With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Israel is a modern, developed country with Western standards of health, hygiene and medical facilities. Visitors do not need to have any vaccinations to enter the country although it is advisable to be up to date on tetanus, polio, rubella, mumps and diphtheria. Hepatitis A is usually recommended as there is a moderate risk of disease. It is also advisable to get children vaccinated against measles as outbreaks have occurred primarily in Orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem where vaccination is opted against. Israel is home to several highly reputable and internationally renowned hospitals. Pharmacies are commonplace, well stocked with most Western-brand medicines and have pharmacists who speak a high level of English.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.nathnac.org/ds/map_world.aspx (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
In general, visitors to Israel encounter few problems. Crime levels are low and while petty theft and pickpocketing do occur, violent crimes are rare. The most worrying safety threat for people considering a trip to Israel is terrorism, which despite considerable improvements over recent years, is unfortunately a part of life in the country. As the security situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories can change rapidly, it is important to check with your country’s foreign office before setting off.
Compared with many countries, Israel has a higher risk of terrorism, although stringent security measures have resulted in fewer bombings. Despite a decrease in indiscriminate suicide bombings, it is important to understand the danger and simply be aware. Bombers target crowded areas such as transport terminals, shopping centres, restaurants, markets and nightclubs. It is important to be vigilant and stay away from establishments that do not have security guards outside – it is common to be checked with a metal detector and be asked to open bags before entering most places. As situations can change quickly, it is a good idea to monitor media outlets and always follow the instructions of Israeli authorities. It is recommended to register at your country’s consulate upon arrival, especially if staying in Israel for a long time, as they will be able to inform you of any changes to security issues.
Statistically you are considerably more likely to come to harm driving down Israel’s motorways than in a terrorist attack, and it is important to be aware of the somewhat haphazard driving techniques many Israelis have adopted. The idea that road traffic rules only apply to others, combined with aggressive driving techniques and high speeds, sadly results in hundreds of deaths a year. Tiredness on the long, straight, monotonous roads in the desert can also lead to accidents, so pull over and rest if you feel yourself start to tire.
As in any country, women travelling alone can incur unwanted attention and face additional security risks. On the whole, Israel is safe for women and violent crimes are rare, but sensible precautions should be taken to ensure you have a hassle-free trip. In particular at Ben-Gurion Airport, solo female travellers can incur unwanted attention and face additional security risks. Wearing a wedding ring, dressing modestly, exercising caution if hitchhiking, staying in well-lit areas at night, letting someone know where you are going, carrying cash on you for a taxi or phone call, staying in women-only dormitories and ignoring male advances can all help avoid unwanted confrontations.
In recent years, Tel Aviv has well and truly established itself on the gay travel scene, and its residents and tourism board are fully embracing and encouraging this trend. The annual Gay Pride parade attracts party-goers from around the country and the world, and there is a burgeoning nightlife scene aimed at homosexual revellers. The city is liberal and secular, and as such it is common to see open displays of affection.
In complete contrast is Jerusalem, whose predominantly religion-abiding residents are less used to, and therefore less tolerant of, homosexuality. While in the modern city it is sometimes fine to be openly affectionate, in religious neighbourhoods, the Old City or near any religious buildings this will not be well received, and violence has been reported in the past. The rest of the country can be divided into either the Tel Aviv or Jerusalem category, with cities such as Haifa, Eilat and predominantly secular cities generally more respectful of homosexuality, with religious neighbourhoods and cities such as Safed, Nazareth and Acre strongly opposed.
Travelling with a disability
Israel is a modern country and as such it is well geared towards travellers with disabilities. Increasing numbers of establishments, national parks and public transport have disabled facilities, wheelchair accessibility and assistance, and the Israeli government is working on schemes and projects to increase this number.