices greatly reduce the occurrence of burglary.

 

Vehicle theft remains a concern throughout Israel. High taxes on motor vehicle imports make all vehicles, including electric bicycles, attractive targets for thieves. In most cases, local authorities do not recover stolen vehicles and oftentimes, thieves will drive the vehicles into neighboring countries and territories beyond the reach of local authorities.

 

Financial crime and fraud schemes are common. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud. 

 

Local authorities consider driving under the influence to be a serious offense. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

 

West Bank: Many Palestinian cities and towns in Areas A and B of the West Bank fall under some degree of Palestinian Authority civil and security control. The Palestinian Civil Police’s (PCP) most recent report on crime in Areas A and B indicated crime rates remained steady. Additionally, traffic accidents continued to be a major area of concern and led to a large number of recorded injuries in 2018.

 

Gaza: There are no reliable sources of information for crime statistics in Gaza.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Major roads and highways in Israel and the West Bank are in relatively good condition. Generally, signs on major roadways are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Most routes into and out of the West Bank feature Israeli checkpoints. All drivers must carry a valid international or local driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Israeli law requires the use of seat belts for all occupants of a motor vehicle. Local laws prohibit the use of cell phones while driving unless using a hands-free device. 

 

Traffic flow relies on a few major highways that, when obstructed, can cause major traffic delays throughout the country. During peak rush hour, commuters experience long delays in accessing suburbs and the corridor from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Aggressive driving is common. In Jerusalem and the West Bank, vehicles have been subject to rock throwing, Molotov cocktails, burning tires, roadblocks, barricades, and gunfire. Driving in ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on Shabbat (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) and Jewish holidays is considered offensive, and can result in heckling, spitting, and throwing of objects, including stones, at vehicles.  

 

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

The U.S. Government prohibits its personnel and their dependents from using public buses and bus terminals in Israel and the West Bank, as buses, bus stops, and stations have been the scenes of random attacks or attempted assaults (e.g. stabbings, bombings, vehicle attacks).

 

The U.S. Government does not prohibit the use of the use of the Jerusalem light rail transit system by its employees and family members; however, the system may be subject to restrictions based on the security situation. Although there were no reported attacks in 2018, a Palestinian man armed with a knife attacked and stabbed to death a British woman on the light rail in 2017; and a Palestinian fired multiple rounds at people waiting at a light rail station, severely wounding several people, in 2016.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), Israel’s primary international gateway, employs one of the world’s most comprehensive security screening programs for travelers. Some U.S. travelers may encounter increased security screening at TLV for both inbound and outbound travel. Security-related delays are common for travelers carrying audio-visual or data storage and processing equipment. During the screening process, some travelers have had their laptop computers and other electronic equipment confiscated. Authorities retained some equipment for lengthy periods and reportedly damaged, destroyed, or never returned other equipment. Generally, authorities return most items to the traveler prior to departure, and/or require the traveler to secure the items in their checked baggage. Some U.S. travelers of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian-Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints. U.S. citizens who have traveled to Muslim countries or who are of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin may face additional questioning by immigration and border authorities.  

 

Israeli border authorities do not generally place entry or exit stamps in passports. The “Electronic Gate Pass” replaced the system whereby passports were stamped. Upon arrival by air, or a land border, crossing travelers receive an “Electronic Gate Pass.” The Gate Pass captures principle details of the traveler as in the first page of the passport and date of arrival and visa information. Travelers should keep this card on hand at all times as proof of their visa status. In addition to a passport, the card is required for travelers to depart the arrivals area and again upon final departure from Israel.

 

In order to facilitate the security screening process for business travelers, TLV security officials established a prescreening program called the Mokdan Process. Travelers may check with the company or organization sponsoring their travel to see if they have a certified representative who can validate this prescreening service for their travelers. 

 

Email: Mokdan_iaa@gov.il                                                                                                                         

Phone: 03-975-0560 (+972-3-975-0560 from outside Israel)

Fax:     03-975-0561 (+972-3-975-0561 from outside Israel)

Other Travel Conditions

Riders of small-motorized transports – such as scooters, bikes, and motorcycles – often use the sidewalks. Accidents involving small-motorized transports and pedestrians are common, at times resulting in critical injuries.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Violent acts frequently contain religious or ethnic overtones. While security forces in Israel and the West Bank are generally effective, security threats can be difficult to predict. 

