Israel Protest 2023: the Complete Guide for Travelers
The mass demonstrations and unprecedented civil unrest that’s currently being witnessed in the Holy Land aren’t violent but could disrupt your travel plans. How deep is their impact on travelers, and what can they do to avoid hurdles and make the most of their vacation in Israel?
Israel is a much-loved holiday destination for tourists, filled with holy sites and magical sights, interesting food, and warm people. But in the last months, the Holy Land is in turmoil: thousands of citizens, from all walks of life, have been taking to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regularly, protesting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform because they fear possible repercussions for civil rights.
The question is, can you still visit Israel and take in all of its splendor? How will the protest affect your itinerary and experience? This guide will cover every possible scenario, to make sure your vacation in Israel won’t run into unexpected difficulties.
What is the Protest in Israel about?
The protests began in early 2023 in response to the ruling government's push for a wide-ranging judicial reform. This reform, if passed, would strip the Supreme Court of its power to strike down government actions as "unreasonable" and would also change how Judges are appointed. Protesters see this proposed overhaul as a power grab by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and fear that the changes would not only weaken the independence of the judiciary and make it easier for the government to crack down on dissent.
The protests have been met with a mixed response from the Israeli public. Many Israelis support the reform, claiming it is necessary to rein in the power of the Supreme Court and bring a new balance to the country's justice system. Others remain adamantly opposed to the idea, arguing that whilst Israel may certainly benefit from reforms, they should be carried out as part of public consensus, which the government clearly does not have at this moment.
The protests have now continued for months, and there is no sign of them letting up. Nor is the government backing down either. The result is that hundreds of thousands of people keep marching and protesting, from the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem to the highways of Tel Aviv and junctions all across the north and south of the country.
Recently, the first bill of planned reform was passed by the government, and the result has been intensifying protests.
Can I still visit Israel during the Protests?
Yes, and many Americans and travelers from all around the world are touring the country just like before. It is rare for them to miss any of the country's main attractions, even in cities and towns most affected by the demonstrations. In fact, the main rallies - in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa - are held at designated times and places. So with advance notice, even on concentrated protest days - it is rather easy to plan your itinerary accordingly to avoid them.
How Are Israel's Most Holy Places Affected by the Protests?
No holy places in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, or any other site of Christian or Jewish importance are mentioned in any side's claims.
Moreover, no holy site is close to the main protest locations in Israel. This means that travelers will have no difficulty whatsoever visiting the Church of Sepulche in Jerusalem, holy sites in Nazareth, or any other religious site in Israel and the neighboring Palestinian Authority.
How are the main tourist attractions in Israel affected by the Protests?
Most of Israel's key tourist attractions are located far from protest areas. For example, the protestors' drums can't be heard from the famous Masada mountain fortress in the Judean desert, the famous Dead Sea, or the exquisite Ein Gedi nature reserve.
Our field operatives and survey teams found that most travelers had no problem visiting museums, galleries, historical sites, and shopping areas even within protest hotspots like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
While there might be more traffic than usual, everything is open for business. Theaters, children's shows, festivals, concerts, and musical events are also going on just as before.
Which Areas of Israel are Affected by Mass Protests?
While protestors can be seen in every junction and road bridge across Israel, they won't impact your travel plans in any possible way.
Israel’s protests peak every week at specific times, known locally as concentrated protest days. These will impact eastern Tel Aviv and the nearby Ayalon highway, and areas near the Knesset - the Israeli Parliament House in Jerusalem.
Which are the Concentrated Protest Days?
Mass protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem take place each Saturday and most Thursdays and usually start around 17:00 to 19:00.
There are sometimes protests mid-week too, which begin around 13:00. On days in which the Parliament is voting on new bills considered dangerous by opposers of the judicial reform, mass protests will start as early as 07:00, and may go on past midnight.
How are tourists affected by the protests in Israel?
Israeli people are very passionate in their views and could be described as hot-headed. Having said that, they all know very well that visitors have no stake in their national quarrel. So they won't try to draw you into their arguments or expect you to formulate a position regarding current affairs.
The fact is that the atmosphere around the main tourist attractions across the country isn’t tense as one might expect, and remain rather inviting.
Nevertheless, our research shows that mass protests may impact certain aspects of a visit to Israel. Here are the key disruption points, and possible solutions, tested and proved effective in minimizing any itinerary disruptions.
1. Road Blocking
As you drive through Israel, you'll see flags and posters hung at many crossroads, and on hundreds of bridges. On occasion, you'll also see people standing there, waving flags in the air. The atmosphere is good-natured and you do not need to worry.
