Even though the Gaza war has ended, the US State Department yesterday renewed its travel warning to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The new warning replaces the travel warning posted on July 21 when Operation Protective Edge was at its height. The language of the new warning might give the impression that the conflict is still raging, with references to finding bomb shelters, evacuating civilians during emergencies, and buying gas masks.
The spontaneous reaction of anybody who reads the warning and is not familiar with the situation on the ground is likely to be not to come to the country. US Jews who are about to visit family in Israel may well be asking themselves does President Obama know something that I don’t know?
The State Department announcement cautions in its opening sentence about, “the complex security environment there and the potential for violence and renewed hostilities.”
The phrasing of the warning is going to make the renewal of US tourism to Israel very difficult after the number of visitors has fallen off strongly since Operation Protective Edge. US insurance companies are often not prepared to cover visitors to countries that have such State Department warnings and this can affect businesspeople as well as tourists. In the past the Israel Embassy in Washington DC has protested such harshly worded warnings but it is unclear if the Israeli Ambassador has yet done so on this occasion. The Israel Embassy spokesman told “Globes” that they prefer not to comment on the matter.
The US State Department travel warning says, “During the recent conflict between Israel and terrorist organizations in Gaza, long-range rockets launched from Gaza reached many locations in Israel and the West Bank including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities in the north and south. A ceasefire was announced on August 26 and, as of the date of this Travel Warning, is holding. The Government of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully intercepted many rockets. However, in some cases missile impacts caused damage and injuries.”
The warning continues as if no cease-fire agreement was ever reached, “US citizen visitors to and US citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank should familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest bomb shelter or other hardened site. Consult municipality websites, such as those for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for lists of public bomb shelters and other emergency preparedness information. Visitors should seek information on shelters from hotel staff or building managers. We advise all US citizens to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command on proper procedures in the event of rocket attacks or other crisis events.”
The warning notes that commercial flights to Ben Gurion Airport are operating as usual, “although delays and cancellations can occur. Travelers should check with their airline prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. Other border crossings are generally operating as normal; however, travelers should check the status of crossings before embarking on trips. See information on the status of the airport and other crossings.”
The next paragraph of the warning is reminiscent of the final days of the US in Saigon before the fall of the Vietcong and the end of the Vietnam war, “US citizens seeking to depart Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. US government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no viable commercial alternatives exist. The lack of a valid US passport may hinder US citizens’ ability to depart the country and may slow the US Embassy or Consulate General’s ability to provide assistance.”
The warning also emphasizes travel restrictions to entire regions of Israel, “Because of the security situation, travel restrictions remain in effect for southern Israel, including Beersheva and areas south of Beersheva. All travel south of Ashdod remains prohibited for embassy employees and their families.”
US visitors are also warned that they are responsible for buying their own gas masks, “The Government of Israel has had a long-standing policy of issuing gas masks to its citizens and, starting in 2010, it began issuing replacement masks. It stopped this distribution process in early 2014 in response to regional events. Visitors and foreign residents in Israel are not issued masks and must individually procure them, if desired. The US Embassy and Consulate General do not provide gas masks for persons who are not US government employees or their dependents. For further emergency preparedness guidance, please visit the website of the Government of Israel’s Home Front Command, which provides information on how to choose a secure space in a home or apartment, as well as a list of the types of protective kits (gas masks) issued by the Government of Israel to its citizens.”
US visitors are also urged to avoid large gatherings, dark parks and buses. “Visitors are advised to avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and keep current with local news, which is available through numerous English language sources.”
“US citizens are advised to avoid open air public parks after dark as they are poorly lit and policed. There have been numerous reports received of after dark criminal activity associated with these parks.”
“US government personnel are not permitted to use public buses anywhere in Israel or the West Bank due to past attacks on public transportation. While US government employees are authorized to use the light rail system in Jerusalem, there has been an increase in individuals throwing stones at light rail trains, particularly near Shuafat and along the northern end of the route.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com