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Israel 2014 Crime and Safety Report: Tel Aviv

Near East > Israel; Near East > Israel > Tel Aviv

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The Department of State currently rates the crime level in Israel as Medium. Tel Aviv sustains a low rate of violent crime compared to other similarly-sized metropolitan cities. 

Crime Threats

The most common crimes are vehicle thefts, petty larcenies, and residential burglaries. Personal belongings left unattended in parked vehicles, on public beaches, or in parks are also targeted with some regularity. This problem primarily exists in the vicinity of National Parks, public beaches, and other areas frequented by tourists. Home burglaries are common in more affluent neighborhoods, and although uncommon, burglaries may occur while the residents are home; in 2013 there were two residential burglaries within the Embassy housing pool. Historically, these residential break-ins have been non-violent.

Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv complain of increased theft, assault, and vagrancy.

In 2013, with 11 months of reporting, the Israeli National Police (INP) reported the following statistics for violent crime: 124 murder/homicides, 194 attempted murders, 4,715 sexual offenses (felony and misdemeanor), and 39,930 assault (felony and misdemeanor) crimes. These statistics represent a small decrease in reported crimes, although these statistics do not account for December 2013. Additional information can be found on the Central Bureau of Statistics website and the INP website, which releases yearly crime statistics. 

Organized crime activity has increased in Israel. While the Israel National Police (INP) is expanding its efforts to combat organized crime, its focus has been on the prevention of terrorism. In a few incidents involving organized crime, stolen military ordnance or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) have been used in furtherance of criminal activity. 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Israel’s roads and highways are in good condition but are heavily congested during peak travel hours. Visitors are encouraged to drive defensively and be aware of erratic and aggressive motorists. Signs on major roads are generally posted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Drivers are prone to stop suddenly, especially in the right lane. Drivers should use caution, as Israel has a high rate of fatalities from automobile accidents. Scooters and motorcycles are common, often passing on the left or right whether traffic is moving or stopped. Israeli law requires the use of seat belts for all vehicle occupants. During the winter season, head lights must be used for all travel. Use of cell phones while driving is prohibited unless a hands-free device is employed. It is recommended that persons involved in a traffic accident contact the INP. 

Auto theft occurs frequently, and the recovery of stolen automobiles is rare.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Gaza: Gaza-based organizations, such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRCs), are among the most active terrorist organizations in the region and carry out asymmetrical attacks, such as rocket/missile fire and sniper fire, around Israel’s boundaries with the Gaza Strip and in and around the West Bank. Both Hamas and the PIJ are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. government, although the PRCs are splinter groups whose attacks have grown in scope and lethality since 2008. While some Palestinian groups, particularly those based in the West Bank, have recognized Israel’s right to exist and negotiated with it, Hamas, the PIJ, and other factions remain publically committed to the destruction of Israel and do not distinguish between attacks on civilian or military targets. The government routinely responds to these attacks with military operations directed at terrorist leaders, their infrastructure, and rocket launching teams. A large-scale military action, Operation Pillar of Defense, took place from November 14-21, 2012, and resulted in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement. While the ceasefire has calmed the environment around Gaza, there has been an uptick in rocket/missile launches in early 2014.

Israeli authorities have maintained a heightened state of alert along Israel’s border with Egypt given the turmoil there. On August 18, 2011, a terrorist attack killed eight people and injured nearly 40 along Route 12 northwest of Eilat. 

Israel faced a variety of terrorist attacks and threats in late 2012 and in 2013, including shootings, stabbings, a bus bombing, mortar fire from the Gaza Strip, and multiple skirmishes along the security fence surrounding Gaza. According to figures released by the Israel Security Agency, in 2012, more than 2,300 rockets and more than 220 mortars were launched from Gaza at Israel. In 2013, 74 rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza into Israel, despite the ceasefire agreement. A summary of some of the most significant threats and incidents follows:

In November 2012, 1,814 rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza and reached Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Bethlehem. The government conducted Operation Pillar of Defense in order to destroy rocket launch capabilities in Gaza. In addition, the IDF utilized the Iron Dome, a system designed to shoot down rockets in flight prior to impact, to intercept about 421 rockets launched from Gaza. According to the government, of the 1,814 rockets that were launched into Israel, less than 1/3 posed a threat, and Iron Dome intercepted over 90 percent of the rockets it targeted. However, there is speculation from non-governmental sources that the rate of effectiveness of the system was much lower. Launches from Gaza into Israel decreased significantly in 2013, following Operation Pillar of Defense. Of the 74 launchings on southern Israel, 69 were launched from the Gaza Strip and five from the Sinai Peninsula. Only 36 of the total launchings were identified as landing in Israeli territory – others landed in Gaza territory or the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to rocket fire, Israel has also experienced multiple attacks around the Gaza border. In 2013, there were seven incidents in which IDF soldiers were injured by rockets, mortars, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) close to the Gaza border.

