Israel at a Glance
Moving to Israel
When moving to Israel, some expats may feel safer if they study their embassy’s travel advice.
Moving to Israel may have positive connotations – or conjure up negative images: For thousands of immigrants, for instance, people of Jewish descent from the former Soviet Bloc, settling in Israel was the right choice. It provided a new home far from the unpleasant memories associated with the anti-Semitism of the Stalinist regime.
Security-conscious expats, however, may worry about their move to Israel. From news headlines, they’ll remember harrowing accounts of suicide bombings that killed Israeli civilians, heated debates about the plight of refugees in Gaza, or close-ups of Palestinian teens throwing stones at armed soldiers. Thus, expatriates are often concerned about their personal safety.
A History Fraught with Strife
The “Holy Land” of three world religions looks back on a long history of strife between different peoples and faiths, under various rulers and empires, from Roman antiquity to the British colonial mandate after World War One. For example, a history-savvy expat moving to Israel might not be surprised to learn that Jerusalem was destroyed twice and attacked over 50 times since its foundation.
The modern state of Israel has also been fraught with warfare and political controversies in the international arena. Military campaigns have been a part of life in Israel ever since the first Arab-Israeli War, or War of Independence, in 1948. However, if you move to Israel, you’ll soon notice that for most Israelis, daily life simply goes on, whether there is a crisis or not.
For now, the violence of the Second Intifada and the trouble with Hamas seem to have died down, though there were missile attacks from Gaza and military operations in the Gaza Strip in late 2012. Expats will therefore be glad about the current, albeit fragile ceasefire. How the political climate in the Middle East is going to develop, particularly after the “Arab Spring”, remains unpredictable.
Preparations and Entry Procedures
As a foreign national about to move to Israel for professional or familial reasons, you should adhere to some basic safety rules. Once you have settled in, you’ll probably follow the example of your more relaxed Israeli colleagues and neighbors.
In the beginning, it might help to remember that Israel is unfortunately a potential hotbed of conflict. All expats moving to Israel should find out where their nearest embassy or consulate is, if it has an emergency number to call after office hours, and whether it offers an enrolment list for the citizens under its jurisdiction. Check the embassy’s security updates regularly.
Moreover, you should be prepared for strict security checks in the immigration queue. Carrying laptops, video cameras, or similar technical equipment can cause further delays, both upon entry and departure. If you are a Muslim moving to Israel or a person of Arab descent, a missionary or a political activist, if you have visas from Arab states in your travel document or wish to have no Israeli stamps in your passport, the interview with immigration officials may take even longer.
Visitors and expats with a Palestinian ID number (or with parents or grand-parents still living in Gaza or the West Bank) are required to carry a Palestinian passport, even if they are citizens of another country. If this applies to you, get in touch with the closest Israeli Embassy or Consulate and ask them about necessary documents and travel arrangements: Entering the country via Ben Gurion Airport is also restricted.
Basic Safety Advice
After you have gone through the immigration checks required for moving to Israel, security will be more laidback in everyday life. Just stay away from prohibited military areas and be cautious with regard to all political demonstrations, huge crowds, or groups of soldiers. Should you decide to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem, it’s recommended to avoid them on holy days and to wear modest clothing.
While many tourists visit East Jerusalem or some places in the West Bank, especially Jericho, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, it is strongly recommended to do so only in company of a local guide. You should also be careful in the border areas to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. There are live land mines in the Golan Heights, so if you travel in this region, do not leave the road.
Expats or visitors should definitely not enter the Gaza Strip unless they are e.g. foreign correspondents or humanitarian workers. There may be official travel restrictions for some expatriates, for instance, for US government staff moving to Israel.
General crime rates in Israel are fairly moderate, though. Foreign visitors and residents mainly report incidents like car break-ins or purse-snatching. The essential phone numbers for anyone moving to Israel are 100 (police) and 101 (ambulance).