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Update on Jerusalem Safety

Dear Friends,

We would like to update you about the current situation in Jerusalem. We understand that some of your travelers may have concerns regarding travel to Jerusalem due to reports that have been published by the media.

group in Jerusalem at Mt of Olives

Jerusalem is a safe tourist destination, and people are going about their business as usual. Entrance to all Holy Sites and attractions is facilitated, and no restrictions apply.

imagine Tours & Travel is in constant contact with our Israel office partners and professional guides, as well as other contacts we have on the ground to have the latest news and details of what’s happening throughout Israel. We are also in constant contact with our groups to make sure that all is well, and we hear that they are having a marvelous time and feel completely safe throughout their tours. Our guides and bus drivers are receiving regular updates from relevant security authorities, advising them of any possible locations to avoid. At present, tourists are visiting all sites listed in their programs.

imagine Tours & Travel’s primary concern is the safety of our passengers, and you may rest assured that we are doing our utmost to make sure that all runs smoothly while touring the Holy Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem. We would be happy to address any further questions or concerns you may have.

Best regards,

Rick Ricart


imagine Tours & Travel

Is Israel Safe for Tourists?

The following article is part of the original posted by John Nicholson on the huffingtonpost.com.  

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Israel is located smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest political hotspots. But it does take a few to keep this tiny country along the eastern Mediterranean safe and secure, and that seems to be why Israel is bouncing back big time in 2015.

Israel is no doubt one of the planet’s top bucket list destinations for travelers from all over the world. As a hub of three of the world’s major religions and being cradle-of-civilization-adjacent, the modern state of Israel literally sits on top of thousands of years of incredibly dense history. At the same time, it is also a diverse, vibrant, trendy, and modern country with great night life that would be a top tourist destination even without its ancient biblical roots.

In the past, semi-frequent wars and skirmishes with its neighbors have kept many would-be tourists at bay, and as recently as last summer a short conflict with the Hamas-led government in Gaza on its southwestern border ensured a recent flood of sensational news headlines in the States and Europe that left Israel’s tourism industry decimated.

But unbeknownst to many, over the past 15 years Israel has implemented a series of both low-tech and high-tech solutions that have amazingly rendered the vast majority of the country perfectly safe and secure even during the occasional flare-ups around its borders.

In 2002, following another round of suicide bombings intentionally targeting Israeli civilians, the government built a physical wall around nearly its entire border with the West Bank. The combination of enormous concrete slabs along some of the more urban stretches with highly sophisticated “smart fences” (which can detect cutting, climbing, jumping, and even stray animals) along the more rural parts of the border almost immediately helped bring about a 98% decline in terrorism in the country by the following year.

Similarly, Israel’s state-of-the-art Iron Dome missile defense system detects and shoots down any rockets that are now fired into the country from the militants who embed themselves in civilian neighborhoods in the neighboring Gaza Strip. While these rockets usually don’t go any farther than the desert area surrounding that border, ones that find their way farther into the country are met with not one but two Iron Dome intercept missiles as backup. Israel is even now nearing completion of a much more advanced system to intercept and destroy longer range guided missiles, such as the kind that more militarized countries like Iran would have access to.

While we in the United States have only had marginal success developing our own missile defense systems dating back to the days of the Star Wars initiatives under President Reagan, Israel has implemented a system of both tight border and air security that allows Israelis to now go about their daily lives under a blanket of relative calm, stability, and security. For tourists to Israel, this means that visiting the country and even traveling around within it is completely safe, despite the occasional incident or flare up that makes the news back home.

Last September, just two months after the brief conflict on its border with the Gaza Strip, a friend visited Israel for a week of vacation just to see what the situation was like on the ground. As predicted, hotels were empty, ancient and holy sites that are usually bustling were quiet, and tour guides were out of work and twiddling their thumbs on their couches. My friend said he felt like he had the whole country to himself at times, and indeed he was posting no shortage of fabulous selfies of himself alone at the King David Hotel’s pool and walking around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall, and the Mount of Olives without anyone else in sight.

