Are Israel and Palestine Safe to Travel To? (Fear and Statistics)

Are Israel and Palestine Safe to Travel To? (Fear and Statistics) September 19, 2015

When I’ve sought to reassure students and their parents that travel to Israel is relatively safe, I have often used statistics. In light of the things that have been in the news recently, I thought I should blog about this topic.

One is much more likely to be a victim of a homicide in the United States than in Israel, just as one is more likely to be a victim of a traffic accident in the former than the latter.

Indeed, we are more likely to meet our demise on the road to or from the airport than while we are away, statistically speaking.

But for some reason, statistics do not always reassure people. Perhaps it is because, even if one is less likely to die in a plane than in a car, or in a bombing than in a botched blender incident while attempting to make a smoothie, one way of dying is more spectacular and more terrifying than the other.

There are travel warnings related to Israel, but these focus on places like Gaza. Millions of pilgrims and tourists travel to Israel and Palestine every year. Many return over and over again.

There are people who would happily travel to Mexico – or, for that matter, to Detroit or Los Angeles or even Indianapolis – without thinking that the statistics about safety are a reason for concern, and yet will worry about traveling to Israel and the West Bank. And of course, if someone from another country saw only the riots in Baltimore and the fire-bombing of churches in the South on the news, they would probably feel concerned about visiting the United States.

I am thinking of writing an open letter to parents that can be sent home by students who want to go on the Butler trip to Israel and the West Bank, to try to address concerns they may have. Statistics may not be the best way to go about it. Any thoughts about what to try instead? Should I stick to the utterly meaningless, but often reassuring, comfort provided by anecdotal evidence? If so, I can fight my natural logical and scholarly instincts and do that. The fact that I have taken students to these places twice, and they have felt safe, may count for more with concerned parents – even though the statistics ought to send the same message more effectively, being based on a larger set of data.

Crime rate Israel vs US



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  • Ian

    Can the letter not do both? Point out the statistics in general, then talk about the anecdotal feeling of safety. I think the feeling is rather the point of terrorism (and, let’s face it, the fear of visiting Israel is a fear of being a victim of terrorism: a fear of fear). So to address that with the feelings of people who’ve been there is not irrational, I think, as long as it is backed up by the data.

    For my son, I’d appreciate hearing both. The ‘more likely to be killed in the car on the way to the airport than on the trip’ is a particularly useful one, if true.

    • I did in fact check that statistic a couple of years ago, so I am confident about it. But would mentioning that simply disturb you as a parent in a different way, and so undermine my aim which is to reassure?

      • Ian

        It’s a good point. It wouldn’t disturb me, but I can see how it might disturb some people: being a bit flippant and all.

  • Gary

    Nope. Travel brochures don’t become legalistic, and discuss statistics on murder and rape and kidnapping. This would be rather heavy-handed. Like getting a letter from your local funeral parlor about cremation, or burial plots, what a good idea to plan ahead. Travel brochures show wonderful pictures about all the great places you will visit. I’d just forward the web site pictures of you’ll previous trips, if they are still up, showing all the kids having fun. It is already implied in the pictures that the students weren’t afraid of crime. A letter with statistics will just show everyplace is bad, so just stay home and watch tv.

    • Gary

      Btw, I was referring to the student blogs, that had the huge amount of travel pictures to Israel. Student blogs will have more impact than professor blogs, at least in this case.

  • Erp

    There is also the current politics of the region. Parents might be unsure what the political stance(s) of the trip would be and whether money spent in the West Bank area will go to occupiers or to the occupied?

    btw on your extension to Jordan, are you visiting Madaba? A visit to the ‘Holy Land’ should probably include a look at one of the earliest known maps of the area.

  • Ben Murray

    If I were a parent in this situation, I would definitely want both the statistics and the personal anecdotes.

  • Marcus Maher

    Sorry James, but statistics like those mentioned above are not very informative when it comes to tourism. If one were just to look at statistics, you would think that Chicago is a dangerous city to visit as a tourist. It has a high murder rate, among other things. However, a lot of the crime (especially the murders) is concentrated in places that tourists would rarely visit. The places they go to are heavily policed and much safer than Chicago is “in total” or “on average”. Except even terms like in total or on average aren’t very helpful because of the complete lack of homogeneity of the sample. These kinds of statistics are just not very representative.

    • This is a good point, and presumably the implication is that most tourist destinations are comparably safe – places where tourists tend to get murdered or even assaulted are unlikely to remain popular tourist destinations.

      • Marcus Maher

        Yes, I think that’s likely to be the case. I know I’d love to go to Israel some day!

      • Bethany

        Now I’m thinking of the story my boyfriend in grad school told me about visiting Egypt and judging how popular a tourist attraction was by how well it was guarded: was there an entire squad of guards, or one bored-looking teenager with an AK-47?

        Now I’m curious because on the one hand, yeah, places where bad things happen to tourists are unlikely to remain tourist attractions, but on the other tourists are unfamiliar with the area and often distracted, which seems like it could increase some risks.