Despite Warning, Israeli Tour Group Set to Leave for North Korea

A man watches file footage of a North Korean ballistic missile at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

YERUSHALAYIM - Despite a government-issued travel warning, an Israeli tour operator plans to continue bringing groups to North Korea.

“People are old enough to decide whether or not they are prepared to handle the political tension involved,” Chaim Peres of the Tarbuto travel agency told Channel Ten. “The statement issued by the Foreign Ministry was not a warning against travel due to the possibility of terror attacks, as in the warning it issued on travel to Sinai, but a note of caution that travelers needed to be aware of.”

Tarbuto was selected in February by the North Korean government to arrange for tours to the country. The operator will be empowered to issue visas to Israeli citizens who wish to visit North Korea, subject to the approval of the Pyongyang government. The agency has organized its first group, which is set to leave for North Korea in the coming days.

North Korea is the ultimate destination for well-traveled Israelis, Peres said. “North Korea is one of the most fascinating destinations in the world today. It is a country almost completely closed off to the rest of the world and cut off even from its neighbors… full of mystery.” Israelis have been able to enter the country only via visas issued in China; but as a result of this agreement, the North Korean government tourist agency, KISTC, will approve visas issued directly to Israelis. There are no direct flights, however, and all travel to and from the country will be via China.

In its warning, the Foreign Ministry stressed that travelers needed to be aware of the “increase in tensions in the region,” as rhetoric between the United States and North Korea heats up. While individual travelers are free to do as they like, they should be aware that Israel has no relations with North Korea — and in the event of a problem, Israelis should not expect any help from their government.

Peres is not concerned; North Korea is a safe destination, and in fact it appears as such on the Foreign Ministry’s maps. “North Korea has one of the lowest levels of personal crime in the world, and tourists there feel very safe,” he said. “Israelis who have been there in recent weeks have reported that the tension is not felt by them, and that the government is ensuring their safety. The vast majority of North Koreans are going about their daily business, partly because they are unaware of the ‘tension,’ as they generally do not have access to online news or outside broadcasts.”