The window that had opened — very briefly — allowing Atlantans to visit Israel has essentially closed again. And it looks like it will remain closed through the upcoming High Holy Days in September.
Despite setting records getting a majority of its population vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, climbing rates of infections and hospitalizations have forced the Israeli government to establish new restrictions on travelers. In essence, anyone who enters Israel, whether they are returning Israelis or travelers from dozens of countries including the U.S., vaccinated or not, individuals or in groups, must quarantine for one week upon arrival. Two negative tests are also required before coming out of quarantine.
Atlantan Cheri Scheff Levitan, CEO of Kenes Tours, an Israel-based tour operator, expects the quarantine requirement to continue through September. “We have no groups lined up for September, but we do in October,” she told the AJT. What complicates the situation even further is that the government adopted the new rules on Aug. 3 and they are set to go into effect Aug. 11.
Kenes Tours had one group “already approved to enter” on Aug. 7 so that trip was proceeding because the participants didn’t have to quarantine. At least one more group had to cancel its plans.
“I have worked harder in the last year-and-a-half dealing with guessing games and trying to be clairvoyant,” Levitan said. “Many elderly clients want to do multi-generational trips. People are becoming desperate. I have one colleague who keeps looking for loopholes and there aren’t any loopholes.”
Levitan was one of the first Atlantans to travel to Israel earlier this summer after the Israeli ministries of tourism and health announced a pilot program that allowed tourist groups of five to 30 people to travel to Israel under strict guidelines. Individual travelers who met an extensive list of criteria also could procure approval to enter the country. But otherwise, Israel had essentially shut its borders to non-citizens for more than a year due to the pandemic.
The new restrictions came just a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its travel health notice to “Level 3: High,” warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The limitations also came in the wake of Israel simplifying the application permit procedure for non-Israeli citizens. Instead of emailing dozens of documents to an Israeli consulate and waiting for approvals, there’s now an online system for entry permits. “It is, at the moment, the only way to request entry to Israel,” said Alex Gandler, deputy consul general of Israel to the Southeast. The form became available July 13 and can be accessed online through the Israeli government site.
Levitan called the online system “a tremendous improvement. I’ve referred many people to the form.”
Only now it is nearly irrelevant for anyone traveling to Israel for a short visit since the week of quarantining is required upon arrival. And breaking quarantine comes at a severe price, according to Gandler. Fines as high as $1,500 may be imposed as well as a ban to travel to Israel for 10 years.
Anyone with the time and determination to still travel to Israel must have a negative COVID test before they embark and after they land, along with a serology test that proves they have antibodies against the virus. “People have entered Israel feeling they are vaccinated and did everything right, but the tests show they don’t have antibodies. We tell people to get on the plane at their own risk. You don’t know what’s in your blood.”
And hopes that Israel’s tourism industry could soon recover from the long months of pandemic have seemingly been dashed. Mark Feldman, CEO of Jerusalem-based Ziontours, told AJT in an email, “These new regulations are another step backward in opening up Israel to incoming tourism. So many organizations want to send groups to Israel but have been stymied by the complete lack of clear instructions when the country will open up and under what circumstances,” Feldman said.
“My sad opinion is that these latest restrictions will stay in place until the end of September thus eliminating any tourists from the United States unless they can plan to spend seven days in quarantine before starting their trip. Why Israel is the only country in the Western world making such conditions escapes logic.”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- High Holy Days
- COVID-19 virus
- Israeli Government
- Cheri Scheff Levitan
- Kenes Tours
- Israeli ministries of tourism and health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- U.S. citizens
- West Bank
- Alex Gandler
- deputy consul general of Israel to the Southeast
- COVID Test
- Mark Feldman