Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to travel in Israel or the middle east?

Below is an article that we wrote several years ago and still applies today.

Is It Really Safe To Travel in Israel?

By Larry and Jynene Johnson

Is it really safe to travel to Israel? What about terrorists? Are the hotels safe and secure and what about the buses on a tour, are they truly safe? And what about flying in and out of Israel- is that safe? Here is the simple answer to all of those questions, ABSOLUTELY YES, and here’s why! Bad press and exaggerated TV reports have frightened many of the ‘would be’ travelers. Let me put it into perspective what I mean. A few years ago at the height of an Arab and Israeli conflict in Gaza, we received messages from home while we were leading a tour in Israel.

“Are you safe?” they asked.

“Well yes and so are all the people that are traveling with us,” We responded, “We watch it on TV just as you are but we are far away from Gaza.” The conflict that people in America hear most about comes from the border between Israel and Gaza. Gaza is fifty miles away from Jerusalem and has never been a problem for any of the hundreds and hundreds of people who travel with us to the Holy Land.

It was during that same tour that we were asked while in Israel by several Jewish men and women if we thought it would be safe for them to travel to Disneyland in California for a vacation. We laughed because we thought they were joking. They assured us they were serious. They had seen on Jewish and British television all of the drive-by shootings that were taking place in Los Angeles, California. The only news coming from America was bad news and these people were sincerely concerned. We assured them that a trip to Disneyland would be a safe and enjoyable experience.

The same is true for travel in Israel. BYU continually sends its students to the Jerusalem Center and on field trips throughout the Middle East. We have been traveling to Israel since 1984. We have never canceled a trip because of the unrest in the Holy Land.

Because tourism is Israel’s number one source of income, the Israeli government has taken extraordinary precautions to ensure that tourists are safe. We wouldn’t urge you to come if it wasn’t. Every year between 3 and 4 million tourists vacation in Israel and they all go home again safe and sound. The planes of 90+ airlines wouldn’t fly to Israel if they weren’t safe. This has led to the saying “The most dangerous part of your trip to Israel is your drive to the airport.”

In terms of violent crime, you are at greater risk in New Orleans, Detroit, or Washington D.C. than you are in any city in Israel. Are you afraid of Italians? No, but you might be afraid of the mafia. Are you afraid of Arabs? You don’t need to be. Some of the most wonderful people you will meet in Israel are the Palestinian shop owners like Ephraim in Bethlehem, or Jimmy, Omar, or Shabaan, the owner of Ali Baba Shop in Jerusalem.

Your trip to Israel will be one of the highlights of your life. There are places where you can say, “Today, I walked where Jesus walked.” The scriptures will come alive and you will read and understand them in ways that you could not imagine. It will change your life for the better. When you ride upon the Sea of Galilee, walk the streets of Old Jerusalem, and gaze upon the faithful Jews praying at the western “wailing” wall at the base of the Temple Mount, you will be grateful that fear did not rob you of an opportunity to increase your faith.

Why can't we talk about the church to anyone in Israel?

One of the highlights of the trip will be visiting the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. The acquisition of the property and miraculously building of the facility is a faith-promoting experience. The site is on the north side of the Mount of Olives and overlooks the old city. We will plan to attend church there and tour the grounds. You will never forget sitting in the chapel and overlooking Jerusalem and a "green hill far away". The students on BYU semester abroad are usually there also.

To acquire this site and have a church presence as a BYU campus, the church has agreed to a strict no proselyting policy in all of Israel. We will review this further at our first-morning gathering.

This statement on Proselyting for the BYU Jerusalem Center is our standard also:

"The Center has made a firm commitment that no one associated with the Center, BYU, or Church will engage in Christian proselytizing activities while in the Holy Land. Students may not proselytize, directly or indirectly. Proselytizing is defined as any activity that could be construed as aimed at including, encouraging, or leading people in the country Israel to investigate any religion for possible conversion. Such activities are strictly contrary to the desires of the government and people of Israel and to the commitments made by BYU, the Jerusalem Center, and the Church. Students must agree to not distribute, either directly, by mail, or by internet, any materials pertaining to the Church or its doctrines within Israel or Palestine. It is not permitted to discuss the Church or its doctrines or answer any questions regarding the Church or its doctrines with individuals who reside in the Holy Land or who may be visiting there. Guests who are not LDS are not permitted to attend Church services held in the Holy Land. If asked questions about the Church, students must state that they are in the Holy Land as a student and are not permitted to discuss the Church or its doctrines"

What do we say if asked about the church or Book of Mormon in Israel?