 

In recent years, terrorist attacks have included shootings, stabbings, vehicular attacks, and suicide bombings. Several designated foreign terrorist organizations – such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Lebanese Hizb’allah – have a large presence in the West Bank and Gaza, and in bordering countries. These groups have been in conflict with Israel for decades, and routinely express anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. sentiments. Additionally, splinter groups operate with a degree of autonomy in the area, and many do not differentiate between military and civilian targets.

 

While the frequency of lone-wolf attacks decreased significantly since 2016, random acts of politically motivated violence remain a concern. In most such attacks, Palestinian assailants have deployed vehicles, knives, and improvised firearms against Israelis. The majority of attacks targeted Israeli Security Forces at checkpoints, or targets of opportunity such as individuals perceived to be Israelis at bus and light rail stops, and certain entry gates to the Jerusalem’s Old City. In response to most lone-wolf attacks, Israeli Security Forces and/or armed civilians typically responded with firearms. During a number of responses, errant small arms fire injured innocent civilians and responders.

 

On Israel’s southern border with Egypt, militant activity in the Sinai Peninsula has increased in recent years, making travel along the border areas dangerous. On Israel’s northern border, continued instability in Syria has created a vacuum in which militants – some affiliated with terrorist organizations – have expanded their control and influence to other portions of the country. Because of the recurrent cross-border fire from Lebanon, spillover from the Syrian conflict, and continued threats from Gaza, the U.S. Government periodically prohibits its personnel and their dependents from traveling to certain border areas for personal travel. Official travel employs various measures such as personal travel locators and armored vehicles. 

 

Temporary official and personal travel restrictions as identified below:

 

Syria & Golan Heights:  The Syrian civil war has led to increased fighting between various groups near the U.N. Disengagement Zone adjacent to the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Although not as frequent as in 2017, several errant mortar shells and small arms fire landed in the Golan earlier in 2018. Although unusual, missile strikes into Israel remain a concern.

 

Lebanon:  While the Israel-Lebanon border has been an area of relative calm in recent years, the threat of rocket and missile attacks and small arms fire persists from Lebanese Hizb’allah and other groups operating in Lebanon. Tensions in this border area are elevated.

 

Egypt:  Israeli authorities have maintained a heightened state of alert along the Israel-Egypt border given the turmoil in the Sinai Peninsula. ISIS-Sinai continues to be a threat along Israel’s Sinai border. The group has been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in Egypt and fired rockets into Israel in 2015 and 2017. The U.S. Government prohibits its personnel and their dependents from travelling within 1.5 miles of the Israel-Egypt border along the northern Sinai, including all portions of Route 10 and some portions of Route 12.

 

West BankThe majority of terrorist incidents in the West Bank target the INP, IDF, and other security personnel; however, civilian targets are not immune to attacks. Due to continued tensions, the U.S. Government prohibits its personnel and their dependents from traveling to the West Bank for personal travel, with the exception of Bethlehem and Jericho. U.S. government employees must observe additional security requirements, such as the use of armored vehicles, for official travel within the West Bank.

 

Gaza:  A number of small Salafist groups, some of which are ISIS-inspired, are resident in Gaza. The U.S. Government prohibits its personnel and their dependents from traveling to Gaza. U.S. government consular staff are unable to offer direct assistance to U.S. citizens in Gaza. U.S. citizens electing to travel to Gaza despite the Department of State’s Travel Advisory may likely face difficulties when attempting to exit Gaza.

 

Hamas continues to exercise de facto security and civil control in Gaza. Compared to the previous two years, Israel experienced a significant increase of rockets fired from Gaza in 2018, with militants launching more than 1,000 rockets and mortars at Israel. Generally, the IDF counters with targeted strikes in response to rocket attacks from Gaza. The IDF has also struck inside Gaza in response to incendiary devices or from violence at the fence between Gaza and Israel. The IDF strictly enforces the “exclusion zone,” an Israeli-enforced buffer area along the eastern and northern edge of the territory, taking lethal measures against individuals who enter the zone.

 

Travel to areas near Gaza carries the risk of indirect fire, mortar, and rockets launched from Gaza with little or no warning. U.S. government employees and their dependents must observe additional security requirements, such as the use of armored vehicles, if traveling within seven miles of the Gaza demarcation line.