But on concentrated protest days, certain key intersections, highways, and urban areas (in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) are filled to the brim with hundreds of thousands of people. While not violent, these protests will clearly have an impact on traffic and might make detours necessary.
Road Blocking in Tel Aviv: The main protest area in Tel Aviv is Kaplan Street, which leads down to the business district and major thoroughfares. This area is blocked every Saturday, beginning at 17:00.
On some occasions, the protesters in Kaplan may move east as the protest wind down, towards the nearby Ayalon highway, and stand on the road, blocking traffic for 2-4 hours.
Image: Yoav Aziz via Unplash
Protestors also arrive from the west and block the junction of Yigal Alon Street and Hashalom Road. Habima Square is sometimes used as a staging point for protest marches, which set off there and then head north-east towards Kaplan.
Traffic could also slow down, even to a standstill in Ramat Aviv in north Tel Aviv, near the Israel Museum.
Protest areas in central Tel Aviv
Road Blocking in Jerusalem: Israel’s capital has two protest areas. The first one is around the Knesset Parliament House, especially Rupin Street and Hazaz Boulevard. During concentrated protest times, the nearby Central Bus Station and the adjacent station may be very crowded, even overflowing.
The second is on Balfour Street, close to the official residence of the Prime Minister - crowds often gather there on Saturday night, after the end of the Jewish Shabath.
Protest areas in Jerusalem
What should I do? First, you should be aware of these major protest days. Remember that while protestors can be passionate, they are also reasonable: An advance notice of rallies and demonstrations is usually given and announced by local media. Tourists can also receive regular updates through the media - both in Hebrew and English.
2. Airport blocking
Protestors have blocked the main road leading to Ben Gurion International Airport three times in the last few months, usually for periods of between 2 to 4 hours.
What should I do? If your flight is scheduled to leave on a day that airport protests are expected, make sure to leave in good time. We would advise arriving at the airport at least 2 hours before a protest is due to begin, and to make your way there by train, rather than taxi.
3. Bus/Train Delays
Many Israelis will be using central bus and Train stations on days of concentrated protest, especially when the event is in Jerusalem.
This could result in delays, long lines, and a more stressful atmosphere than normal.
What Should I Do? Take a taxi from your hotel to the area you are visiting. These are not very cheap in Israel, but the drivers are very resourceful and can and will quickly find routes that bypass key protest locations. Alternatively, hire a bicycle, an electric scooter, or even walk.
4. Mobile Data Issues
Many tourists experience mobile data issues – slow connections and temporary disconnection - when they pass near key protest areas on concentrated protest days.
The reason is probably the prioritization policy of roaming mobile devices on local network nodes; local users tend to get better reception.
What Should I Do? Keep in mind that such mobile data issues are a local problem that will be solved the moment you are distanced from the protests. In case of emergency, you can always use WiFi connections which are available in every café and restaurant for free.
5. Currency Exchange Rates
The mass protests have certainly influenced the Israeli economy, and the local currency – the shekel – has weakened against the US Dollar. While this is not favorable for local businesses, it might be to the benefit of tourists.
Many travelers tend to plan their vacation long before departure. They will calculate their daily expenses in advance, to decide how much of the local currency to exchange.
Israeli currency exchange
However, More and more tourists are abandoning cash and using credit cards and payment apps when they travel abroad. For the most part, it’s easy to pay for things this way in Israel - even so, keep in mind that if you’re in a local market, or want to leave a tip in a restaurant, cash is still required.
What Should I Do? Check out the dollar-to-shekel exchange rate close to your departure date, so you’re up-to-date with currency fluctuations, and won't exchange more money than you require.
How Have the Protests Affected the Atmosphere in Israel?
BH Research interviewed 1,000 American tourists between March and August 2023, to discover more about their experiences in the shadow of these mass protests. Most participants reported that the atmosphere in Israel was pleasant and that there had been little with little disruption to their travel plans. However, a few travelers reported a slight change in the local atmosphere.
What should I do if I Stumble Upon a Mass Protest in Israel?
There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Just ask somebody where they are headed - Most Israelis speak good English and will be happy to update you on the situation. Once you know where the protest is, try to avoid the area, since it will be quite congested and delay your plans for the day.
Image: Yoav Aziz via Unplash
These times of protest are totally unprecedented in the history of the state of Israel, but as troublesome as things might be, locals still manage to keep the mass demonstrations pretty civil and good-natured. Road blocking and noisy demonstrations in central areas might cause disruptions, but usually just for tourists who aren't aware of their potential impact. The most important thing is to plan ahead, keep up-to-date and act according to the information you get. Ask staff in your hotel, or friendly locals, what's going on and follow local English-speaking news media - and your Vacation in Israel will be just as spiritual, fun, and interesting as you hope it to be.