Simply, "I cannot talk about it." Why? "The Israeli government has asked us not to talk about our church or the Book of Mormon." Can I attend your church services? "No, only members of our church are allowed to attend in Israel."

How much money should I take?

You will need some money for lunches each day and possibly food at the airport. What you spend on souvenirs is a personal choice. Credit cards are accepted at stores but not on the streets. Shekels are welcome but dollars are accepted. We like to take a hundred dollars in ones with us during the day for bottled water or conveinent souvenirs. All trip related costs are covered in the price of the tour, including tips. However, you are welcome to give "a love offering" to any service provider that helps you.

How much does an olive wood nativity cost?

Depending on the quality and size, $75.00 - $750.00. We often bring back nativities for friends and I estimate a 6"inch piece with a stable of average quality about $125.00.

How do I know if I am getting a good price for a souvenir?

We know the best places to shop and can direct you if asked. However, if you see something very specific that speaks to you, get it, we can't guarantee that you will see it again. But you will see most of the same items repeatedly.

The old city in Jerusalem has almost anything that you would want. There is one vendor in the Christain quarter that has the best prices and has a little bit of everything and deals mostly with BYU students. We will direct you to him. Also, a vendor that deals with our church-related olive wood pieces will be a stop on our tour. Even if you just want to look you will enjoy meeting him.

I have electronic items that I must bring, will they work at our hotel?

We use 120 volts and they output 220 from their outlets. Your phones, laptops and tablets convert to the wattage. Other items like a CP machine have a converter attached to the power cord. You will need a different adaptor plug with two round prongs to plug into the wall. There are hairdryers in the bathrooms. A curling or flat iron can be used if a separate converter and adaptor is used, however, the wattage conversion will be different, either not hot enough or too hot. Because of this I bought an Israeli flat iron and will have it to lend out if needed.


How much walking and climbing stairs will there be?

We will be walking and climbing stairs every day. Some regard it as a strenuous trip. If you are active and exercise regularly you will have no problem. If there is an area that you are not sure of entering, we can direct you to another path or wait in a safe place. For those with limited mobility and choose to take a detour or wait till the group is back, we remind you that you are still seeing more than you would at home. Just being on location is a faith-promoting experience. In each trip of the past trips, we have included those with limited mobility. We will do our best to accommodate you and don't want you to miss anything.

What type of shoes should I wear?

The ground is very uneven with loose rocks. Cobble stones and archeology sites are everywhere. We recommend good walking supportive shoes. Some street hazards are not marked like they would be in the USA, so we must all be vigilant as we walk.

What is considered "modest" dress in Israel?

There is a modern Israel, like the Tel Aviv area and then a conservative Israel, especially in the holy sites. We will spend most of our time at the holy sites that are maintained by different faith groups. Generally each Muslim, Jewish and Christain sites are expecting the visitors to dress modestly out of respect for their faith. We will direct you each evening as to the sites we will be visitng the next day so you can dress appropriately. Generally this is for the women, who at one or two sites will need to have thier arms and legs and head covered.

As an example, one year on the temple mount, governed by Muslims, a women wore tight leggings. She was asked to cover up her legs to be more modest. She wrapped a pashmina around her waist like a skirt and that satisified them. On the temple mount they might offer coverings that go over your clothes if they feel you are not dressed modestly. This usually only happens in the warm months.

Can we make frequent restroom stops?

Most sites have public restrooms of varying quality. They should be available every 1-2 hours. If we are planning a long time between restroom stops we will let you know. Some toilets may require a shekel to use or a person there selling toilet paper or you will not have any. For these and other reasons, we like to carry our own tissue and hand wipes, just in case.

At times, traveling into different time zones and eating new foods you may experience bowel changes. If you anticipate this we suggest you bring anti-diarrhea or constipation remedies. These are also available at Israeli pharmacies and can help you find one near our hotel.