Violence and the prospect of an untimely death, it seems, are all around us.
Turn on the television news and you’ll hear about an attempted car ramming or a stabbing attack. Tune in to the radio and you’ll hear about a man clobbered with a motorcycle helmet in a road rage incident. Open up the newspaper and you’ll read about extortion and “protection” rings operating in the South.
Not to mention horrific reports of car accidents, polio outbreaks, and salmonella in Sabra hummus. It’s enough to make you shout out the title of that 1961 musical: “Stop the world – I want to get off.”
Surrounded by a drumbeat of negative news in this country, a recent survey on the least and most safe travel destinations around the world, by a US insurance comparison website called The Swiftest may come as a jaw-dropping surprise.
According to this study, Israel is the fifth safest among the 50 countries in the world most widely visited by tourists. No, you didn’t read that wrong. The fifth safest, not the fifth most unsafe country to visit.
And here you thought that all those studies and surveys that consistently place Israel among the top 10 happiest countries in the world were counterintuitive? If we kvetch so much, one might ask, how can we be happy? Yet study after study, year after year, shows that we are; that in terms of happiness, we are right up there with New Zealand and a bevy of Northern European countries that are the happiest in the world. Who would have thought?
And now this – Israel is the fifth safest travel destination for tourists.
Turns out that the question that many first-time visitors to Israel are asked by friends and relatives when they reveal their plans to visit – “Are you sure it’s safe?” – is misplaced. Not only is it safe, but it is very safe; safer, in fact, than visiting the US (ranked 30), Canada (21), Australia (18), France (15) and the United Kingdom (10).
True, presumptive national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir may have done so well in the last elections because he ran on a law-and-order ticket that resonated among a population feeling increasingly insecure and unsafe. But according to The Swiftest study, Israel – at least in comparison with other countries – is safer than most.
The study – based on data culled from reports put out by numerous organizations such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, Our World in Data and the WorldRiskReport – came up with a “travel safety index” based on several per capita criteria: the number of homicide deaths, road traffic deaths, unintentional poisoning deaths, death from poor hygiene conditions, life years lost due to communicable disease, life years lost due to injury and a country’s likelihood to be hit by a natural disaster. Death or injury as a result of acts of terror, it is assumed, falls under either the homicide or life years lost to injury categories.
Israel’s overall safety index was -60.22, giving it a grade of A. Only Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Singapore were considered safer, with the last two countries earning an A+ grade.
Singapore, the study says, is “the least deadly country for tourists. With a very low homicide rate, road death rate and natural disaster risk, Singapore is an excellent choice for travelers regarding safety. What makes Singapore so safe? Well, crime does not pay in Singapore. The consequences for committing crimes in Singapore are incredibly high, even for ‘smaller crimes.’ This, combined with high surveillance and police presence, makes Singapore the world’s safest country for travel.”
And the least safe countries to visit? South Africa – by a wide margin, mainly because of its homicide rate of 36.4 murdered for every 100,000 people. According to the report, about 68 people are murdered every day in this country of 60 million.
India followed South Africa as the second deadliest destination for tourists – not because of homicide, but rather because of deaths caused by poor hygiene conditions (18.6 per 100,000), years lost to communicable diseases, and the risk of natural disasters.
The United States is ranked 20th on this list, earning an overall safety grade of C-, primarily because of a high homicide rate (5 for every 100,000 people) and the high risk of natural disasters.
In the homicide category, Israel received a B grade, with 1.5 murders for every 100,000 people. The only other B it received was regarding natural disasters and the country’s ability to deal with them, where it received a B+ score.
In all the other categories, Israel received an A. For instance, its incidence of road accident deaths (3.9 people per 100,000) is low compared to other parts of the world: 30.6 in Vietnam, 12.7 in the US, 9.4 in Poland, and 8.3 in Greece.
Israel has no instances of unintentional poisoning and a negligible number of deaths caused by poor hygiene conditions. Likewise, the number of years lost to communicable diseases and years lost to injury for various reasons – from poorly maintained hiking paths to interpersonal violence and traffic accidents – is also low compared to most other countries in the survey.
And there’s the rub. We feel things are awful in terms of crime, violence and car accidents because we are exposed to it hour after hour in the media. What we are not exposed to are the incidences of crime, violence and car accidents in other countries around the globe. If we would be, we might feel better about how things are here.
If things are so good, goes an age-old question, why do I feel so bad? In the case of overall safety, the reason is that we are not comparing our situation here with that in most other countries. When we do, our situation doesn’t look as bad as it so often feels.