 

The Israel Home Front Command mobile application has considerable information regarding emergency planning in general, including what to do in the event of rocket attacks.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

Following the United States’ 2017 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent move of the U.S. Embassy, demonstrations, predominantly in the West Bank, took on an anti-U.S. bent. Several demonstrations occurred at U.S. government facilities and designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations called to target U.S. persons.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Jerusalem, and moderate risk in Tel Aviv. Although local authorities are aware of most demonstrations, spontaneous demonstrations do occur. Many security incidents and clashes occur in areas where Palestinians and Israelis live and/or travel in close proximity to one another. Civil unrest often occurs in response to current events, including but not limited to: demolition of Palestinian homes, restrictions on worshippers at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and incursions by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into Palestinian areas.

 

Isolated street protests, unplanned demonstrations, and violence do take place with little or no advance warning; most commonly around the Gaza border, checkpoints throughout the West Bank, in Jerusalem’s Old City, some East Jerusalem neighborhoods (e.g. Issawiya, Ras al ‘Amud, Jabal Mukkabir, Sheikh Jarrah, and Silwan), and Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. 

 

During the month of Ramadan, there is a significant increase in the number of worshippers – upward of 200,000 – at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly during Friday prayers. Demonstrations by the Jewish ultra-Orthodox community can sometimes turn violent. 

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

 

Jerusalem is composed of a wide variety of ethnicities and religions. The Old City is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. Violent acts frequently have religious or ethnic overtones. U.S. travelers visiting the area should be mindful of their location and be vigilant as they travel throughout Jerusalem and its environs.

 

In April 2017, a Palestinian man armed with a knife stabbed and injured two Israeli Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) men in the area of Al-Wad Street inside the Old City. The assailant also stabbed and injured an INP officer responding to the attack. The INP officer and other responding officers shot and killed the assailant.

Post-specific Concerns

Economic Concerns

 

Potential copyright infringement may occur when purchasing any sort of name-brand items, DVDs, or electronics in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, particularly when shopping at small vendors.  Palestinian authorities lack experience and expertise regarding protection of intellectual property rights.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

All forms of communication may be subject to monitoring.  Immigration and border authorities may conduct additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning and may even deny entry into Israel or the West Bank, to those of Arab, Middle Eastern, and or Muslim origin; travelers who have been involved in missionary work or activism; and persons affiliated with or suspected of affiliation with the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. 

 

While the U.S. Embassy cannot facilitate U.S. citizens' entry into Israel or the West Bank, those who feel  wrongly denied entry or unnecessarily subjected to additional security screening can report their experiences to the U.S. Embassy Jerusalem’s ACS Unit.

 

LGBTI travelers are encouraged to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings, especially when entering religious or socially conservative areas. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Israel. Israeli anti-discrimination laws protect LGBTI individuals. Acceptance and tolerance of LGBTI people varies throughout the country and from neighborhood to neighborhood. The Law of Return allows that same-sex spouses of Jews immigrating to Israel – known as “making Aliyah” – are eligible to make Aliyah with their spouses and receive Israeli citizenship.

 

The legal systems in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, which prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. However, the PA has not prosecuted individuals suspected of such activity. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions is commonplace, making the West Bank and Gaza challenging environments for LGBTI persons. Some Palestinians have claimed PA security officers harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons in Gaza due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Individuals with mobility issues may find accessibility and accommodation in Israel very different from in the United States. Legislation mandates access to buildings and transportation, as well as accommodations for persons with disabilities in services and the work place. The government enforces the laws with only limited success, however. Societal discrimination and lack of accessibility persist in employment and housing. The law mandates accessibility to urban public transportation but not intercity buses. Most train stations maintain access for persons with disabilities; however, many buses still do not have such access. Television stations include subtitles or sign language, and the courts accommodate testimony from persons with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Tourists will find restaurants, footpaths, and public transportation less accessible than in the United States.

