Safety in Jerusalem
Despite alarming news headlines, Jerusalem is relatively safe for tourists. Nonetheless, 2015 has seen an upsurge of violence, in which individual Palestinian youths have attacked Israeli police officers and Jewish civilians, primarily with knives. Jews have committed similar attacks on Arabs, and in one case even on Gay Pride Parade participants - so check on current conditions before you go. Street crime is nearly nonexistent, although pickpockets may work in crowds in the Old City.
There are a few areas in the city where it is important to be mindful of one's dress, religion, and time period visiting. Here are some guidelines:
- Dress. When visiting any holy site or religious neighborhood one should dress modestly. For men this means long pants, a closed shirt with sleeves, and a head covering. For women, it means a skirt that falls below the knee, a shirt with elbow-length sleeves and no exposed cleavage or stomach. This applies to churches, mosques, and synagogues, as well as the Temple Mount (Noble Sanctuary) and Western Wall (the plaza by the Wall is essentially an open-air synagogue, and there are mosques on the Temple Mount), and Haredi neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim.
- Religion. It is not safe for noticeably Jewish people (e.g. wearing a kippah or speaking Hebrew) to enter Muslim neighborhoods. This includes the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, though the heavy police presence there makes it safer. It is also somewhat unsafe for Arabs to enter Haredi neighborhoods, or to enter the Jewish city center very late at night when Jewish youth have been drinking.
- Time. Non-Muslims are not allowed on the Temple Mount (Noble Sanctuary) during times of Muslim prayer. During Shabbat and Jewish holidays, one should not publicly use electronic devices or smoke in any synagogue, at the Western Wall, or in any Haredi neighborhood. (Smoking is, otherwise, rather common in Israel, so nonsmokers should also be forewarned.) Driving in Haredi neighborhoods on Shabbat and Jewish holidays is not allowed, and roads may be closed off. During Ramadan, eating, drinking or smoking in the streets of Muslim areas is culturally insensitive, although tourists are rarely interfered with.
Due to the mixture of religions, and the mixture of cultures within religions, tensions can sometimes be high. Avoid any confrontations between locals. Although extremely rare, some locals may carry xenophobic attitudes and ask foreigners to leave the area near their home. You have the right to see all of Jerusalem, but moving along to another area will resolve the situation.
Non-rigorous security checks can be frequent, especially when entering hotels, cinemas/theaters and shopping areas. It is wise to carry some identification.
On the whole, theft is not a large-scale problem. To minimize risk, however, normal precautions apply. Do not leave valuable objects inside a car or in full view in your hotel room. There are many ATMs throughout the city and credit cards are widely accepted, so there is no need to carry large amounts of cash.
Like anywhere in Israel, you may notice large numbers of soldiers carry weapons. These are generally off-duty soldiers going to and from their bases, so they have nothing to do with the security situation. However, in and around the Old City there will probably be many on-duty armed police. Also, educational tours for soldiers are often conducted in the Old City, and the IDF's "swearing in ceremony" is held near the Western Wall.
Tourists usually are not the target of terror attacks, and most have occurred well away from tourist sites. Naturally it is important to remain vigilant and alert.
In the case of injury or other emergency incidents, Police services can be reached by dialing 100, Ambulance services can be reached by dialing 101, and the Fire Department can be reached by dialing 102. All emergency services employ English-speaking operators.
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