On October 7, 2013, IDF discovered the opening of a tunnel from Gaza leading into Israeli territory. Israeli authorities said that the tunnel was approximately 18 meters deep and 1.7 kilometers wide. Hamas claimed to have constructed the tunnel. This was the third tunnel discovered along the Gaza-Israel security fence in 2013.

West Bank: The Israel Security Agency (ISA or ShinBet) reported a total of 918 of what it defined as terrorist attacks originating in the West Bank against Israeli citizens from January through November. Some 760 involved firebombs but also included shootings, stabbings, grenade and IED incidents, and rock throwing. ISA identified an additional 360 attacks in Jerusalem, 312 of which involved firebombs.

On November 13, 2013, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank boarded a bus in Afula and stabbed an IDF soldier who was also riding the bus. The soldier later died from his wounds. On November 22, a female soldier was stabbed in Jaffa but was only slightly injured.

Northern border: The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has led to fighting between the Syrian military and opposition forces in Syrian territory along the Israeli border in the central portion of the Disengagement Zone in the Golan Heights near Quinaitra. In June 2013, Syrian rebels battled with the Syrian military to take control of the Quinaitra crossing. Fighting has spilled into Israel. IDF have augmented their positions on the Golan and have engaged in air strikes to destroy weapons transfers between Syrian elements and Hezbollah. 

The government also remains concerned about the terrorist threat posed by Hizballah or other groups operating in Lebanon. While the Israeli/Lebanese border has been an area of relative calm in recent years, the threat of rocket/missile attacks persists. In the latest incident on December 29, 2013, rockets launched from southern Lebanon landed near Kiryat Shmona but did not cause damage. Israel responded with artillery fire.

Other Terrorist Attacks: On December 22, 2013, a bus driver noticed an unattended bag on a Bat Yam city bus and evacuated the bus. Minutes later, a bomb exploded, causing extensive damage to the bus but resulting in no casualties.

Civil Unrest

Most occurrences of civil unrest take place in the vicinity of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem. Demonstrations and violent incidents do occur and often take place without warning.

During 2013, the government, the Palestinian Authority, and the U.S. government ramped up peace negotiation efforts to come to agreement on a framework for a two state solution. These negotiations have continued in 2014. In response, there have been a number of occasions of demonstrations and voices of protest. 

Religious or Ethnic Violence 

In the mid-2000s, Israel became a destination for a large number of African nationals who illegally immigrated mainly from Sudan and Eritrea. In 2013, Israel finished a fence along southern border with Egypt and effectively halted the stream of Africans crossing into Israel. It is estimated that there are 53,000 African migrants in Israel. Many of these migrants live in south Tel Aviv, specifically in and around the Central Bus Station. Without legal status, many Africans are unemployed or work in temporary, low wage jobs in and around Tel Aviv. As part of a growing movement to address the migrants’ status, the African migrant and asylum community, with the assistance of several non-governmental organizations that work on their behalf, executed three days of mass demonstrations that took place in Rabin Square, at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, and across from the Knesset.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights groups have organized several demonstrations in Tel Aviv and the LGBT Pride Parade and Festival in 2013 that the U.S. Ambassador and other embassy employees attended. These demonstrations have been peaceful and coordinated in advance with police and municipal authorities.

The Embassy has witnessed several peaceful demonstrations in support of Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen convicted of committing espionage on behalf of Israel, at the U.S. Embassy or across from locations visited by the U.S. Secretary of State. These demonstrations have been peaceful and coordinated in advance with police and municipal authorities.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

The Jordan River Valley, which marks Israel’s eastern border, constitutes the northern section of the Great Rift Valley that forms the tectonic border of the African and Asian plates. Accordingly, the region experiences regular seismic activity. The most recent earthquake of significance recorded in Israel occurred in 2013. It was measured as 5.3 on the Richter scale and caused minor damage to buildings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The last major earthquake in Israel took place in 1927. Nevertheless, in recognition of the potential for a natural disaster, the government used an earthquake scenario in 2012 for its largest annual emergency preparedness exercise, Turning Point 6, held throughout the country.

In times of heavy rainfall, major roads are prone to flooding.

Privacy Concerns

Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel’s primary international gateway, employs one of the most comprehensive security screening programs for travelers in the world. Accordingly, security-related delays are not unusual for travelers carrying audio-visual or data storage/processing equipment, and some travelers have reported that their laptop computers and other electronic equipment were confiscated during the screening process. While most items are returned prior to the traveler’s departure or permitted to travel as checked baggage, some equipment has been retained by the authorities for lengthy periods and has reportedly been damaged, destroyed, lost, or never returned. Travelers who have had personal property damaged due to security procedures may contact the Commissioner for Public Complaints for redress by fax to 972-3-9752387. In such circumstances, travelers should have no expectation of privacy for any data stored on such devices.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

In order to facilitate the security screening process for business travelers, Ben Gurion Airport security officials established a prescreening program: the Mokdan Process. It is highly recommended that travelers check with the company or organization sponsoring their travel to see if they have a certified representative who can validate this prescreening service. The contact information for sending a representative to become accredited and issue prescreening is: Mokdan_iaa@gov.il, Tel: 03-9750560, or fax: 03-9750561. It is recommended to contact them by email and ask to join the Mokdan Process.

Travel by private U.S. citizens to the West Bank is not advisable. Travel by U.S. government personnel for official business is done with security arrangements. Personal travel for U.S. government personnel and family members is limited to Jericho, Bethlehem, Qumran, and rest stops along Routes 1 and 90. All other personal travel into the West Bank is prohibited. 

Travel by private U.S. citizens to Gaza is not advisable. Because U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. government are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip for official or personal travel or have any contact with Hamas, the ability of the U.S. government to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens there is extremely limited. U.S. government personnel must notify the Embassy's Regional Security Office in advance if they plan to visit areas of Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip or south of Be'ersheva. Added security measures, such as the use of armored vehicles, are commonly used for such travel. Travel into the Gaza Strip is possible from Israel only through the Erez Crossing, located in the northern Gaza Strip. Travelers to areas of Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip should be aware of the risks presented by small arms fire, anti-tank weapons, rockets, and mortars launched from inside Gaza toward Israeli cities and towns. These attacks can come with little warning. The most frequent launches travel in a radius of 40 km from Gaza and land as far north as Yavne and Gadera and as far east as Be'ersheva. Gunfire, rocket, and mortar attacks in the regions immediately bordering Gaza are a regular occurrence. 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.

U.S. government personnel must notify the Embassy's Regional Security Office in advance if they plan to visit the Golan Heights. U.S. government employees are required to notify the Regional Security Office 24-hours in advance of any travel to the Golan Heights (the area north and east of the Sea of Galilee/Lake Kinneret).

Drug-related Crimes

There is prevalent use of heroin in Israel along with recreational drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, and synthetic cannabis. 

In 2013, one pharmaceutical company suffered a major theft of prescription medications. Pharmaceutical theft and trafficking is a growing crime with many contraband drugs.

However, narco-terrorism has not been a consideration in Israel.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnappings are generally not a widespread problem or issue within green line (or 1967 borders, which exclude the Palestinian Territories) Israel. However, reports are common of potential terrorist operations in the West Bank, Gaza, or along the Sinai border to kidnap Israeli military personnel or civilians.

Police Response

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

American travelers, who have been arrested, are the victim of a crime, or need assistance may contact U.S. Embassy American Citizen Services at 03-519-7575 or after normal business hours at 03-519-7551. 

Embassy Tel Aviv rarely receives reports of police harassment. Some American travelers may encounter increased security screening at Ben Gurion International Airport for both inbound and outbound travel. Generally, the Regional Security Office and American Citizen Services are notified by Israeli Immigration authorities if an American is detained or denied entry into Israel.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

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

Police: 100
Ambulance: 101
Fire: 102

Various Police/Security Agencies 

Israeli National Police (INP): Focus on common civilian issues, such as auto accidents, burglaries, robberies, etc., for green line Israel and in the Jewish settlements.

Border Police (BP): The BP is a division of the INP that focuses on border issues, smuggling, and crimes near or on Israeli borders. BP officers are posted outside of several embassies and ambassadorial residences as they are considered sovereign territories. 

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF): The Israeli military, focused on Israeli defense security and security within the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. Israel has three main branches of their military: army, navy, and air force.

Israeli Security Agency (ISA/ShinBet): Shin Bet is focused on internal Israeli security and intelligence issues as well as a regulator of security. Shin Bet also provides protection for the prime minister and president and several other key government figures.

Medical Emergencies

Travelers should dial 101 for medical emergencies. 

