On Saturday, violence erupted across Israel and Gaza in one of the worst conflicts the region has seen in decades, according to The New York Times. After Hamas militants began launching thousands of rockets and infiltrating Israeli towns early Saturday morning, the conflict has continued to escalate, with Israel’s military responding with massive air strikes. The violence has left thousands dead, according to CNN. Thousands more are injured on both sides.
At least 14 Americans have been killed in the violence, President Biden said in a speech on Tuesday, with more being held hostage by militants in Gaza. More than 10 British citizens are feared dead amid the conflict, while Thailand reported at least 18 nationals killed and 11 taken hostage, and France said at least eight of its citizens perished or have been taken hostage.
As the conflict wears on, air travel options available to tourists looking to evacuate Israel have been severely disrupted. Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, but flights have been greatly reduced and are not easy to book. Many major airlines have canceled or suspended flights into Israel, and any that are still operating are subject to last-minute changes or cancellations. Now a growing number of countries are organizing special evacuation flights for their citizens.
Tour companies and travel specialists have been assisting tourists with evacuations. “We had a few groups in the country, some we took to the airport and they were able to get on a flight out,” says Jonathan Rose, a travel advisor with Touring Israel. “The others we delivered to our partners across the Jordanian border and worked with them to secure them flights out of Amman.”
Here's what travelers should know about the conflict's impact on travel, and how to help victims of the violence.
Airlines are canceling regular flights, but ramping up evacuation efforts
Flight operations into and out of Israel remain dynamic, with changes happening by the hour.
On Saturday, the FAA issued an alert to American pilots to “use caution” when flying in Israeli airspace. The largest US airlines—including United, American, and Delta—have all suspended regular flights to Israel for at least several days. Delta is stopping its flights to Israel until at least October 31. Turkish Airlines, Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa Group have also suspended regular flights to and from Israel.
Numerous airlines, however, are still operating. Israel’s carriers, Arkia and El Al are still flying many routes, and are adding emergency flights to help those stranded—and other international airlines are operating a handful of routes.
A spokesperson for the US State Department told CNN on Tuesday that the agency has "been in conversation with various carriers to encourage them to consider resuming travel in and out of Israel," according to a report. "The airport is still open. There are flights that are getting out of the airport in Tel Aviv. And so we encourage people to try to avail themselves of those options," the spokesperson said.
Some countries, including Portugal and Spain, have been arranging special evacuation flights transiting through Cyprus, according to Reuters. Germany’s Foreign Office announced on Tuesday it would evacuate German citizens on special flights operated by Lufthansa on Thursday and Friday, CNN reported, and Air France will operate a special repatriation flight to Paris for its “most vulnerable” citizens on Thursday, according to CNN.
Those looking to evacuate could also consider doing so over land. “I think getting across the border to Jordan is the best option,” says Rose. “There are three border crossings—one in the north, one in the center, and one in the south—so wherever [travelers] are they should get to the closest crossing. Flights out of Israel are a bit hard to come by.”
The US State Department says that travelers can check on the status of border crossing points in a security alert on its website. “The situation in Israel remains dynamic; mortar and rocket fire may take place without warning,” says the most recent State Department update. "Individuals should follow the instructions of security and emergency response officials.” Travelers can also track the availability of outgoing flights on a special flight board page, too. (Be sure to verify flight schedules and ticket availability with the individual airline.)
If you are in Israel, it’s a good idea to register your presence with your home government. US citizens and their families can get in touch with the State Department through its online crisis form and register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for security updates; UK citizens can register their presence with the government and sign up to receive updates through a similar online form.
What to do if you have a future trip planned
For trips in the coming days or weeks, the safest thing to do is to postpone travel. The UK’s Foreign Office “continues to advise against travel to parts of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to advise against all but essential travel to all other parts.”
The US State Department has instituted a nightly curfew for its embassy personnel, from 8pm to 6am, has encouraged them to stay close to home, and prohibited them from traveling to the West Bank. “US citizens should take this into consideration when planning their own activities,” the agency advises.
Airlines have issued travel waivers on routes to Israel, allowing travelers to either push their flights to a later date at no charge or cancel for a full refund, depending on the carrier. “We are advising people traveling in the next few weeks to postpone to November or a future date,” says Susan Weissberg, a travel specialist at Wyllys Professional Travel. “This will change. Each day we’ll continue to monitor the situation as it’s very fluid.”
Travel advisors agree that postponing—not canceling—is currently the best plan of action. “Now is not the time to visit Israel,” says Rose. “Delaying, instead of canceling, is one way to show your support following these tragic events.”
Weissberg hopes the conflict won’t deter travelers in the future: “Do not give up on visiting Israel,” she says. “It is the most fascinating country in the world, no matter what your religion is, and this too shall pass.”
How to help
The following organizations have been calling for peace and are offering aid to victims on both sides of the conflict.
In order to protect innocent civilians, the International Red Cross is calling for an end to the violence between Hamas and Israel. “The violence directed against civilians is appalling and cannot be justified,” says a statement from the group. “If the situation continues to escalate, then civilians on both sides will suffer immensely.” The organization “responds quickly and efficiently to help people affected by armed conflict,” and collects donations online.
Magen David Adom is Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance, and blood bank service. It is officially recognized by the international Committee of the Red Cross as the national aid society of the State of Israel under the Geneva Conventions, and a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. You can support its efforts here.
The IRC focuses on offering on-the-ground support to regions in crisis. “We are dismayed by the dramatic escalation of violence and mourn the extensive loss of civilian life in Israel and Gaza today,” said an IRC statement released on Saturday. “We are focused on the humanitarian needs of civilians in the coming days.” You can support the IRC on its donation page.
This American charity has a special arm dedicated to supporting survivors in the wake of tragedy. They are accepting donations to help with their mission of providing immediate assistance to victims in Israel, as well as follow-ups for long-term recovery and rehabilitation.
UNRWA has mobilized in Gaza to provide relief to the hundreds of thousands of civilian Palestine refugees. The organization is asking for donations to support its work “providing Palestine refugee families with shelter, emergency health care, remote psychosocial support and psychological first aid.”
A coalition of over 170 organizations, which is made up of tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) goals include “building people-to-people cooperation, coexistence, equality, shared society, mutual understanding, and peace among their communities.” The organization is accepting donations and has called for “the immediate protection of civilian life, for urgent steps to be taken to de-escalate this situation, and for all actors to prevent this situation from spiraling toward even further tragedy.”
Run by the former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, the Carter Center works to resolve conflicts and advance human rights around the world. The not-for-profit “strongly condemns the targeting of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and calls for genuine dialogue as well as international collective action to halt hostilities in the region.” The organization accepts support on its donation page.