In 2019 and pre-COVID, 4.5 million tourists visited Israel. The Holy Land is one of the most intriguing and fascinating places to visit, and whether one comes for religious reasons or simply to experience the history and beauty of this place, Israel has had a booming tourism industry for years. There’s a part of Israel, however, that most tours refuse to go to, and you will have a hard time finding this location included on any of the mainstream tour itineraries.
I’m speaking, of course, about Judea and Samaria, or as I like to call it, Israel’s biblical heartland.
You may have heard a different name for this place. Most people call it the West Bank, and some call it the Occupied Territories, as they claim that Israel is occupying Palestinian-Arab territory.
The obvious answer as to why most people don’t visit Israel’s heartland is that it is dangerous. As someone who has been based in Judea and Samaria for the past fourteen years, let me verify that this is true, and it’s also a myth. Let me explain.
There are places in Judea and Samaria that I usually don’t go to. For the most part, I stay away from driving past red signs that state, “This road leads to Area A, and the entrance for Israeli citizens is illegal and dangerous to your lives.” I have been to many of these places, but in general, it’s not recommended unless you know what you’re doing, and go with someone who is a local.
Contrary to popular belief, Judea and Samaria is not filled with checkpoints, there are not bullets constantly flying overhead, and molotov cocktails are not thrown at your vehicle whenever you leave your house. In fourteen years, I’ve had a rock or two thrown at me, but I’ve never been shot at or had a molotov cocktail thrown at my car.
Isn’t it Dangerous to Be in Areas Where There Are Violent Extremists?
There are about 800,000 Jews living across the Green Line, and one to two million Arabs (the PA is not very accurate with their population statistics). In general, the Palestinian Authority, who governs the local Arab population here, is hostile to Israel and teaches their citizens to hate and kill Jews.
To be clear, inside of what we call “Israel Proper ”, there are seven million Jews and two million Arab Israeli citizens. You may think that the Arab population in Israel is safe and friendly, and you’d be right. However, there are violent extremists amongst the Arab population, and many of the terrorist attacks in recent years have been in Israeli cities, not just in the West Bank.
The bottom line is that there are dangers in visiting Judea and Samaria, and there are dangers in visiting Israel. One must be careful wherever you go.
Many of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria are very friendly and non-violent, and many of them even support Israel – they’re just afraid to state it publicly, as they fear repercussions from their own government.
You may be asking, however, why is it even important to go to Israel’s heartland?
Why is Judea and Samaria important?
Israel’s heartland is the secret gem of the Holy Land. I like to call it Israel’s best-kept secret. For Christians, it is where more than 80% of the Bible was either written or occurred. For archaeologists, it is where some of the oldest and most significant discoveries have been made. For travel enthusiasts and wine lovers, it is home to incredible wineries, beautiful off-the-beaten-track destinations, and amazing people. (You may not want to use the word incredible twice in the same sentence)
Travel to Hebron, where you can walk on a road that is 4,000 years old. Visit the Arugot Farms, where David hid out and likely wrote some of the Psalms. Visit the Psagot Winery, the most beautiful winery and visitor’s center in all of Israel. Go to Bethel where Jacob dreamed of the angels ascending and descending from heaven. Elon Moreh is where God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 and overlooks the Tirzah Valley where Joshua led the children of Israel into the Holy Land. The Mt. of Blessing and Mt. of Cursing is where the twelve tribes stood and said yes to God’s covenant, and it is also where Jesus ministered to the woman at the well.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. Judea and Samaria is not a dangerous place to visit, but rather a place of history, biblical significance, archaeology, incredible food and wine, and amazing people.
5 Precautions to Take When Visiting Israel’s Biblical Heartland
Yes, I believe you should make a trip to Judea and Samaria, or at the least, include it on your travel itinerary to Israel. Just like anywhere else, you should take basic safety precautions when visiting, and because it is a volatile region (we don’t pretend that nothing ever happens here), there are a few extra precautions you should consider taking.
Here are five safety precautions to take when planning your trip to Judea and Samaria:
- Don’t drive past a red sign. These lead to either Area A or B, which are not always dangerous, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, or don’t have a local with you, it’s best to save that trip for another time.
- Stay informed with local Israeli news so that you know what’s going on before you plan a trip to a certain area.
- Connect with locals where you are visiting. Not only will this take your experience to the next level, but locals can help you get around, give you directions and ensure that you have a safe, wonderful experience.
- Keep your car doors locked, don’t get caught up with schemes that strangers are selling, be aware of your surroundings, etc. (this is just good advice wherever you are in the world).
- If you’d like an extra measure of precaution, take a public bus, or hire a private bus for your group – in Judea and Samaria, the buses have armored plating and bulletproof windows.
Judea and Samaria, the Hidden Jewel of Israel’s Landscape
At the end of the day, violence and terrorist attacks happen in Judea and Samaria from time to time. They also happen in the rest of Israel. At times in the last few years, there have been more attacks in Israel proper than in Judea and Samaria.
Statistically, however, you’re more likely to get in a car accident while driving to the airport to catch your flight to Israel than you are to be the victim of an attack while in Israel. There are more shootings and deaths in many of the large cities in the US than in Israel.
If you want to make a meaningful trip to Israel, including Israel’s heartland, consider checking out one of our volunteer programs at www.ServeIsrael.com/Volunteer. If you’d like to go more of the tour route, consider our Heartland Experience trip at https://serveisrael.com/volunteer/heartland-experience/. As far as I know, it’s the only Israel tour that is 100% focused on Israel’s biblical heartland, and we have one coming up in May 2023.
Start planning your trip to Israel, and make sure to include Israel’s best-kept secret. The world calls it the West Bank. We choose to call it what it is: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria – Israel’s Biblical Heartland. You won’t be sorry that you came.