Four months into the war between Israel and Hamas, it might seem at first glance that everything here is more or less back to normal. People are out and about, restaurants are packed, shops are busy and, tfu tfu, schools are back in operation.

But beyond this façade of normality is an Israel completely different than the one before the deadly attacks on October 7.

While tourism was more or less wiped out in the last three months of 2023, after the war broke out – just 180,000 people visited the country, compared to an expected 900,000 according to Ministry of Tourism statistics – it is beginning to revive, often in the shape of solidarity missions, volunteering tourism and faith based groups.

In January, nearly 60,000 tourists arrived in Israel and, with the return of international airlines, the ministry expects this trend to continue, especially if there is a reduction in the intensity of fighting.

With this in mind, we thought to share with you some things you’re likely to encounter when you get here, as well as a couple of suggestions for navigating our beautiful war-torn country.

And, of course, we’d like to extend a warm, warm welcome.

1. Nobody is okay, even if they look it

At first glance, people look just great. They’re at work, enjoying time with their family, sunning themselves at the beach or lounging around in a café. But odds are, they aren’t okay.

There’s a really high chance that they’ve lost someone they know since war broke out, either in the terror attacks on October 7 or in the subsequent fighting. They might be evacuees, displaced from their homes in the north and south. They likely have someone they love doing military service right now – whether a partner, child, parent, nephew or best friend – and haven’t slept a full night for worrying for the past months. Or they might be one of the “lucky” ones, to whom none of the above applies, but who are experiencing anxiety, fear and sadness like never before.

2. People are much nicer, but more impatient

As a result of the above, people here are behaving a bit differently. Generally speaking, we’re trying to make more of an effort with one another, whether in conversation, in our awful driving or on social media. But because of everyone’s drained emotional resources, patience is elusive, sensitivity is way too high and nerves are frayed. Be gentle with us; we apologize for being snappy.

3. You can still party, or enjoy a wedding

In the first few weeks after the war broke out, it felt like everything stopped. People stayed at home; schools, workplaces and entertainment venues were shuttered; and evenings were spent morbidly watching the news on TV. But as time passed, things opened back up again, and events like raves, parties, hikes and weddings once again became part of our daily lives.

It’s still not quite the same, but Israelis know how to live in the moment, and they know the importance of celebrating life even in, or particularly in, times of hardship. This is their resilience. So go out and join them, and party like they do.

Life goes on, and we should celebrate it.

4. Despite the war, restaurants are fully booked

Israelis celebrating New Year's Eve at a pub in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90
Israelis celebrating New Year’s Eve at a pub in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Similarly, if you thought that Israel’s biggest war in decades meant that you’d be able to snag a table at an otherwise booked-till-the-end-of-the-year restaurant or bar, you’d be terribly wrong. After a few weeks of emptiness, people are back in full force and parting with their cash more quickly than ever. Living each day like it’s our last, and so on.

In fact, places are even harder to book than usual because they are often not working in full capacity because of staffing issues stemming from their workers’ military service, bringing another whole wartime angle to the table.

We’d also take this opportunity to urge you to tip your servers more generously than usual. Who knows, there’s a good chance that you’re being served by a recently returned hero of Israel.

5. There are more guns than usual on the streets

An armed woman on active military duty in a civilian setting in Ra’anana, central Israel. Photo by Nicky Blackburn
An armed woman on military reserve duty visits the mall with a friend in Ra’anana, central Israel. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

One of the things visitors to Israel always find strange is the amount of visible weapons on the street. In a country with mandatory military service, a lot of people walk around with a rifle slung across their backs. And with so many reserve soldiers now in operation, that number has exponentially grown. It’s no longer just guys of a certain age carrying weapons, but much older ones, too, as well as female soldiers.

Furthermore, the October 7 attacks have left us feeling deeply unsafe, meaning that many have applied for a gun license and are now walking around armed. Whether that concept disturbs you or brings you comfort, it’s become a common sight that we all need to get used to.

6. Whole parts of the country are blocked off

Remember that great kayaking trip you took up north? Or that great little guesthouse in Israel’s south? They, and countless other places, are simply blocked off. And by blocked off, we mean closed military zones, which is super strange once you realize that we’re talking about whole villages, towns, nature reserves and usually perfectly normal places. It’s certainly much stranger for the hundreds of thousands of people who have had to evacuate their still-standing, perfect-condition homes and live out of hotel rooms for the last few months for fear that Hamas or Hezbollah will bomb them, but this is in fact the case. Make sure to stay updated about where you can and cannot go, and compose a destination wish list for your next visit here.

7. Know where to go in case of a rocket attack

Photo by Kai Pilger via Shutterstock.com
Photo by Kai Pilger via Shutterstock.com

At the moment, rocket attacks are fewer than they were at the beginning of the war. But that can change. Wherever you go, make sure you know where to go in case of an air-raid siren. In your hotel, that would mean safe rooms or bomb shelters; in eateries it might mean a more internal room; on the bus you’d need to go down below window level; and on the beach you’ll have to lie flat on your stomach and cover your head with your arms.

Make sure to follow safety regulations, even if that means running to the shelter in a towel with shampoo in your hair. In fact, that would make a true Tel Avivian of you.

8. Join thousands of others and volunteer

Volunteers from the Eran's Angels pack donations of necessities for Israeli evacuees and soldiers, in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90
Volunteers from the Eran’s Angels pack donations of necessities for Israeli evacuees and soldiers, in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

In the first week or so of the war, Israel more or less existed on volunteering. People volunteering for army service; people volunteering to drive, feed and outfit them; people flying in from abroad for emergency response work; and the list goes on and on. Since then, the volunteering spirit has remained high. Whether helping farmers pick their crops, cooking for families in need or transporting Shabbat meals to elderly people, we’ve got a whole list or options and recommendations below.

9. Expect plenty of checkpoints and security

IDF soldiers guard a temporary checkpoint on a road in near the border with Lebanon, January 6, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90
IDF soldiers guard a temporary checkpoint on a road in near the border with Lebanon, January 6, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90

The trauma of the deadly October 7 attacks on whole communities will never leave us, and it has led to an added layer of security around towns and villages, as well as in many points in cities. Prepare to see ad-hoc roadblocks, police cars and volunteers flagging down cars and checking them out. Be patient and friendly to these people standing out there in all kinds of weather so we can sleep more safely in our beds.

10. We’re really, really happy that you’re here

10 things to expect when visiting Israel during the war
Ben-Gurion International Airport. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90

Alongside the war raging right here, we in Israel are deeply upset at what’s been happening across the world these last few months. The ugly anti-Semitism that has reared its head, the anti-Israel vitriol emanating from social media and the ease with which violence toward Jews is excused, even justified.

Feeling more alone than ever before, we are absolutely thrilled that you’ve made the decision to come here in our hour of need. We thank you for your love and support and hope to celebrate together once more in happier times.

Originally Posted at israel21c.org