When I decided to move to Israel the most frequent question, asked overtly or discretely, was "Is it safe?" The undertone was always that Israel is not and I may be a bit crazy for going. This post will examine how safe Israel is using the USA as the default comparison. There are so many ways to measure safety. Feeling safe is much different than actually being safe. What it means to be safe is not clear. However, there are some basic metrics we will explore here.
The first thing that comes to mind is homicide. The following graph comes from the world bank. The USA is, at all times, at least twice as dangerous than Israel for homicides.
Other measures of danger
There are other metrics to consider. Some are (in rate per 100,000):
- Rape: IL - 17.6, USA - 27.3. USA is 55% more dangerous.
- Murder: IL - 20.47, USA - 42.1. USA is 106% more dangerous.
- Robberies: IL - 36.3, USA - 146.4. USA is 303% more dangerous.
I guess the USA wins?!? I did lots of internet scraping and these numbers seem around the average.
Tel Aviv is very safe compared to other US cities
The murder rate per 100,000 people for Tel Aviv in 2012 was approximately 4.5. In comparison, the US's most populous city, New York, has a 2012 murder rate of 5.1. The highest murder rate in the US is in Detroit, whose 54.6 rating makes it more than 11 times more dangerous than Tel Aviv. Milwaukee's homicide rate is 15.2, over 3 times as dangerous as Tel Aviv. If we add Tel Aviv to the rankings of the 74 cities with populations over 250,000 in the USA, it would rank 58th. This puts it in the bottom 22% for danger, or, among the highest 22% for safety. I suspect, however, when people ask me if Israel is safe, they really mean..
Terrorism in Israel and the Palestinian Conflict (In Charts)
The elephant in the room in Israel is the Palestinian conflict. Always and at all times. It pervades every aspect of life here. What may surprise many people in the US is the diversity of opinion Israeli's hold. On this topic there is a splintered spectrum of opinions in Israel. For example, the Hand of Miriam, which is also known as the Hand of Fatima in Islamic societies, is worn by some in Israel as a symbol of the similarities of origins and traditions of the two societies. From American TV the impression is given the Israeli people are homogeneous in their ideology. This is not the case. But what should be done? What also may surprise people in the US is the actual situation here. Really, what is there to worry about in your day-to-day life? For example, since 2006 there has been exactly 1 fatality from terrorism in Tel Aviv. Along with the numbers above it is not hard to make the case
Tel Aviv is safer than the 35 most populated cities in the USA.
The following graph looks at the number of injuries and fatalities from terrorism, as defined by the Global Terrorism Database. The chart adds some historical markers for context. Interestingly, the number of incidents has risen dramatically over the last few years as a ratio of injuries and fatalities. Looking at the ratio of (injuries + deaths) to # of incidents we have what I call an "Impact Ratio" of human pain. It is a measure of efficiency of attacks in a given year. This chart is a little deceiving. In the 1970's a lot of the violence was conducted by state actors such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, etc. The later drop in efficiency is due to the frequency of rocket attacks from Gaza that cause little to no damage. Another way to look at the data is geographically. The map to the right (click on it to enlarge) plots the density of terror attacks as an aggregate. Using Python and it's beautiful graphing packages Matplotlib and MPL I was able to overlay a scatter plot on this map of Israel. Jerusalem was so overwhelmingly packed with data I had to scale the density. Using a linear mapping I moved the data to a 0 - 10 scale. For each city I summed the number of incidents, regardless of if there was a casualty or not, and made this value the density. As expected, the density clusters around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Tel Aviv has been relatively untouched since the end of the second intafada. Before this there were lots of incidents. As one can see Israel is, as the numbers go, much safer than the "average" US city. So why is everyone so scared? And what have the past 67 years done to the people that live here? Who, exactly, is responsible for these attacks? In the data set I have used we can look at the top organizations responsible for terrorist attacks. "Unknown" holds the top stop but Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) is third with 186 attacks. Hamas are the elected leaders of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The Peace Process and the Future
The following two charts are from google trends and present interest in two search strings, "Arab-Israeli conflict" and "Peace Process."
It seems like world interest has waned in recent years. There was an uptick last year during Operation: Protective Edge but trends point toward apathy. As an American, the image like the one on the left feels strange. Whenever you board a bus or enter a mall there are armed soldiers surveying who and what is going on. Every entrance to Tel Aviv university is gated. You must be inspected and show identification in order to enter the grounds. The sense of physical freedom Americans have does not exist here. The safety that Israeli's have found and maintain seems to necessitate a degree of a police state. The Israeli's are used to it and when asked there is a shrug of the shoulders and a sense of 'this is the way it is.' What is particularly interesting is that Israel seems ready for an economic boom. Tel Aviv has been famously coined "start-up nation" and "Silicon Wadi." The rate of construction here is breathtaking. All the big boys are here; Apple, Amazon, Intel, IBM, and on. I have found myself wondering what would happen if there was peace. Most people here are talented, kind, driven and open to new ideas. It is very exciting and I am ready to be part of it. So, no, I am not scared. And yes, it is safe. Safer than the US. But there's this elephant in the room. And it won't go away.