Israel Matters! – January 2023

Israel – One of the Safest Places to Visit in the World!

This month we revisit a stubborn topic that always seems to surface whenever one talks about visiting Israel: how safe is it to go there? Many friends, family, and colleagues remain under the impression that Israel is just a dangerous place due to the constant risk of terrorism. So we are pleased to present a just-published comparative study of the risks posed to visitors across many popular travel destinations. The analysis was conducted by The Swiftest, a San Francisco-based start-up created by experts from the insurance and travel industry to better compare and purchase insurance. These folks focus their data analytics expertise on important societal and environmental issues, and have developed proprietary risk analysis tools to better understand the messages in the data they study.For TBS members, the timing of this study aligns perfectly with the May TBS trip to Israel led by Rabbi Scolnic. For anyone who has thought about visiting Israel but was discouraged because of safety concerns, what follows should help set your mind at ease.
The Swiftest study examines data from the fifty most most-visited tourist-travel destinations. For each country the researchers recorded death rates per 100,000 persons from homicides, road traffic, poisoning, and poor hygiene. They also computed years of life lost from communicable diseases and injuries (including terrorism and other conflict violence), and the risk posed by natural disasters. The data sources for these calculations include the World Health Organization, World Bank, the United Nations, and Oxford University’s Our World In Data project.
Here are the high-level results: the five countries with the most dangerous travel risks are South Africa (by far), India, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Brazil (both Ukraine and Russia were excluded from the analysis for obvious reasons).

And the five safest countries? In order they are Singapore, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland…and Israel!! Yes, you read that correctly – Israel is the 5th safest country to visit out of the 50 most visited countries in the world. Would you have guessed that?

To put this in context, we live in the United States, which rates as the 20th most dangerous (and thus the 31st safest) country to visit. Think about that.
Israel stands out as a safer travel destination than Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Israel even scores better than Canada!
The map below visualizes the results of this study so you can see the geography of travel safety. It is hard to see tiny Israel on this scale, but Israel stands out as one of the world’s safest countries.

The study just discussed is quite recent, having been published on December 1 of this year. But confusion about and misperception of safety in Israel has persisted for a very long time. To wit, on the next page we reproduce an article written by your loyal Israel Matters correspondents that appeared in the January 8, 2002 edition of the Jerusalem Post (reproduced with author permission). Twenty one years later the numbers have changed but the basic facts remain the same. Israel is a safe place to visit, and we encourage all of you to do so!

Competing risks and realities

American leaders have stressed the importance of leading normal lives in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Travel, shop, eat out, and take in that movie.
But what if your normal life includes regular trips to Israel? The US State Department has issued a warning urging Americans, for their own safety, not to go there.
One cannot deny that, with help from the media, Israel is perceived as a dangerous place due to the threat of terrorism. Indeed, while recently in Israel giving talks and attending a conference, I received numerous e-mails from colleagues and friends worrying for my safety, admonishing me to avoid public places, or otherwise urging me to watch out. I truly appreciate such genuine expressions of concern, but they stem from the aforementioned perception that Israel is much more dangerous than America. A simple review of available data, however, suggests the opposite.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, during the 442 days from the beginning of the current Palestinian intifada until the end of December, 2001, 120 Israelis were killed by terrorist suicide bombings, shootings, hit-and-runs, stabbings, or other means within “Israel proper,” that is, not including terror victims in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
All of these murders are tragic, and I do not intend in any way to make light of them here. However, given that 6.3 million people reside within Israel proper, these deaths work out to an annual personal risk of death from terrorism of 16 in one million, within the boundaries of Israel proper, which would be the destination of most visitors.
Is this a big risk or a little risk? Let’s compare first with the risk of death from motor vehicle accidents in Israel, since one thing tourists do is travel around. Again, excluding the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports 461 traffic fatalities during the 2000 calendar year. This adds up to an annual personal risk of 73 per one million, which is four and a half times higher than the risk of death from terrorism.

So what, you say – this makes Israel look worse!  Look again. The 2000 Statistical Abstract of the United States reports that about 41,500 traffic fatalities have occurred in each of the past several years in the US. With a population of 286 million people, the annual personal risk of death from a motor vehicle accident in the United States is 145 per one million.

That’s right – the personal risk of road death is twice as high in the United States as in Israel. And the risk of road death in the United States is nine times higher than the risk of death from terrorism in Israel! Since we Americans readily accept the 145 per million risk of road death without worry, why has the US State Department warned us not to travel to Israel?

Let’s put this into an even more direct perspective. My recent visit to Israel was one week in duration. Since I did not enter the West Bank or Gaza, my combined probability of dying from either terrorism or a car crash on this visit equaled 1.7 in one million.

Had I followed the State Department’s guidance and canceled my visit to Israel, I would have instead enjoyed a 2.8 in one million chance of being killed in a motor vehicle accident at home. In other words, for those keeping score, my death risk would have been 65 percent higher in the US than in Israel.

And I have neglected to note my 23 combined hours flying El Al, one of the safest activities available within the limits of Earth’s atmosphere. It seems that the most dangerous thing I did on this trip was drive from New Haven to JFK Airport!

Perceived risks govern human behavior more than actual risks, and the elevated perceived risk of terror in Israel relative to the actual danger is no exception. I know of at least two canceled academic meetings and a third that is in jeopardy due to the perceived danger of holding such events in Israel. To the extent that terrorism relies on this psychology of fear, such cancellations are victories for the terrorists. And, while the fate of academic events is important to me, this is nothing compared to the economic losses Israel faces from the drop in tourism and other business revenues.

When the US State Department issues travel warnings, many people listen. If citizen safety is the goal, perhaps the State Department should urge all of us Americans to stop driving. But then, wouldn’t that conflict with the goal of leading a normal life?

Ma Yesh b’Televisia? What’s on TV?

We don’t have any Israeli programming to suggest this month – Israelis are all watching the World Cu