Israel: Welcome to the land of criminals and bad drivers

Donald Macintyre – The Independent Sept 3, 2012

Israel has a new reason to be concerned about is image abroad, if the official travel advisories issued to tourists by governments from Australia and Japan to the US are anything to go by.

Extracts from the stark warnings issued to would-be visitors compiled by the liberal daily Haaretz last week paint an unflattering picture which the paper summarizes as that of “a primitive crime-ridden country, full of bad drivers, religious extremists and even undrinkable water.”

The US State Department in its advice to would-be travellers to the Holy Land lays heavy but – for now at least – arguably somewhat out of date emphasis on the need for its citizens to “use good judgment and exercise caution when visiting public areas and using transportation facilities in order to minimize exposure to possible terrorist attacks.” Austria even advises against using public transport throughout the country.

More immediately pertinent may be the warning that Americans arriving at Ben-Gurion airport and other crossings, “have been subjected to prolonged questioning and thorough searches… detained and/or arrested on suspicion of security-related offences” and had “laptops and other electronic equipment confiscated” in a minority of cases without being returned.

The US advisory adds: “Israeli security officials have also requested access to travellers’ personal e-mail… or other social media accounts as a condition of entry.”

Unsurprisingly, in view of the discovery that replicas of UK passports were used by the assassins of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabouh in Dubai in 2010, Britain warns: “Only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary.” The US underpins Israel’s unenviable record of traffic accidents by warning – accurately – that “aggressive driving is commonplace and that many drivers fail to maintain safe following distances or signal before changing lanes…” Australia warns that residents “may stone your car” if you drive it into ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods during the Sabbath.

Such warnings may be well founded. But it is hard not to feel that Japan, which also paints a somewhat melodramatic picture of crime in Tel Aviv, has gone over the top when, along with Canada and Austria, it advises against drinking Israeli tap water.

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