Israel (Hebrew: מדינת ישראל Medinat Yisra-el; Arabic دولَة إِسرائيل Dawlat Isrā'īl) is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a small window on the Red Sea at the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba). Israel is bordered by Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest, by Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and by Syria and Lebanon to the north. It shares borders to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea with the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli de-facto rule since 1967. In addition to the majority Palestinian Arab populations living in these regions, the Israeli Government has built many Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as in the annexed Golan Heights.
Although Israel was established specifically for the Jewish people, following the Second World War, Israel is considered part of the Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories). The three major monotheistic religions -Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all have historical ties to the region. Israel thus contains a vibrant modern history and culture, based in part on the diverse, immigrant origins of its inhabitants returning from the Jewish Diaspora. These aspects make Israel a fascinating destination for many travelers and pilgrims. As a result of this vast mix of culture, in addition to the official languages of Hebrew and Arabic, Russian and Yiddish are also spoken by a significant minority of Israelis. English in many ways acts as second language. Within Israel's recognized pre-1967 borders, about 80% of Israelis identify themselves as Jewish, the remainder classify themselves as either as Arab and or Palestinian, Bedouin or Druze.
Israel is a highly urbanized and economically developed society and is therefore best divided for the traveler into its main cities and towns, followed by the regions and other sites.
While the State of Israel is a relatively new country founded in 1948, the Land of Israel has a long and often very complex history stretching back thousands of years to the very beginnings of human civilization. It has been invaded by virtually every empire worth its salt including the Persians, Romans, Ottomans and British. It is also the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem is also a sacred city for Muslims.
Israel has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with Neanderthal remains from the region dating back 50,000 years. Its strategic location serving as the gateway from Asia to Egypt and Africa had made Israel an ideal target for conquerors through the ages. The first nation to have influence was the great Egyptian civilization. Approximately 1000 B.C, an independent Judean Kingdom was set up under King Saul. After intermittent civil war, the land was conquered by the Assyrians and Persians and in ~330 BC by Alexander the Great. A newly independent Jewish state ruled by the Maccabees was conquered in 63 BC by the Romans. Around 30 AD, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry in the Galilee.
Following a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 AD, the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, creating a substantial Jewish diaspora throughout the world. However, many Jews did remain in the Land of Israel outside Jerusalem for a few centuries, although perseuction gradually eroded at whatever Jewish population was left in their homeland. The area was captured by Muslim invaders in the 7th Century. In the middle ages, European Christians invaded in a period known as the Crusades and established a small kingdom, but after a few centuries were expelled. The land was then ruled for many years by different Muslim empires, culminating in the Ottoman Empire.
During WWI, Palestine, as it was known, was captured by the British. The British agreed to support the idea of European Jews returning to their ancestral homeland. During the 1920s and 1930s there was mass migration of Jews into Palestine, many of them European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic riots which would eventually lead to the Holocaust. By 1939 the population of Palestine was one-third Jewish (by comparison, in 1917 the population was only 10% Jewish).
The Jewish nationalist movement was strengthened significantly because of the events of World War II. Many major powers, including the Americans, endorsed Jewish independence in Palestine as the only way to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. The British were more hesitant, however, as they worried about a possible Arab revolt. The Jewish nationalists, emboldened by support from the Americans and the French, grew impatient with the British delay in granting independence and started several armed uprisings of their own against British rule.
After two years of growing violence, in the fall of 1947 the British decided to withdraw their troops from the area. The UN recommended that the territory of Palestine be partitioned into two states: A Jewish state, and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs firmly rejected it. Nonetheless, half a year later, on May 14, 1948, Jewish nationalists declared independence as the State of Israel. The Arabs responded with a military invasion. The Israelis won a decisive victory. Over the course of the war, approximately 600,000 Arabs in Palestine fled from the territory of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. To this day, it is hotly debated whether Israel forcibly expelled these people or they moved out on their own.
Further fighting continued over the next few decades, and in 1967 the Israelis won another decisive victory against the Arabs. Following this victory, a slow movement towards peace and reconciliation began. In 1979, peace was concluded between Israel and Egypt, and in 1994, a similar peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Both agreements have held to this day. Attempts to create similar treaties with Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian-Arabs have failed, and in 2000 violence resurfaced when Palestinian-Arabs launched a violent insurrection against Israel. By 2007, Israel had crushed this revolt. With the exception of the Gaza area which has seen continued violence, most of the country is now at peace, although deep tensions remain.
