Safety risks in the holy city for spring holiday travellers to Jerusalem
Despite growing fears of civil unrest, millions of people are expected to visit Jerusalem this year as part of a religious pilgrimage or religious tourism to the Holy Land. The biggest risk of traveling to Jerusalem during the spring holidays is the sheer number of people.
“Like any other place teeming with people, crowds can make it challenging to move around the city. There’s no avoiding large gatherings. They’re just part of the deal. Avoid them when you can, embrace them when you can’t, with caution,” said Kent Webber, senior manager, Intelligence Products & Services at Global Rescue. “Crowds also increase the risk of pickpocketing, car theft, identity theft, and other crimes.”
One of the oldest and holiest cities in the world, Jerusalem attracts roughly 1.5 million Jews, Muslims, and Christians combined each spring, whose pilgrimage during the Passover, Ramadan, and Easter holidays, accounts for a 55% increase in the city’s year-round population of 970,000 residents.
Travelers flocking to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchr, the Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, or elsewhere throughout the city during these religious holidays should follow five guidelines to minimize risk.
First, visit popular attractions during off-peak hours to thwart would-be pickpockets. Harding Bush, senior manager of Security Operations at Global Rescue, advises travellers to wear clothing with zippered pockets or pockets on the inside, like a vest or a sport coat, that make it difficult to snatch a wallet. Also, leave that expensive watch back home. To foil identity thieves, travellers should hide things with their names, phone numbers and addresses on them. No exposed luggage tags.
Next, monitor local activities. Exploring one of the most deeply divided and contested areas in the world during the spring holidays heightens tensions. “Violence can occur in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza without warning,” according to the U.S. Department of State. Escalating violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been reported in recent weeks. Travelers should register with their country’s embassy and sign up for alerts and advisories. American citizens in Israel, for example, should join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive emails and text messages from the United States Embassy in the event of emergencies in the area.
Third, expect traffic and plan around it. Expect delays and, perhaps, the inability to access certain areas. Hiring a local professional driver will help streamline your adventures and get you around some of the congestion. “Driving a vehicle in a foreign country is a high-risk activity. Always hire a local driver who knows the area. Being unaware or confused by directions can bring you to a vulnerable location or make you an obvious target for attack,” said Bush.
Fourth, stores and markets may not be fully operational, or open at all, during the holidays. Ask the staff at the hotel for a list and a map of these services and make sure they’re open. Local knowledge is the key here.
Finally, visitors should be respectful of these traditions and avoid behavior that may be seen as discourteous or, worse, profane. The influx of travelers in the city during this period is there for religious pilgrimage or faith-based tourism and their customs and practices abound.
Israel is a reasonably safe place to travel, and it receives a “moderate” security risk rating owing to the persistent possibilities of a terrorist attack and ongoing political violence.
Comments are closed.