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Ichilov Hospital (03-697-4444) is the largest hospital in Tel Aviv and central to the downtown metropolitan area, English speaking operators and medical staffs are usually available. Ichilov is a level 1 trauma center.

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Orange Aviation, based at Moshav Ben Shemen, can provide air ambulance service within Israel or internationally.

Orange Aviation
Moshav Ben-Shemen 35
Israel 73115
Tel. +972 8 923 5751
Fax +972 8 923 5758

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Visitors should have up-to-date routine vaccinations. CDC also recommends that visitors obtain the Hepatitis A and Polio vaccinations. For full information on these vaccinations and on CDC Israel-specific guidelines, visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/israel.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams

Recent trends in spam or fishing emails involve a fraudulent diversity lottery and green card prize. In addition, the Embassy has received several complaints from Israelis who wired money to individuals posing as U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Generally, these Israelis met these individuals over chat rooms and other online social media sites.

Areas to be Avoided 

The U.S. Embassy places restrictions on the travel of U.S. government employees and family members due to the unpredictable nature of the security environment. Buses and bus terminals remain off-limits throughout Israel. Additionally, as a result of the Israeli government’s heightened state of alert near the border with Egypt, U.S. government personnel are required to provide advance notice to the Embassy’s Regional Security Office of any official or personal travel south of the city of Be’er Sheva. In view of the threat in and around Gaza, U.S. government personnel must also provide advance notification of travel to Sderot or the vicinity of any Gaza Strip boundaries so a security assessment can be made of the intended travel. Additional resources, such as the use of armored vehicles, are used to support such travel.

U.S. government personnel and their dependents are prohibited from traveling to most places in the West Bank except for Mission-essential business or other approved purposes. Travel is carefully monitored by the Consulate General in Jerusalem and subject to restrictions. Additionally, U.S. government personnel and their dependents are authorized limited road travel through the West Bank using only Routes 1 and 90 in order to reach the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, the Galilee, the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, or the Dead Sea coast near Ein Gedi and Masada. While traveling on Routes 1 and 90, U.S. government personnel are allowed to stop at roadside facilities. Travel to Qumran is permitted as well. All other roads and locations within the West Bank remain strictly off-limits to personal travel for U.S. government personnel and their dependants.

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

Visitors should be aware of their surroundings as the security environment changes constantly. U.S. government employees are also cautioned to use discretion and good judgment when visiting crowed places such as shopping malls, restaurants, hotel lobbies, and entertainment and recreation venues. Personal belongings should be secured while shopping or visiting tourist attractions. Unattended belongings are considered suspicious items and are subject to confiscation or may be destroyed by INP bomb squads. When entering most establishments, be prepared to be physically searched and have your bag and/or vehicle inspected prior to entry.

The U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers, particularly those staying long-term, familiarize themselves with the locations of public bomb shelters or ensure that residences in which they are staying contain a hardened room that can serve this purpose. The government’s Home Front Command publishes a wealth of useful contingency planning information, including recommended responses to rocket/missile attacks, floods, and earthquakes, on its website: http://www.oref.org.il/International/14-en/PAKAR.aspx.

In light of the fluid nature of Israel’s security environment, travelers are also encouraged to regularly monitor the local news. Good sources of news in English are:
YNet: http://www.ynetnews.com/home/0,7340,L-3083,00.html 
Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com and 
Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com

Visitors to Israel should continue to monitor the travel.state.gov website on up-to-date information on planned demonstrations.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

The U.S. Embassy is located at 71 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv, Israel. 

The Embassy is open for business Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM except on U.S. and Israeli holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers 

Telephone: (Country Code 972) 03-519-7575
Regional Security Office, Consular Affairs American Citizen Services, Political, and Economic Sections can all be contacted through this number. 

After Hours: (972) 03-519-7551
Outside of business hours, there is an embassy duty officer who can offer assistance regarding emergencies involving an American citizen.

Fax: (972) 03-516-4390
E-mail address: AmcTelAviv@State.Gov
Internet: http://TelAviv.USEmbassy.Gov
 
All American citizens traveling and residing in Israel are encouraged to consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information Sheet and Travel Warnings at http://travel.state.gov for current information concerning entry/exit requirements, safety and security, and medical information. The most recent Travel Warning was issued on June 19, 2013, although travelers should check frequently for periodic updates.

OSAC Country Council Information

Israel has an active OSAC County Council. Questions regarding Tel Aviv’s OSAC Country Council can be directed to Christian Schurman, Regional Security Officer, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv (SchurmanCJ2@state.gov).