Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Travel Warning
Issued by US Department of State
Nov 29, 2004
This Travel Warning is being issued to update information on threats to American citizens and interests in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Terrorist attacks have occurred in Israel and in areas frequented by Israeli tourists across the Israeli border with Egypt, and there are ongoing concerns regarding locations associated with American interests in Israel. Revised prohibitions regarding the use of public transportation within Israel by American government employees have also been issued. In addition, instability related to the death of Yasser Arafat and upcoming Palestinian Authority elections remains a possibility. This replaces the Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza issued August 3, 2004.
The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to depart Gaza immediately and to defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza due to current safety and security concerns.
Since August 3, 2004, suicide bombings have caused deaths on two buses in Be'er Sheva, at a bus stop in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem, and in a crowded public market frequented by tourists in Tel Aviv. In addition, lethal car and truck bombings at Taba and other resort hotels across the border from Israel in Egypt, underscore the danger to American citizens of terrorist attacks.
Within Israel, t errorist violence since the beginning of the present Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in September 2000 has caused over 6,000 civilian casualties. More than 40 Americans, including tourists, students, and residents, have died as a result of having been present at the places and times of terrorist attacks. The potential for further violence remains high.
The U.S. Government has information indicating that American interests could be the focus of terrorist attacks, including within Israel. American citizens are cautioned to be alert to the possibility of heightened threats in the area of restaurants, businesses, and other places associated with U.S. interests and/or located near U.S. official buildings such as the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the American Consulate General in Jerusalem.
In addition, American citizens should stay away from any demonstrations and generally avoid public places, such as restaurants and cafes, shopping and market areas and malls, pedestrian zones, public transportation of all kinds, including buses and trains and their respective stations/terminals, and all other crowded venues and the areas around them. American employees of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the American Consulate General in Jerusalem are expressly prohibited from using all public transportation, including buses, trains and their respective stations/terminals.
The death of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat and the upcoming elections to determine his successor also may create unstable conditions that would affect the security of American citizens. During the 40-day traditional period of mourning, large unpredictable crowds may gather for prayers on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as at local mosques throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Both before and after Palestinian Authority elections, the possibility of mass demonstrations and unrest will continue to exist.
In addition, ongoing efforts by Palestinian militants to commit acts of terrorism against Israelis, operations by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza and the West Bank, and targeted assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders by Israel could incite new levels of violence.
U.S. Government personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are under tight security controls, including prohibition of non-official travel to the West Bank and Gaza, except for specific operational needs and under the auspices of U.S. Government security personnel. The use of expedient routes that traverse these areas is also prohibited. Occasionally, U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to sections of Jerusalem, depending on prevailing security conditions.
Throughout Jerusalem, American citizens are urged to remain vigilant while traveling, especially within the commercial and downtown areas of West Jerusalem and City Center. The Old City of Jerusalem is off-limits to American employees of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv after dark all week and between the hours of 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on Fridays. Spontaneous or planned protests within the Old City are possible, especially after Friday prayers, and, in the past, such protests have led to violent clashes.
The majority of reported security incidents occur in the vicinity of the main entrances into the Old City. As throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, large crowds and public gatherings should be avoided to the extent possible, as should the ever-present street vendors who often aggressively harass tourists. In addition, due to reported increases in criminal activity, American citizens should avoid the outlying villages that surround East Jerusalem.
American citizens in Gaza should depart immediately, as the State Department has urged since the lethal attack on U.S. Embassy security personnel in a roadside bombing in Gaza on October 15, 2003. Overall conditions of lawlessness prevail; Israeli military operations continue; and areas of violent conflict shift rapidly and unpredictably. Since October 2003, militants on several occasions have temporarily abducted Western personnel, and spokesmen for the Hamas terrorist organization have made statements threatening attacks against U.S. interests.
Israeli Defense Forces have declared sections of Gaza and the West Bank to be closed. In both Gaza and the West Bank, as part of constant wide-ranging military operations, Israeli forces frequently launch ground and air incursions, with intense shelling and firing, while enforcing with deadly force closed military zones, curfews, and area closures.
Innocent bystanders have been killed or seriously injured as a result of violent confrontations between the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza and the West Bank. Roads designed for Israeli settlers have been the sites of frequent shooting attacks and roadside explosions, sometimes resulting in death or injury. In some instances, Americans have been wounded and their property damaged. Some American citizens have been detained or deported for being present at such encounters.
Major cities in the West Bank are often placed under Israeli military curfew. All persons in areas under curfew must remain indoors or risk arrest or injury. Travel restrictions may be imposed with little or no warning, and travelers run the risk of finding themselves stranded as a result. Due to the closures and fighting, provision of medical and humanitarian care has been severely delayed in those areas. The Department of State has noted conditions of increasing lawlessness in the West Bank's northern regions.
In September and October 2004, American citizens involved in pro-Palestinian partisan volunteer efforts were severely assaulted in the West Bank by Israeli settlers and harassed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Those taking part in such efforts, including through demonstrations, non-violent resistance, and "direct action", are urged to cease such activity for their own personal safety.
American citizens who remain in or travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza despite this and earlier warnings are urged continually to review their personal security situations and take those actions they deem appropriate to ensure their well-being. Private Americans are encouraged to follow the precautions detailed below and remain in close communication with the American Embassy in Tel Aviv and the American Consulate General in Jerusalem for more detailed information (see below).
The Government of Israel may deny entry at Ben Gurion Airport or at a land border to persons it believes might travel to "closed" areas in the West Bank or Gaza or to persons the Israeli authorities believe may sympathize with the Palestinian cause and are seeking to meet with Palestinian officials. In addition, dual Palestinian-American citizens, along with anyone suspected of planning activity deemed political in nature, may encounter difficulties, or be barred from, entering and/or departing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, especially during times of Israeli closures. Palestinian ID holders, who are also American citizens, should consult the Embassy or Consulate for the most recent information before attempting to cross relevant borders. These restrictions can change frequently and without any advance notice. Travelers who seek to appeal decisions to bar their entry should be aware that immigration hearings may not occur for several weeks, during which time they will be held in detention.
During times when the closures and curfews are lifted, in order to depart Israel via Ben Gurion Airport, Palestinian-Americans must obtain an Israeli transit permit. Except in humanitarian or special interest cases, Israeli authorities are unlikely to issue this permit. Because of the restrictions mentioned above, travelers who are unable to obtain a transit permit must depart via land crossings and may experience lengthy delays.
All travelers who enter or travel in Gaza or the West Bank should expect delays and difficulties at Israeli military checkpoints located throughout those areas and should exercise particular care when approaching and traveling through checkpoints. Travelers should also be aware they might not be allowed passage through the checkpoints.
From time to time, the Embassy and Consulate General may temporarily suspend public services to review their security posture. Due to the current limitations on official travel by U.S. Government employees to the West Bank and Gaza, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens in need in these areas is considerably reduced at present. U.S. citizens who require emergency services may telephone the Consulate General in Jerusalem at (972) (2) 622-7250 or the Embassy in Tel Aviv at (972) (3) 519-7355.
Current information on travel and security in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 within the United States, or, from overseas, 1-317-472-2328. U.S. citizens should consult the Consular Information Sheet for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, the Middle East and North Africa Public Announcement, and the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement at the Department's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov. Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be accessed at http:// usembassy-israel.org.il or http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov.