Having recently been in Israel while leading a tour when Operation Protective Edge was taking place, and having been there while leading tours during the worst years of the 2nd Intifada (2000-2005), the 2nd Lebanon War (July 2006), and Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012), people often want to know—Is it safe to go to Israel?
Truth be told, most people don’t really ask that question, they presume they already know the answer (No!), and the question they really want an answer to is—How did you survive? or the more subdued version of the question—What was it like being there during a time of war?
I know they’re often expecting to hear an amazing story of how I narrowly escaped danger (and yes, in 2006 my group did experience what it was like to have 2 katyusha rockets land just 900 meters from where we were staying in Nahariya), but the truth is that life and my itinerary goes pretty much like it normally would.
How could that be—I saw the news and things looked horrific, one might ask? And yes, in some places things were horrific and tragic, but they were not the places where we chose to go (or would even be allowed to go if we wanted to).
Usually the images people see in the media are isolated in Gaza, a territory that is controlled by Hamas. This is not to say that places like Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem aren’t also subject to encountering rocket fire, but thanks to the Iron Dome rocket defense system that was developed by Israel and the U.S., approximately 90% of those rockets are destroyed before making impact. There is also an extensive rocket alert system that warns people to take necessary precautions from incoming attacks, including the Red Alert phone app and air raid sirens.
Nevertheless, there is always the possibility of What If….
What if the Iron Dome doesn’t work this time? What if the rocket lands where I’m located? What if I don’t make it to a bomb shelter in time? What if the bus I get on or the café I eat at is bombed? What if Hamas digs a tunnel into my neighborhood and kidnaps or kills my kid?
These are the questions that the people of Israel have often had to contend with, which no one should have to contend with, and it is why Israel’s leaders have taken the necessary measures to minimize and attempt to eradicate those risks, as anyone would want their government to do.
Fortunately Israel’s leaders have made the necessary decisions to protect its civilian population, which have enabled them to dramatically reduce those risks, especially in recent years. This is why living and traveling in Israel is no more dangerous than being in the U.S., especially where I live in Chicago, where nearly 19 out of every 100,000 residents were murdered in 2012. The national homicide rate that year in the U.S. was nearly 5 out of every 100,000 citizens. This means that the homicide rate in the U.S. is consistently higher than that of Israel, which saw just about 2 deaths per 100,000 citizens in 2012. In fact, even in Israel’s worst year of civilian causalities in its conflict with the Palestinians, which was in 2002, when there was approximately 5 deaths per 100,000 citizens, you still would not have been more likely to be killed there than in the U.S. If that still doesn’t reassure you, then consider that you’re far more likely to die while driving your car in the U.S., where there was approximately 11 vehicle fatalities per 100,000 citizens in 2012.
This is why I always chuckle a bit when people treat me like I’m really courageous for going to and “surviving” Israel. While I certainly don’t want to downplay the tragedy of innocent civilians who have been killed or how much I appreciate people’s concern for my safety and interest in what I’m doing, I also have to take into consideration that their concern is based on a false perception of reality that is influenced by images they see on TV and reports they read in the paper. It’s hard for them to envision that even during a time of war that people in Israel are still shopping at stores, driving to work, eating dinner with their families, playing volleyball on the beach, or visiting a historical attraction.
So…if you (or someone you know) is already planning to go to Israel, please don’t change your plans. If you need to delay your plans in order to reassure others that you’re not crazy about going, I suppose that’s fine, but don’t cancel them entirely. And if you’re someone who is contemplating going to Israel (and I really can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…and Peter, Paul, and Mary), then please don’t let Hamas or Fatah or your friends or your family members detour you from making that decision.