There’s no doubt that the political situation in the region remains tense and there are some very serious and consequential issues of territory, citizenship, and governance of the Palestinian people that must be settled before a true blanket of peace will fall on this part of the Middle East. But even while the political processes, dialogues, negotiations, and yes even occasional fights and skirmishes continue, the reality on the ground within Israel proper is that the country is certainly a secure and safe destination for international tourists to visit.

Byzantine Churches Continue to be Discovered

by  Dr. John DeLancey

Most people from the United States think “old” in relation to US history means something like 200+ years.  We freely talk about dates associated with our country, like 1776 and the Civil War in the 1860s, and we say things like, “Wow, way back in the early days of our country, things were different then…”   For sure, something 250 years old is indeed “old” but not as “old” as things that are found in Israel.

“Old” is such a relative concept, because when things like when Byzantine churches are found that date back 1,550 years ago, some in Israel simply yawn and say, “Are you kidding me?  That’s not ‘old’ in comparison to something found from the Old Testament days.”  And they are perfectly correct.  “Old” is simply a relative concept.

Byzantine churches and sturctures

Byzantine structures -living quarters. Photo: Assaf Peretz/ Israel Antiquities Authority


With this being said, the new discovery of this Byzantine Church just west of Jerusalem is indeed a remarkable find. While at times I find myself “yawning” at such a find (because there are so many other Byzantine ruins all over Israel), archaeologists here have done a wonderful job in uncovering impressive structures dating to the 4-5th century AD.  Almost more impressive is that this Byzantine church was discovered as a result of widening the main road.  This is how it works anywhere in Israel: In the course of road construction, if any archaeological ruins are accidentally revealed, the construction stops immediately, and a team of archaeologists are called in to analyze the finds. These digs are commonly called “rescue digs.”  This church was found at Abu Gosh right off the exit of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, Highway 1.

According to the initial report of this recent discovery, a number of structures, including a church, was unearthed. As stated,  “The church measures about 16 meters (about 52.5 feet) in length, and includes a side chapel measuring 6.5 meters (over 21 feet) long and 3.5 meters (about 11.5 feet) wide, as well as a white mosaic floor. A baptismal font (baptisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover, symbolizing the cross, was identified in the chapel’s northeast corner. In addition, fragments of red-colored plaster was found scattered throughout the building, indicating that the church had been decorated with frescoes.”  Rooms for living quarters and for storage. One of the rooms still contained a large quantity of pottery tiles.

According to Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times. Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Gosh.”

To read more about Byzantine churches and this discovery, click HERE.

What’s a Wadi?

by  Dr. John DeLancey

Israel’s geography is incredibly unique.  In this relatively small country (about the size of New Jersey), Israel has about a dozen different regions, all of which are different from the other.  These regions are characterized by either mountains, hills, passes, and valley.  Yet some of these regions (e.g. the Negev and the Judean Wilderness) have river beds called wadis. 

Wadi is an Arabic word that describes, generally speaking, a dry river bed.  The Hebrew word for the same phenomena is nahal.  The word occurs in the Bible 11 times (according to the translation. See Numbers 21:12Numbers 34:5Joshua 15:4,Joshua 15:471 Kings 8:65, 2 Kings 24:7, 2 Chronicles 7:8, Job 6:15, Isaiah 27:12, Ezekiel 47:19, and Ezekiel 48:28)  While other neighboring Middle Eastern countries also have wadis, these river beds can occasionally be filled with water, even though most wadis are located in arid or even desert regions.  When wadis rage with water, they can be quite dangerous.

Some of the most “known” wadis in Israel are the Wadi Qelt (between Jerusalem and Jericho), Wadi Engedi (along the Dead Sea), Wadi Kidron (also along the Dead Sea. The Kidron actually begins in Jerusalem and flows eastward), and Wadi Zin (located in the Negev).

Here is a dramatic video of a “flash flood” wadi flowing suddenly with runoff rain water. It is quite incredible!