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles are the leading exports. For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government's foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR during the period 1989-99 coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began moderating in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Growth was a strong 6.4% in 2000. But the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly the declines in the high-technology and tourist sectors, and fiscal austerity measures in the face of growing inflation have led to declines in GDP in 2001 and 2002. However, in 2007 the economic growth was 5.3% and the inflation was only 0.4%. In the first six months of 2008 tourism has grown with 45%.
The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews - who make up 77% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan) - and non-Jews (mostly Israeli-Arabs), who make up nearly all of the rest. As well, some 350,000 people who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jews according to halacha (Jewish law) though they largely identify with the Israeli mainstream. In terms of religious backgrounds, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian Arabs and 2% are Druze (a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam). While equality is theoretically guaranteed, in practice there are many restrictions on the Arab population, both legal and 'de facto' (difficulty in obtaining building permits, increased security checks, lack of freedom of movement, etc).
There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the ethnic division between the 'Ashkenazim', who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the 'Sephardim' and 'Mizrahim', who immigrated from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa (Sephardi and Mizrahi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim.) In recent years, the divide between these ethnic groups has, however, grown much less acute and intermarriage has become common.
While ethnic divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between 'secular' and 'Orthodox' Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox 'haredim', only 15% (2008 est.) of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics, to 50% who are 'modern orthodox' and finally 45% who consider themselves secular, although still adhere to some traditions. While secular Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.
Israel's time is + 2 hrs from GMT so when it's 6PM (GMT), 1PM (EST), it's 8PM in Israel. Daylight saving time (Summer time) begins on the last Friday before April 2nd, and ends on Saturday between the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
Public Holidays in Israel follow the Jewish calendar and as such vary from year to year although tend to fall within the same few-week period. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. The public transportation, for example, tends to completely stop its activity in many holidays. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins with the appearance of three stars in the sky, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the afternoon hours a day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won't see big changes in the levels of activity.
Official national holidays are bolded.
Israel possesses a number of diverse regions, with landscapes varying between coast, mountain, valley and desert landscapes, with just about everything in between. Beyond the towns and cities, each region of Israel holds its own unique attractions. The metropolitan areas of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv form very much their own regions; from north to south, however, Israel's regions are as follows:
As these disputed territories are remarkably different from a traveler's point of view, information on travel to and within them can be found under the entries Golan Heights and Palestinian Territories. This is not a political endorsement of claims by any side in the dispute over the sovereignty of these territories.
See also: Israeli National Parks
Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen block passports containing stamps or visas from Israel. If you intend to visit any of these nations, ask immigration to stamp a blank page, rather than your passport, when entering. Note that those countries will also search for Jordanian/Egyptian exit stamps from land borders with Israel and will likewise prohibit your entry if they find one.
Citizens from most European and North American countries as well as Argentina, Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Russia do not need a visa prior to arrival . Note that German citizens born before January 1, 1928, do have to apply for a visa in advance. This visa will be given if you were not heavily involved in events during the Nazi era and will be valid for the whole time your passport is valid. Further note that in some Arab states it constitutes a crime for their citizens to enter Israel at all. Even if you're an Arab-born citizen of a European or North American country having entered Israel may have consequences when returning to your country of birth.
Pay attention to the fact that many Arab and Islamic countries deny entry to any person that has been to Israel. If arriving by air or by sea and wishing to go to Arab states with the same passport, try asking the Israeli immigration officer to put their stamp onto a separate piece of paper. Depending on the current situation, they are often willing to do this. Then you're safe not to be denied entry by the Arab states named above. However, this may not be enough if you've entered Israel by land: in the most paranoid countries (notably Syria and Lebanon), your passport will be scrutinized not only for Israeli stamps, but also neighboring countries' stamps from Israeli land border crossings like Taba (Egypt) and Arava/Aqaba (Jordan). They will also check for luggage stickers (or their residue) which are stuck to the back of passports at Israeli border crossings. In this case, you'll have to apply for a second passport, which allows you to have an Israeli stamp in one passport and travel to the Arab states with another one. Inquire at your own embassy.
