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Could tourists be allowed back to Israel as early as next month?

New report says Israel may welcome visitors in mid-April – but only those vaccinated

Illustrative - Tourists visit the Mount of Olives overlooking towards the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, April 15, 2016. (Photo: Corinna Kern/Flash90)

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said tourists may be allowed into Israel beginning as early as mid-April, but only if they’ve been vaccinated, according to a local media report.

“We are working on the issue; I hope that we can start around mid-April,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Farkash-Hacohen said she is working on a plan with the Health Ministry to allow international visitors once again, and soon.

Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel has been closed to tourists for an entire year, wreaking havoc on the tourism industry. Borders were closed in March 2020 and have not reopened for tourism. Some foreigners have received exceptions for official visits throughout the year, such as diplomatic groups and athletes. Some other non-citizens are allowed into the country in very limited circumstances and with permission from a special governmental committee.

Otherwise, even Israelis have been hard pressed to leave the country – and even get back in – this entire year with two major airport closures and severe restrictions on travel worldwide.

Israel has vaccinated more than 5 million citizens against COVID-19 already (at least one of two doses) and that – coupled with recovered coronavirus cases and children under 16 – amounts to about 90% of the eligible population, far outpacing the rest of the world.

Israel has also imposed a “green passport” system on its own citizens which bans the unvaccinated from certain venues, including hotels and indoor dining at restaurants – and has even resulted in loss of employment for some people who haven’t been vaccinated.

In December, before the vaccination campaign in Israel kicked into warp speed, Farkash-Hacohen noted that Christian tourists had accounted for nearly half of Israel’s incoming tourism in recent years.

“I am certain that when the skies open we will once again see groups of believers and Christian families from around the world return to the churches of Jerusalem and Nazareth, baptize in the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee, and tour the Judean Desert, Megiddo, and the entire country,” she said.

The year 2019 was a record year for tourism and in 2020 Israel was expecting to welcome some 5 million visitors.

But in a recent article, ALL ISRAEL NEWS spoke with experts in Israel’s tourism industry to get their thoughts on when the borders would reopen. And most of the people we spoke with believe that proof of vaccination would be a requirement to getting in.

There is still no finalized plan from the government, but Marnix Van Ede, director of partnerships at Keshet Journeys, presumes that tourists will need vaccines or proof they recovered from the virus as well as a negative COVID-19 test, both before departure and upon arrival.

Uri Steinberg, a consultant and tourism expert who also serves on the ALL ISRAEL NEWS advisory board, concurs. He said for at least this year, there is “going to be a lot of trouble with the fact that a lot of Christians are not going to be vaccinated.”

“That will be a huge issue for them and a big barrier in order to get to Israel,” he said. “If we look at the trend in Israel, they’re pretty much going to ban those (citizens) who did not vaccinate from taking flights. So I do not see why we should think that things will be different when it comes to incoming tourists.”

Uri Avrouskine, the general manager of Sar-El Tours and Conferences – one of the largest tour operators in the country for incoming Christian groups – believes Israel will see tour groups in the Holy Land this fall. And he was hopeful when we spoke earlier this month, that a negative coronavirus test would suffice.

No matter what the final plan will be, Avrouskine said he believes that tourism would resume “sooner than people anticipate.”

“Maybe even in June and onwards, and Christian groups from September onwards,” he said.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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