Jerusalem Events Raise Safety Concerns

Dear Friends, we understand that many tourists these days have concerns when traveling to the Middle East (Israel, Jordan & Egypt), as they’re not as  familiar with this part of the world. With the recent events that took place yesterday at the synagogue in Jerusalem, we understand that concerns are heightened by these events. We don’t want to make light of what happened by any means. It was a horrific terrorist act targeting Jewish believers in a place of worship.

At this time, we have quite a few church pilgrimage groups presently in Jerusalem.  I have personally been in contact with our partners in Israel, as well as with our guides. I’ve conversed with four of the pastors just today, and their groups are having an amazing trip. They didn’t even know about the events until they watched it on television or their guide shared it with them. Each pastor today said that they felt completely safe and not in harm’s way at any time. group in Jerusalem Jerusalem is a large city comprised of over 800,000 occupants. When you add tourists, the population well exceeds 1 million people which is comparable to the population of Indianapolis, IN or Austin, TX. The population of Jerusalem & Bethlehem combined is close to that of Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. The guides receive text messages throughout the day from the local authorities, police, etc. advising them of any places to avoid. At the present time groups are visiting all the sights as listed in their brochures, including but not limited to: the Mt. of Olives, the Western Wall, the Old City, Bethlehem, and the Via Dolorosa. Some of our groups have even been able to visit the Temple Mount this week. Even though this has been in the news, it’s actually open for normal hours of operation, and all standard tourist sights are open for visits at this time. Again, we cannot make light of the situation.  However, we also need to keep in perspective that Jerusalem is still considered one of the safest cities in the world.  Tourists are not the target of terrorism.

This is not to say that something unforeseen cannot happen, but one has a much greater chance of an accident or death driving to the airport, than they do visiting Israel, Jordan, or even Egypt for that matter. We understand travelers have concerns and fears. But we also ask that each person choose for themselves what they feel they need to do in any circumstance.  Will there be more incidents in the future? Absolutely. We’re dealing with Israel, which has been in turmoil since the beginning of time. I have learned one thing in this business over the past 20+ years: we are more concerned for our groups’ safety in Israel when everything has been calm for a long time period. Then we know something is usually brewing. However when there are tensions, this is the safest time to visit Israel because security is on high alert. Very similar to the heightened precautions in America each year as we approach September 11th, we all take precautions, because we live in a world of uncertainty. But we also serve a God who is in control and still on the throne; this is where our trust lies.

Best regards, Rick Ricart, President

Tune Out Cable News & Turn Away Fear

by Rick Steves on www.LaCrosseTribune.com

I miss the days when people would say “Bon voyage” to travelers heading off. Today, Americans instead say “Travel safely.”

I travel a lot. In the last year or so I’ve been to Egypt, the West Bank, Israel, Turkey and Russia. My loved ones worry out loud: “Rick, do you think this is safe?” I always assure them, “As long as I’m not traveling through Chicago, I think I’ll be OK.”

After traveling and lecturing across the United States in recent months, it strikes me that our nation has never been so racked with fear. The paramount concern is “national security”: the fear that apocalyptic forces outside America’s borders — the Islamic State, Ebola, immigrants from Latin America — will creep in and overwhelm us.

But the more I travel, the clearer it seems to me: Fear is for people who don’t get out much. These people don’t see the world firsthand, so their opinions end up being shaped by sensationalist media coverage geared toward selling ads. Sadly, fear-mongering politicians desperate for your vote pile on too.

Commercial television news is hammering “the land of the brave” with scare tactics as never before. I believe the motivation is not to make us safer. It’s to boost ratings to keep advertisers satisfied and turn a profit.

When Walter Cronkite closed the evening news by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” I believe that, to the best of journalists’ knowledge, that really was the way it was. In those days, television networks were willing to lose money on their evening news time slot to bring us the news. It was seen as their patriotic duty as good corporate citizens.

But times have changed, and now corporations have a legal responsibility to maximize short-term profits for their shareholders. They’ve started sexing up, spicing up and bloodying up the news to boost ratings. And 24/7 news channels have to amp up the shrillness to make recycled news exciting enough to watch.