 

PA law prohibits discrimination based on disability, but legal implementation has been slow. The law does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications. Palestinians with disabilities continue to receive uneven and poor quality services and care. Familial and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities exists in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Although drugs (e.g. marijuana, synthetic marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy) are present in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, narco-terrorism and violence are not significant threats. Narcotics are illegal in Israel and the West Bank. Hamas authorities in Gaza carry out separate, harsher penalties for narcotics possession and/or use.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

The threat of kidnapping remains a concern for U.S. citizens and foreigners in Gaza and the West Bank, although the last documented kidnappings were several years ago. For more information, please review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Senior officers within the INP are generally well trained, professional, and inclined to provide support to U.S. travelers visiting Israel, as well as and support the U.S. Embassy’s security needs. The U.S. Embassy generally finds the INP to be supportive and effective at events such as demonstrations or during VIP visits. In the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank, the PCP is responsive, but outside of those areas, its ability to respond is limited and can take considerable time and coordination. In the areas of the West Bank where the GOI is responsible for security, the INP has limited ability to respond in a timely manner.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

U.S. citizens arrested by INP and charged with crimes are entitled to legal representation provided by the Israeli government. They may request consular notification and visitation by a U.S. Embassy staff member. In some cases, there is no notification or there are significant delays between the time of arrest and the time INP notifies the U.S. Embassy. There is no agreement between the U.S. and the PA regarding notification and consular access when PA security forces arrest U.S. citizens in the West Bank. However, PA security forces normally notify the U.S. Embassy of arrests – although not always in a timely manner. The notification procedure may be expedited if the U.S. citizen under arrest shows a U.S. passport to the police and asks the police or prison authority to contact U.S. Embassy. If the Israeli government or PA delays or denies access to a detained U.S. citizen, the U.S. Government can formally protest the lack of consular access. Consular officers can help victims to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

The U.S. Embassy occasionally receives reports of police harassment against U.S. travelers. U.S. citizens who have been arrested, are the victim of a crime, or need assistance may contact U.S. Embassy.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

INP has the primary responsibility for civil security inside Israel and for the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

 

West Bank: Although divided into three administrative and security zones – Areas A, B, and C – Israeli security forces control all entry into and out of the West Bank. Area A contains most major Palestinian cities and is under PA civil and security control. Area B covers most Palestinian-populated rural areas and is under PA civil control and shared Israeli and Palestinian security control. Area ‘C’  is under full Israeli civil and security control, as it is made up of settlements and Palestinian rural areas (such as land near roads or land adjoining Israeli settlements), as well as the Jordan River Valley. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs produces a yearly Humanitarian Atlas detailing the different zones and other important demarcations.

Medical Emergencies

Modern medical care and medicines are available in Israel. However, some hospitals and clinics in Israel and most hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza are below U.S. standards.

 

Emergency services usually have English-speaking operators. The following are emergency services telephone numbers throughout the country:

 

Police: 100

Ambulance: 101

Fire: 102 (Israel) or 103 (West Bank and Gaza)

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

Travelers should dial 101 for medical emergencies. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page. ACS staff can provide U.S. citizens with information to help them find appropriate medical care and contact family members and friends.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

Orange Aviation, based at Moshav Ben Shemen, can provide U.S. citizens with air ambulance service within Israel or internationally. Call +972 8 923 5751.

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Medical evacuation (medevac) can easily cost $10,000 or more depending on the travelers’ location and medical condition. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is available on the Your Health Abroad section on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Israel.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Country Council in Israel is active. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Locations and Contact Information

 

Embassy Addresses and Hours of Operation

 

U.S. Embassy Jerusalem: 14 David Flusser Street, Arnona, Jerusalem

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday: 0800-1600, except on U.S. and local holidays.

Website: https://il.usembassy.gov/

 

Routine matters during business hours: +972-2-630-4000

After Hours: +972-2-622-7250

 

U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, Agron Road Annex: 8 Agron Road, Jerusalem

Routine matters during business hours: +972-2-622-7230

After Hours: +972-2-622-7230

 

U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, Embassy Branch Office Tel Aviv: 71 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv

Routine matters during business hours:  +972-3-519-7575, +972-3-519-7400

After Hours: +972 3-519-7551

 

Department of State information line for Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza:

From within U.S.: 1-888-407-4747; From overseas: 1-202-501-4444

Monday-Friday, 0800-1630, except on U.S. and local holidays.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Israel should register with the closest Embassy or Branch Office through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices directly.

 

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