Safe to Visit Israel?
I'm a college student and have always wanted to visit Israel. I have the opportunity this summer to come for a free Birthright trip. But my parents are afraid of the security situation. Is it safe to come visit Israel at this time?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
In the absence of a full-scale war, things in Israel are about the same as they've always been. Aish.com’s offices are located directly across from the Western Wall, and it's been "work as usual." Of course, we use common sense and stay out of heavily-populated Arab areas.
If there would be an imminent and real danger, the rabbis would have called upon all people to leave Israel, being that life is of paramount importance. (Talmud – Pesachim 25a)
As with any activity in life, we must always objectively evaluate what is a reasonable amount of risk to take. For example, there is a clear mortal risk in driving a car. Yet this is an acceptable risk, because it is a risk that the public is willing to take. The Talmudic concept of "Dash B'rabbim" teaches us that although something does contain an element of risk, we can rely on the fact that God will protect us if it is a common activity.
Israel is one of the most dangerous countries in which to drive and over 600 people are killed each year in Israel through car accidents. An average of 100 Jews have been killed each year by terrorists – a fraction of the number killed in car accidents. But no one refuses to go to Israel for fear of being in a car accident.
As for the risk of violent crime, Israel is probably safer than most Western cities. Los Angeles, with a population of 3.8 million averages about 500 murders annually - 19 per 100,000. Between terror and other violent crime, the murder rate in Israelis 7 in 100,000. In terms of terror, 90% of violent incidents take place in the territories. If one avoids public buses and crowded restaurants, the risk factor drops to virtually zero.
The news creates a perception of a lot more violence than there actually is. A few deaths in Israel make headlines around the world. People who visit here comment on how “normal” life is.
In sum, while there are no guarantees of safety anywhere, the statistics do not point to a real risk when going to Israel.
Also, in deciding whether to visit Israel, it is important to consider that the goal of the terrorists is to break the morale of the Jewish people. Israel is under siege from the world press. During the height of violence, the drop in tourism and the impact on Israel's economy has been devastating. Choosing to stay away contributes – albeit indirectly and unwittingly – to aiding the terrorists in their effort to break the Jewish people.
The Jewish people are one. If our position in Israel is weakened or discredited, it will become unsafe for Jews throughout the world. Take note of the recent bombings of synagogues throughout Europe, and anti-Semitism on North American college campuses. By coming now, you act as a morale booster for Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world.
One additional point: Jewish law states that if one feels that his spiritual growth would benefit by being in Israel, while his parents are afraid of the security situation, this is one instance where it is permitted to go against the parents' wishes. (Code of Jewish Law – Y.D. 240:25)
I recommend two interesting articles about trips to Israel: "The Mother Brigade" (www.aish.com/h/iid/48891097.html), and another article pasted below.
Sandy Thorn Clark, "All of Israel is Not at War," Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Perhaps CNN and the rest of the American and British media will deal Israel far more of a blow than Palestinian terrorists...
CNN's ammunition comes in 20-second sound bites and two-minute video highlights of the daily skirmishes, bloodshed and killings in the Mideast. American and British media's contribution: two- to three-minute snippets leading most international newscasts and almost daily frozen-frame front-page photos of the sniping and slaughter in the Mideast.
The battle is not fought in the whole of the "Mideast" as it's become known in headlines. It's not even fought in the whole of "Israel."
Instead, it's fought mostly in the Gaza Strip along Israel's western border. Sometimes, it's in Ramallah. Sometimes, it's in Bethlehem or Hebron or Jericho or Nazareth. Sometimes, it's on Temple Mount. And, yes, sometimes it's even in Jerusalem. Though rock-throwing, name-calling, rioting, bombing, suicide bombing and killing are generally contained within small pockets or neighborhoods in Israel, the misleading inference from dramatic news footage and still photos is that all of Israel is entangled in war.
All of Israel is not at war.
I've just walked the serene shores of the Mediterranean, climbed the brick pathways at peaceful Old Jaffa, leisurely shopped in Tel Aviv's colorful Carmel Market, took a six-hour bus ride from bustling Tel Aviv to the resort of Eilat, rode an affectionate camel for four hours in the desert and mountains, relaxed on a calm four-hour cruise on the Red Sea, ate falafels at an outdoor cafe, sat on a balcony at Eilat's prestigious Crowne Plaza viewing the Jordanian border, explored the intriguing history of the Jewish people at Diaspora Museum, enjoyed a Spicy Craze pizza at Eilat's Pizza Hut, observed Israelis folk dancing on an outdoor patio, rubbed elbows with Israel's youthful military, and endured minimal security at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport - all with the security and safety of my unadventurous daily walk at my local mall, Glenbrook Square in Fort Wayne, Ind.