In a sense, news has become entertainment masquerading as news. Now an event is not news, it’s a “crisis.” Today it’s Islamic State militants and Ebola. Last month, the greatest threat to civilization was apparently the National Football League turning a blind eye to domestic violence. Or was it racist cops? Or child immigrants at the Mexican border? Of course, these are serious issues. But hyping a news story as a “crisis” and lurching erratically from one to the next serves only to stir people up. Mix in negative political ads, and it can feel as if the world is falling apart.

The unhappy consequence: We end up being afraid of things we shouldn’t be — and ignoring things that actually do threaten our society, such as climate change and the growing gap between rich and poor.

It seems that the most fearful people in our country are those who don’t travel and are metaphorically barricaded in America. If we all stayed home and built more walls and fewer bridges between us and the rest of the world, eventually we would have something to actually be fearful of.

I’ve found that one partial solution is a simple one: travel.

The flip side of fear is understanding. And we gain understanding through travel. As you travel, you realize that we’re just 300 million Americans in a much wider pool of 7 billion people. It’s good for our national security to travel, to engage with the other 96 percent of humanity and gain empathy for people beyond our borders.

Don’t let fear-mongering politicians and ratings-crazed news channels shape the way you see our world. Get out there and experience it for yourself. Bon voyage.

Rick Steves writes travel guidebooks and hosts the public television series “Rick Steves’ Europe.” The new edition of his book “Travel as a Political Act” is out this month.

Greetings from Our President in Israel

Dear Friends, I’ve been in Israel the last few days checking in on many of our groups presently in Israel, and I will be off to Ben Gurion Airport in a few hours to welcome another five groups arriving today. You may be hearing in the news that there is tension in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. The fact is there is always something happening in Israel, and when everything is calm and peaceful is when we are most concerned. I’ve enclosed a few pictures for you to share, if you desire, with your travelers and prospective travelers for your future trips. I’ve spent time all over Jerusalem, east & west in the Old City, on the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and throughout. In spite of the media, groups are continuing with their travel plans. There are MANY groups here in Israel, and it’s safe. How safe I’m often asked? Safer than you driving to the airport from your home town. When we put safety into perspective with the states, you realize how safe Israel is, and the number one concern is the safety of all tourists.

I write to share a word of encouragement to show you the attached photos as brief reminder that Israel is safe and groups are continuing with their travel plans. If I didn’t believe it was safe, I wouldn’t be here myself traveling around the country. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and all its people.

Rick Ricart

President & CEO

 October 2014 group in Jerusalem Oct group on Mt of Olives

Standing on Mt. of Beatitudes During Christian Tour

One of our groups currently in Israel on a Christian tour enjoyed standing on the Mt. of Beatitudes with the Sea of Galilee behind them. If you’d like to be able to share in this same experience, check out a scheduled Christian tour to the Holy Land.  Whether you’re interested in a 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14-Day tour, you will be able to find what you’re looking for. Some of our trips include Jordan, others offer a Jordan extension, and then even others focus only on Israel. The choice is yours. A Christian tour will allow you to read the Bible like never before, as the places you’ve always read about come to life. You might visit sites like Caesarea, Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Cana, Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, the Jordan River, Tel Dan, Beit Shean, Jerusalem, Qumran, Ein Gedi, Masada or many more. If you are a pastor, consider going on one of our exclusive clergy familiarization tours to experience this life-changing opportunity prior to leading a group of your own.Group on Mt. of Beatitudes

Department of Homeland Security Issues New Guidelines for West African Travelers

Beginning today, all West African travelers coming to the United States from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea are required to travel through the five airports that are equipped for Ebola screening. 

The statement, issued by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson yesterday reads:

“Today, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s ongoing response to prevent the spread of Ebola to the United States, we are announcing travel restrictions in the form of additional screening and protective measures at our ports of entry for travelers from the three West African Ebola-affected countries. These new measures will go into effect tomorrow.”

To read more about this new set of guidelines, click here.