Israeli citizens eager to welcome friends and family into the country have been abuzz over the past week as government officials signaled that individual tourists would likely be allowed back into the country as early as next month.
The news is not yet official, however, as the government wrestles with a set of dilemmas regarding the criteria for letting tourists into the country without having to face any time in quarantine.
A final decision has been postponed as ministries wrangle and negotiates over the rules, with the Tourism Ministry pushing for an earlier opening and minimum restrictions, and the Health Ministry lobbying for a more cautious approach.
“It’s not over till it’s over,” said Elisa Moed, CEO of Travelujah, a company that specializes in Christian tourism to Israel.
“The information is being put out to prepare us for what we hope is an imminent reopening of the borders, barring an unforeseen development. We don’t know when the announcement will come – this week, next week, or later – but we’re confident they’re doing all they can to open the country up to tourists from Europe and the U.S.”
Time is of the essence, she added, as Christians make plans for the Christmas holidays, while Jewish tourists do likewise for Hanukkah.
Israel to Reopen to Tourists.
According to the information, officials have told tour operators and the media, entry to Israel will be permitted only for foreign citizens who have either received two COVID vaccine doses within the past six months, recovered from COVID in the last six months, or had a third booster shot within six months. These requirements are identical to those needed by Israelis to receive the Green Pass that grants access to public spaces.
Vaccinated citizens from 40 countries could be admitted to Israel as early as November 1. The list of countries will be made up largely, but not exclusively, of those in the European Union. The list is composed of countries with whom Israel has reciprocal agreements in the exchange of medical information based on digitized vaccination records, which allow Israeli officials to easily access state-issued vaccination certificates.
The process will be more complicated for countries that don’t have a national digitized system, like the United States. Individual American tourists will be required to fill out an online form through the Health Ministry website and receive individual approval – not unlike the way in which vaccinated first-degree relatives of Israeli citizens have been granted entry over the course of the pandemic.
At some point, agreements may be made with individual U.S. states that have digital “green passport” programs in place. Officials have specified New York and California as states that may receive early approval.
An additional sticking point is a fact that millions of potential visitors who were double-vaccinated more than six months ago have not had the opportunity to receive a third booster shot – including those with close ties to Israel – and would not be permitted to enter without observing a quarantine period.
A final issue to hammer out is whether tourists can travel between Israel and the West Bank, where, according to estimates, only a quarter of the local Palestinian population has been fully vaccinated.
Moed believes arrangements will be made for Christian visitors, permitting them to complete a full Holy Land tour. “Figuring out something that will keep people safe is feasible; I don’t think Bethlehem is off the table,” she said, referring to the West Bank city that features on many Christian tours.
Over the past month, highly restricted groups of vaccinated tourists have been permitted into Israel as part of a pilot program. The proviso is that they must remain in “capsules” – traveling, dining, and visiting sites as a group, without mingling with locals.
The barring of most foreigners since the beginning of the pandemic has devastated the Israeli tourism industry, particularly hoteliers, hampered other business growth, and caused heartache among the many foreign-born immigrants in Israel for whom family visits are still generally impossible.
Once these issues are hammered out, “and Americans can travel and enter here without any type of isolation,” Moed predicts that “we will see a significant interest in travel. But if we want people to realize their dream of coming to Israel for the Christian holiday, we shouldn’t wait till the last minute,” she said.