About 3.6 million people visited Israel in 2017, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Tourism is great for the economy, but there are also concerns.
Last year, Israel turned away 4 million visitors. Among them, 19,000 were turned away by immigration over concerns they would commit crimes in the country. In 2016, about 16,534 people were turned away. In 2011, that figure was just 1,870.
Statistics on crimes committed by tourists is difficult to come by, but we do know that Israel’s security is some of the best in the world. Staff from the Population and Immigration Authority are stationed at airports, and they have the power to refuse to allow a foreign visitor to enter.
How do they determine whether a person can enter the country? They use information on the person’s background as well as information on social media.
More people are visiting Israel, so naturally, security is more stringent than ever. For some, that can mean being detained at the airport.
It’s important for both Israelis and foreigners to understand their rights.
Israeli citizens have the right to enter the country. Border-control inspectors cannot detain Israelis at the border and prevent them from entering the country. Authorities have no right to withhold citizen passports of Israelis returning to the country as a way to coerce them into a “cautionary conversation.”
According to the High Court ruling in 2017, Israeli citizens must be served with a summons before the Shin Bet can sit them down for a “cautionary conversation.” That summons must specify that cooperation is voluntary.
The rules are a bit different if you’re not an Israeli citizen. Border control agents can delay a foreign citizen if they have reason to suspect they should not enter the country, if they support BDS, or if they are a threat to security.
If the Shin Bet wishes to speak with a foreign national, he or she does not have to participate in the conversation and does have a right to call a lawyer.
What happens if a foreigner commits a crime while visiting Israel? This scenario is becoming more common as more people visit the country. In some cases, the embassy will get involved.
U.S. visitors are urged to notify the embassy or consulate of the arrest. The embassy can provide the individual with a list of criminal defense lawyers practicing in the area, and contact friends and loved ones if permitted to do so. The embassy can’t help remove U.S. citizens from the jail, provide legal advice, or represent citizens in court.
Other country embassies have similar rules. The goal, of course, is to avoid getting arrested while visiting Israel.
Most tourists have no ill intentions when visiting Israel. They simply wish to see the wonderful sites here and create lifelong memories they can share. But as more visitors are welcomed into the country and tourism expands, security will need to evolve to address the ever-changing threats we’ll face. That is the downside to tourism. It stimulates the economy and creates jobs, but it also makes security more important than ever.