[Click here for a message from the Israel Ministry of Tourism]
Cross-border attacks and massacres of civilians by the Palestinian militant group Hamas have resulted in a declaration of war by the state of Israel and major disruptions in travel and tourism.
The surprise attack on Oct. 7 included ground assaults on communities in the southern part of the country close to Hamas-run Gaza as well as rocket attacks reaching as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with militants launching thousands of rockets at both military and civilian targets. Hamas gunmen attacked Israeli soldiers and civilians alike, including killing hundreds of people attending an outdoor music festival and kidnapping others.
American citizens are among the victims of the attacks, with the overall death toll already topping 1,000 people in Israel and Gaza.
Travel Warnings for Israel, Gaza and the West Bank
In response, the U.S. State Department reinforced its travel warnings about traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on Oct. 9, noting: “The situation in Israel remains dynamic; mortar and rocket fire may take place without warning. Individuals should follow the instructions of security and emergency response officials.”
Even prior to the October attacks, Americans were warned not to travel to Gaza and cautioned about the extensive dangers facing visitors to Israel.
“Terrorist groups, lone-wolf terrorists and other violent extremists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza,” according to the State Department’s advisory last updated Oct. 3. “Terrorists and violent extremists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Violence can occur in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza without warning. There has been a marked increase in demonstrations throughout Israel, some with little or no warning.”
Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, but American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have all suspended their flights to Tel Aviv. Some international carriers, like British Airways and Emirates, have continued to fly to Israel.
Intrepid Travel, which organizes tours from North America to both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, has canceled all of its trips to these destinations through Oct. 31. According to a company statement issued Oct. 9, Intrepid had a small number of travelers in Israel when violence broke out last weekend.
“All travelers and tour leaders were safely accounted for,” according to Intrepid. “The majority of travelers left Israel over the weekend, with the remainder set to depart today.”
“Our thoughts are with the people of Israel and the Palestinian Territories at this awful time, and we send our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones,” said Zina Bencheikh, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Intrepid Travel.
In an Oct. 8 alert, Tel Aviv travel company Tourist Israel advised travelers already in the country that the safest place to be is in their hotel or other accommodations. “Please stay inside, and if you hear a siren, go to your nearest shelter,” according to the company’s website.
Nonetheless, Tourist Israel maintained that “Ultimately, it is safe to travel in Israel, though nervous travelers are encouraged to consider joining a package trip,” adding: “The situation in the south of the country doesn’t affect tourists who are traveling in most areas of Israel. That being said, you should always be sure to check and adhere to your country’s travel advisories.”
“We recommend that Americans check with the U.S department of state and the travel advisories that are issued there to help with their own travel decisions,” said Samantha Sultzer, special projects manager with Philadelphia-based Israel travel specialists Gil Travel. “We are working tirelessly to ensure that our clients currently in Israel are brought home safely.”
Cancellations and Advisories
Please check with the individual airlines and cruise lines for cancellation policies.
American Airlines All flights through Tel Aviv are cancelled through Friday. There is a travel alert online with additional information on customer flexibility, including change fee waivers. “We continue to monitor the situation with safety and security top of mind and will adjust our operation as needed.” The airline indicated customers should visit aa.com or the mobile app for flight-specific information.
Delta The current security situation in Israel may impact travel to/from/through Tel Aviv. The airline instructs travelers to check flight status frequently for up-to-the-minute information about their flight plans or get updates sent directly to their mobile device or by email. When rebooked travel occurs on or before October 21, 2023, in the same cabin of service as originally booked, the fare difference will be waived.
United Tel Aviv flights will remain suspended until conditions allow them to resume.
Air Canada “We are monitoring this dynamic situation closely and we will adjust these plans as required. We remain in contact with the Canadian government. Air Canada will resume operations to Tel Aviv as soon as the situation stabilizes.”
The cruise line Celestyal suspended calling to Israel until the end of November 2023, and the situation will be monitored for any itineraries departing after this date. “We are in close coordination with the authorities, and the safety, security, and comfort of our guests remains our utmost priority.”
Collette Collette announces the cancellation of all departures to Israel through the remainder of the calendar year. Future departures for January 1, 2024, and on will be evaluated well before travel. All travelers who were on tour in the region were able to fly home safely. “We are deeply saddened by the events that transpired in Israel over the weekend, and we hope that the Israeli people will be able to quickly bring safety, security and stability back to the region,” said Jeff Roy, executive vp at Collette., in a press statement. “As a result of these events, we will cancel all departures to Israel through December 31, 2023. For departures January 1, 2024 and forward, we will closely monitor the developments in Israel and make operating decisions for these tours at least 60-days in advance of travel.” All affected travelers will receive a full refund.
Royal Caribbean Cruises “We’ve been closely monitoring the geopolitical situation in Israel. With your safety and well-being in mind, and in conjunction with our Global Security Department, we’ve decided that we must cancel our October 9, 2023, and October 13, 2023 Rhapsody of the Seas sailings.”
Celebrity Cruise In a letter to their passengers booked on the October 16, 2023, departure of Celebrity Apex, they were notified that the original itinerary is no longer feasible due to ongoing developments in Israel and Egypt. A new itinerary visiting Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey has been arranged. “As our global security team continues to closely monitor the evolving situation in Israel and the surrounding regions, we have been alerted to further situations unfolding in Alexandria, Egypt. Due to these developments, our experts have made the decision not to visit Alexandria, considering the safety and security of our guests and crew as our number one priority. This in mind, our staff have worked quickly to secure an alternate itinerary we believe you will enjoy thoroughly. Your new itinerary now includes a beautiful selection of stops in Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.”
MSC Cruises has revised the East Mediterranean itineraries for MSC Sinfonia and MSC Musica in light of the geopolitical situation in Israel. MSC Sinfonia’s eight 11-night voyages will see Haifa, Israel replaced by Istanbul, Turkey which also means Rhodes will be replaced by Piraeus, Greece and Izmir, Turkey will replace Limassol, Cyprus. Starting Oct. 21, 2023, MSC Sinfonia’s new itinerary will be the Italian ports of Genoa, Civitavecchia and Messina followed by Piraeus, Izmir, Istanbul and Heraklion in Crete before the ship returns to Genoa, Italy. MSC Musica’s three 7-night voyages from Piraeus, Greece will see Haifa replaced by Rhodes on Oct. 18 and 25, 2023 and Marmaris in Turkey on Nov. 1, 2023.