For many people, living in Jerusalem is a dream come true. This is the home of culture, of religion, of modern history. It is where wars have been fought, and history has been written. For Christians, Jews and Muslims, it is the home of belief and a pilgrim destination in which thousands of people descend upon the city every year to see this iconic place for themselves.
However, life in Jerusalem is not always easy. Many expats find it hard to adjust to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, which often spills over into Jerusalem city life.
Expats who are considering living in Jerusalem should do their homework and take safety precautions in order to make the most of their time living in one of the most stunning cities in the world.
Jerusalem is an old city that predates cars, and as a result the the streets are very narrow and the traffic could be chaotic. The city is set amidst a series of hills, with very steep, very winding roads. If possible, use a local driver to get around. Taxis are reasonably priced, but some taxi drivers will refuse to travel into certain areas due to their religious beliefs or the risk of conflict.
If you have your own car, remember that in Israel you drive on the right hand side. Once you leave the city center, the roads are much more modern and reasonably straight, with a series of highways connecting Jerusalem with Israel’s other main cities.
There is a good bus service within the city, and an excellent tram that loops the western part of the city, passing by most of the universities and government buildings.
Roadblocks are not uncommon in East Jerusalem and around the border areas of the city, so it is always worth factoring in extra time for any journey.
Jerusalem is a cultural hub full of many famous sights, museums, galleries and buildings. Within the ancient walls of the Holy City, tourists and pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa, stopping to sing, pray and chant at each of the stations where Jesus walked to his crucifixion.
Biblical sights are very busy constantly, so it would be recommended for expats to visit off-season (any time other than Christmas, Easter, or other Christian holidays) or early in the morning to get the best of everything.
For Jewish visitors, a trip to the iconic Wailing Wall is essential, although non-Jewish visitors are also welcome as long as they respect the dress code (cover your head), and rules (do not turn your back on the wall).
For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock (Temple Mount) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and non-Muslims can’t fail to appreciate the towering beauty of one of the world’s most famous mosques.
Expatriates living to Israel would not have to worry generally about the safety and security in Jerusalem. The police and military soldiers are always present around the city. Conscription requires that every Israeli citizen over the age of 18 must serve 2-3 years in the national army, usually within the country itself.
The well documented Israeli-Arab conflict is particularly prevalent in Jerusalem, especially around the Palestinian borders (identified by a concrete wall). East Jerusalem is very different to the rest of the city, and during times of conflict it is not considered safe for non-Muslims. Pick pocketing in touristic sites could take place, therefore expats visiting them should be somehow cautious.
In East Jerusalem and around the city’s mosques, women are advised to respect local custom and cover their head, shoulders and knees. Likewise, when visiting orthodox areas such as Mea Shearim, men and women should keep their heads covered and dress modestly.