Subject: Re: security for tourists in Israel
Dear Carol and other Ziners interested in Israel,

I'd like to give you the perspective of an American who travels to Israel so often that I no longer consider myself a tourist. I rent an apartment in Tel Aviv full time, mainly for the benefit of my elderly mother who doesn't drive and is an avid Zionist, so she is much happier spending the winter there than she would be in Florida or Arizona. I agree with the other Debby, that you are much safer in Israel than in most large cities throughout the world, at least within the "green line", which excludes the occupied territories. When asked, I usually tell people they are much more likely to be hit by a car on Dizengoff St., (the main drag in Tel Aviv,) than they are to be blown up by a terrorist. However, there are many tourist sites, particularly Christian and Muslim sites, that are situated in the territories, and the situation there is ever changing.

If you can possibly afford it, and if you have several people in your group it is not that expensive, I strongly suggest hiring a licensed private guide with a car or van. The advantage of this is that the guide will tailor your tour to your own interests and pocketbook, and will never take you anywhere that is unsafe at the time you are there. Also, in my opinion, the Israeli guides are the best in the world. They have to go to school and pass a very difficult exam - sort of like getting a graduate degree in tourism. Regardless of the religion of the guide, they are all extremely well versed in the 3 major religions, (and probably the minor ones as well,) and also are experts in the archeology, biology, botany, etc. of the area. for instance,when you go to the dead sea, they can take you hiking in the desert or to a luxury spa, or both, if that is your choice.

If you are traveling by yourself, or can't afford a private guide, there are tour companies from which you can buy tours to the main tourist areas, but you will not be able to see nearly as much in your allotted time, and as in all countries, in addition to the tourist sites, you will probably be taken to shops where the guide gets a kickback! Also, because tourism is way down, there is not as wide a choice of tours and they don't go as often as they used to, particularly in winter, when the weather is most comfortable but there are hardly any tourists, (except me!) For those of you who are backpackers and/or nature lovers, there is an organization called SPNI, (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel,) that sometimes has tours in english. I have never taken one, but I'm told that they are great. Perhaps one of the Israelis on the board could expand on this.

Finally, as Debby said, "Forget CNN"! I am an ultraliberal Jew who believes strongly in Palestinian rights, and even I think they are extremely biased. If you want up to date, fairly accurate news, go to the english language websites of the Jerusalem Post if you are on the right or Haaretz (the other english newspaper) if you lean toward the left. but most of all, just GO! I guarantee you will love the country, and most of the people, although as in many countries, the extremists on both sides can be a little hard to take - but it's always interesting to talk to them!

Deborah Comay Pittsburgh and Tel Aviv