Security in Israel
Security in Israel is a concern mentioned by most people who are considering a visit to Israel, and those considering Aliyah are even more interested in security. There has undoubtedly been a history of security concerns in Israel, both from surrounding countries and from within Israel’s borders.
Security problems still exist, but they are nowhere near as severe as they are generally portrayed in the foreign press or as they are generally perceived by people outside of Israel. It is not uncommon for people who doubted the safety of visiting Israel to feel very different after traveling in Israel and gaining firsthand experience. Remember – good news and photos of happy people getting along don’t get clicks or sell newspapers. Bad news is usually magnified, and good news rarely gets any attention.
The security situation in Israel varies from time to time and place to place. Trouble arises on occasion, and it is sometimes very distressing. Violence or attempts at violence still occur. A large security presence and many security measures are needed to manage security in Israel. This security presence, infrastructure, and procedures are very visible, and also quite successful.
Some parts of the country experience more frequent disturbance, and some parts need very intensive monitoring to prevent infiltration and thwart potential attacks of various forms. There are places that experience problems only rarely, if ever. There are times when security is a greater concern, and the authorities adjust measures in preparation and response to those periods of perceived higher risk.
So, what is the real situation for security in Israel today? Well, in many ways it compares favorably to the security situation in The USA, Europe, and other regions. Here are some points to consider:
Israel has compulsory military service. This means that a large number of Israelis are in active or reserve service positions, and they are continuously available to respond to any threat, even while at home or work and not on duty.
The weapons are in our hands. Many Israeli citizens own guns and know how to use them. Before you allow this fact to distress you, consider the fact that Israel also has very strict gun control laws and the guns are in the hands of people who are trained and licensed in their safe use. It is very common to see uniformed personnel or civilians walking around armed and ready to use their weapons if needed. The good part of this is that the weapons are not generally in the hands of criminals, and the NRA has not succeeded in allowing assault weapons to be sold at gun shows in Israel. A stolen weapon is definitely going to cause problems for an Israeli from whom it goes missing, unlike the situation in some USA states where that theft need not even be reported.
Walls have been shown to work. The much-contested security walls between the territories and large population centers successfully reduced the incidence of attempted attacks to the degree where Israelis who once feared traveling by public transport now do not hesitate to board a bus.
Barriers exist. There are barriers in strategic points staffed by armed military personnel who examine traffic. Their procedures may violate some political correctness sensibilities and would be subject to much criticism and probable lawsuits in the USA, but when a couple of soldiers with automatic weapons board stroll through a bus stopped at a checkpoint, none of the passengers seem to mind at all.
Traffic is controlled. Checkpoints serve to control traffic between the territories of Judea and Samaria and major population centers, such as Jerusalem. A large number of Arab workers live in the territories and travel to work daily in Israel’s cities. Their permits examined at every point of entry. Entry is not permitted to those without a permit, and the entry is closed completely at times when higher security is needed, such as on significant days or times when large numbers of tourists are present.
Security is ubiquitous. Entrances to bus stations, shopping malls, and other places where crowds might gather are equipped with metal detectors, baggage screening devices, and staffed by security personnel. Everyone knows they should open their backpack or pocketbook for a quick examination upon entry. It is common for security to be present at nearly any place with a lot of traffic, including libraries, museums, chain stores, and every government office.
Streets are patrolled. Uniformed military, police, border patrol, and other service personnel are very visible in vehicles, on foot, and even on horseback. Others patrol with only a tee shirt or baseball cap with insignia to identify them as security personnel. They are most often present in the crowd along parade routes, or riding public transport on days where security is increased. An unknown number of security personnel with no outward identification re without doubt also present throughout Israel, but as part their job is to remain undetected, we don’t know who and where they are.
Security in Israel is taken very seriously, as it has been since before the state was established. While some visitors are put off by the obvious presence of armed staff, checkpoints, bag screening, and such – many either start out welcoming the site, or grow to appreciate it. Metal detectors, security guards, and other measures are often visible in the USA, but as latecomers to the game, things aren’t quite as tight.
Anyone flying between the USA and Israel can easily see the differences present. You can get into an airport in the USA without seeing security, but a ring of security surrounds Ben Gurion and every vehicle is stopped before they approach the airport. TSA make you take off shoes and remove your laptop from you bag, while staff screening El Al passengers thoroughly examine every passenger, ask some pointed questions, and follow a more intricate series of security steps to get you on board.
It is possible to do things in Israel that might not be considered wise choices in other places. You can board a bus or train in Israel at any hour and settle in for the ride. You can stroll alone through a park at midnight in Jerusalem wearing a Kippa. These may not be good ideas in New York, Paris, London or other locations.
Keeping safe in Israel requires similar steps to what is needed in other places. It is wise to keep your valuables secured in all situations, and to report suspicious activity or packages to authorities. You should always be aware of your surroundings and avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Israel, this can mean not wandering into Arab villages or neighborhoods without appropriate escort. In New York, this can mean not wandering into some areas at any time of the day or night.
The potential for acts of terrorism is now a universal reality. The threat is acknowledged, and steps are taken to minimize risk and avoid problems. The major differences between security in Israel and elsewhere are that Israel has more experience, is more aggressive, and the citizenry are prepared. We may not be able to control every possible threat, but Israel is certainly more prepared to manage the situation and you are likely safer here than in many other places.
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