YIR: Israel May Finally Open Up to Tourists in November
Year in ReviewIsrael

YIR: Israel May Finally Open Up to Tourists in November

October 2021: COVID Restrictions caused a bumpy year for travelers to Israel.

Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

2021 has been a bumpy year for travel to and from Israel. In late January, Israel banned all international travel, including for Israelis, for almost two months. For non-Israelis, the on-again, but mostly off-again travel to Israel was enough to give travel agents and tourists alike motion sickness.

The COVID-induced travel restrictions designed to curb the spread of various variants of the virus were often imposed by the Israeli government from one moment to the next, causing stomach-lurching changes in plans.

During parts of the year, non-Israelis with first-degree relatives could receive special permission to travel to Israel, assuming they could figure out how to apply and jump through all the hoops. Special accommodations were made – sometimes – for those traveling for a birth, marriage or funeral. Yet even these occasions did not always grant authorization to all prospective travelers.

Requirements for COVID testing, including quarantining upon arrival in Israel, also changed frequently during the year.

Once allowed to actually move around in Israel, visiting the sites, friends and relatives, non-Israelis had to figure out how to navigate the Green Pass requirements given to fully vaccinated people for entry into museums, restaurants and other public places.

But what upset most Atlanta would-be travelers to Israel occurred during the final months of the year. Israel announced that it would open up Ben Gurion Airport to non-Israelis as of Nov. 1. The tourism industry breathed a sigh of relief. Both Chanukah, for Jewish travelers, and Christmas, for the larger number of Christian tourists, were around the corner and airlines, hotels, restaurants and tour guides were hopeful.

Then the Israeli coronavirus task force met after Shabbat Nov. 27 and decided to prohibit tourists again as the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, was confirmed in a small number of cases in the country. The new rules went into effect at midnight the next day local time and were to last for two weeks. That left Atlantans forced to risk taking their flights to Israel and being turned away at the airport because their flight was to arrive just hours after the cut-off time. Many chose to stay home.

Just before the end of the two-week closure for tourists, the Israeli government decided to extend the prohibition against travelers for another 10 days, until Dec. 22.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the heads of Jewish Federations of North America, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett apologized for causing “severe hardship and disruption” for Jewish tourists wanting to travel to Israel. And Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai acknowledged that Israel’s decision to ban non-citizens from the country was damaging ties to diaspora Jews.

read more: