Tour Preparation

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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.

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 Church has made a firm commitment that no one associated with the Church will engage in proselyting activities while in Israel. Put simply: You may not proselyte, directly or indirectly. You should be an example of righteous living, but you should not answer questions about the Church. If asked, the only acceptable answer is this: "I cannot talk about that matter." Non-member visitors are not permitted to join our worship services. Please do not invite anyone who is not LDS to Sabbath-day meetings.”