Israel Urges World Capitals to Cancel Travel Warnings Issued During Gaza War

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Ben-Gurion Airport, September 2014.Credit: David Bachar

The Foreign Ministry has been running a diplomatic campaign in world capitals in recent weeks to get them to cancel their travel advisories to Israel, which they issued to their citizens during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Foreign Ministry officials fear that every day the advisories remain in effect is damaging to both tourism and investments from abroad.

While the fighting in Gaza was going on, the United States, Canada, European states and other countries issued severe travel advisories regarding Israel because of the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at the south, Greater Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport. Some countries even recommended that their citizens avoid traveling to Israel entirely, due to the security situation.

In many countries, the travel advisories were issued and given prominence as a public service to people traveling abroad. But many of the advisories remained in effect even after the fighting in Gaza had ended and the cease-fire went into effect.

A travel advisory that appears on the websites of various foreign ministries in the West was not updated and remains in the severely-worded version that appeared during the military operation. No new advisory on the return to routine has been issued to the public.

About two weeks ago, Yigal Tzarfati, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Affairs Bureau, sent a cable to all Israeli missions throughout the world asking them to look into the status of travel advisories to Israel. If the advisories remained as they had been worded during Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli diplomats were asked to contact the local foreign ministry and ask that the notice be updated to reflect the return to normal routine in Israel.

The issue was dealt with at the highest levels in some countries. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman raised the issue during his meeting with American Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington last week, saying that he wanted American citizens to know that there was nothing to prevent them from visiting Israel, and their welfare and security were in no danger.

Officials of almost every Israeli mission in the world discovered that the travel advisories had not been updated and began contacts on the issue with the local foreign ministries. “I raised the issue with the head of the Middle East department,” wrote Yosef Livne, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, in a telegram he sent from Wellington to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “He promised to deal with the subject and restore the situation to what it had been previously.”

Officials of Israel’s embassy in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, also contacted the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, informing them that the severe travel advisory that had been issued during Operation Protective Edge was still in effect. The Canadian officials replied that the advisory should indeed be corrected in light of the new situation.

Following requests from Israeli officials, the Italian Foreign Ministry softened the language of its advisory, but still recommended that Italian citizens avoid traveling to areas in Israel within a 40-kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip.

In some countries it was more difficult. When Israel’s ambassador in Prague, Gary Koren, contacted the head of the European Department at the Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry about the issue, he was told that the decision to soften the travel advisory to Israel had to be made by an internal consultation of all the European Union states in accordance with the recommendations of their representatives in Israel.

Israel’s embassy in Warsaw discovered that the travel advisory that appeared on the Polish Foreign Ministry’s website was a recommendation not to go to the Gaza Strip, but appeared under the heading “Israel.” The Israeli embassy contacted the Polish Foreign Ministry, asking them to change the headline so as not to mislead readers.

The travel advisory in certain countries had an effect on the Israeli economy. Because of the advisory issued by the Foreign Ministry in Manila, workers from the Philippines were not allowed to come to Israel. The Israeli embassy contacted the local foreign ministry and informed them that the cease-fire was being kept, and asked them to cancel the travel advisory. After several days of talks, the travel advisory was lifted and the workers from the Philippines were allowed to go to Israel.

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, who visited Bucharest last week, was asked by embassy officials to raise the topic during his meeting with the Romanian foreign minister and ask that the travel advisory be lifted. “Israel is safer today than many other countries in the world,” Shalom told the Romanian foreign minister. “Thousands of Romanian tourists come to Israel at this time of the year and before the Christian holidays in December, so lifting the travel advisory is very important to us.” The Romanian foreign minister promised to work to have the travel advisory lifted.

A Travel Warning for Israel is seen on the U.S. Passports and International Travel website, Sept. 22, 2014. Credit: Screenshot