Israel is probably the safest places to travel in the Middle East – you are statistically far safer in Israel than you would be in most major US or European cities. Israel’s safety depends on the implementation of strict security screening, particularly at international land and air borders. These are more stringent than in most other countries and cause some travelers to Israel slight headaches when they arrive to Israel by bus or plane. But let’s be realistic and realize that 99% of visitors have no problems whatsoever!
For an easy transition in and out of Israel, book the VIP Departure or Arrival Assistance Service. The service allows you to skip the lines at passport control, customs, and security. You also get a personal steward who accompanies you in the airport.
To the naked eye, Israel might not appear very different to countries like the United States or the developed nations of Europe. Travelers to Israel realize, however that the security screening you undergo when you enter Israel will be more stringent than that you would experience in many other countries. It means that the country is incredibly safe as any doubts are erased by the officials before people enter the country.
You shouldn’t assume that you will be immune from questioning or detention simply because you have an American or European passport, or believe that you don’t look “suspicious.” Israeli authorities can pull anyone aside, sometimes at random and sometimes because of a perceived warning sign. Likewise, you shouldn’t take it personally if you do get questioned: Israeli police and military are simply doing their jobs – they have very strict codes of conduct and are trained to be as quick and professional as possible.
If you are among the travelers to Israel who are pulled aside, it is imperative that you answer any questions you’re asked honestly and completely. Not only are security personnel likely to figure out that you’ve embellished if you choose to do so, but failing to provide sufficient information can prolong the amount of time you’re held at security.
A question that’s sure to come up is whether you’ve visited Arab countries and if so, which ones, for how long and for what reasons. Israeli border officials won’t deny you entry solely on the basis of having visited one of these countries, and in fact, offer to stamp a piece of paper instead of your passport, so that you may visit Arab countries in the future without an Israeli stamp, however, they might want to ask you a few more detailed questions about what you were doing whilst you were there.
Israeli security personnel do their best to be efficient and quick. Be as patient as possible when waiting to enter Israel. Not only will getting upset stress both you and security officials out, but it may result in your drawing unnecessary (and unwarranted) attention to yourself, leading to an even longer wait time and, potentially, additional questioning.
If you enter by land from Jordan or Egypt, your wait times may be longer than if you enter by air at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (read our article about how to avoid security queues at Tel Aviv airport if you’d like to speed up the process). This is not only because there are more security personnel on hand at the airport than there are at any of Israel’s land borders, but also because Israel’s border regions are the most vulnerable to security threats. Try to remain aware of this as you wait.
While you may find Israeli security procedures tiresome or even excessive, understand that your cooperation is essential to Israeli military and police keeping their country secure. Remember that even though you present no threat to Israel, Israeli officials may choose to question or detain you to verify that – you have nothing to worry about, except a small waiting period. Likewise, remember that if it were your country, you would want to be certain that those who were coming in were good people, like you!
Robert Schrader is a writer, photographer and travel coach who has visited Israel twice thus far. He edits Leave Your Daily Hell, a blog to which more than 20,000 travelers per month turn for expert advice on how to travel more often. Follow Robert on Twitter, add him to one of your Google+ circles, “Like” Leave Your Daily Hell on Facebook or subscribe to email updates for destination guides, practical advice and inspirational essays delivered daily.