Israeli immigration may take a dim view of travelers arriving from Arab countries, but you are unlikely to face anything worse than very time-consuming, and repetitive, but polite questioning. Depending on the situation, if you have stamps from other Arab countries in your passport, you should expect to be taken to one side (without any explanation) and eventually questioned. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours. The key thing to remember is this: if you have nothing to hide, then, other than the inconvenience of questioning, you should have nothing to be worried about. If you are a young backpacker, especially if you travel alone, it is much more likely you will be detained for questioning in Tel Aviv airport. There is a "selection committee" of 2 security guards waiting when you go up the escalators from your flight, and if you seem suspicious they will not hesitate to stop you. If you dress up nicely, seem a part of another group or a family they are less likely to bother you.
If you're in Israel on a tourist visa (B2) and decide to renew your visa for a longer term, you may do so at the Ministry of the Interior Visa office . In Tel Aviv, it's located on the 2nd floor at 125 Derech Menachem Begin. That office is open from 8AM - 12PM from Sunday through Wednesday. Alternately, citizens from most European and North American countries can renew their visas by crossing into Jordan and back at the Arava border crossing near Eilat or by crossing into Egypt and back at Taba.
Israel's main international airport is Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport (code IATA:TLV, ICAO: LLBG) which is located approximately 40km from Jerusalem and 12 km from central Tel Aviv, and serves both cities. Ben Gurion acts as a hub for Israel's three main international airlines, El Al Israel's largest airline and flag carrier offering flights across the globe, Arkia Israel Airlines , Israel's largest domestic airline who also serve a number of European destinations, and Israir who also serve many European destinations as well as New York City. Around 50 international airlines fly to Ben Gurion airport from around the world, including Delta, Continental, US Airways, Turkish Airlines, Malev Hungarian Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Iberia, LOT, Olympic Airways, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Transaero, Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air (vai Air Sinai), Ethiopean Airlines, Korean Air, Cyprus Airways, Air Canada, AeroSvit, Tandem Aero, Swiss, CSA, JAT and more.
You can also fly in to Ben Gurion International via low cost airlines from London (Luton) and Geneva on Easyjet and from Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf or Munich (direct) and many other European cities on Air Berlin or Germanwings .
Israel's second international airport (used mostly by charter carriers) is located at Ovda , and serves the south of Israel, predominantly, Eilat (code: VDA)
Note that security measures above and beyond what you might encounter in most countries are taken for flights both to and from Israel - these, of course, are undertaken for your and other passengers safety and security. Arriving at the terminal at least three hours before your flight is well advised, as Israeli security procedures can be time-consuming. Bag inspection, both by machine and hand, is routine and should be expected, in addition to repeated interviews about your time in Israel. Keep your cool in what can be a frustrating time - it really is done with the best intentions, if not always the most elegant execution. Having the telephone number of friends or colleagues you may have spent time with in Israel, and who can vouch for you, always helps the process. If travelling as part of a group, they will usually question you separately before cross checking your accounts.
From the airport to Jerusalem, take bus line 947 (7:00-21:00, every 20 minutes, 20 NIS). To Tel-Aviv and the rest of the country, take the direct Tel-Aviv train (3:53-23:23, every half an hour during day, every hour during night, 14 NIS). From Tel-Aviv to other destinations, continue by train or bus. Note that neither train nor bus service is available on Shabbat (Friday afternoon to Saturday sunset). Taxi service is also available, though not particularly cheap. A better option is a shared taxi, or sherut - these are available outside the airport terminal.
Please note that the boxed advice about not allowing Israeli customs officials to stamp your passport can be a problem, too. In November 2008 three travelers, following the Wiki advice, asked their Israeli customs officer to stamp a separate sheet of paper, which she did. Shortly thereafter, another airport official collected the loose sheets without realizing what they were and tore them up as part of a routine passage through the airport. The travelers ended up with no verification that they had entered Israel legally. This caused problems throughout the rest of their visit to Israel. When they checked with a U.S. Consular employee, he advised them that, unless they intended to travel to Syria or Iran, there was no reason at all to ask for the Israeli custom stamp to be placed on a separate sheet of paper from their passport. Travel to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, a few North African countries, and many Gulf States (Oman, UAE, Qatar, etc) will not be possible with an Israeli stamp -- you will be refused at their border.
It's surprisingly difficult to travel to Israel by boat. The main route is from Limassol in Cyprus to Haifa, and the main operators are Louis Cruises and Salamis Cruises . As the name says, these are cruise services and they do not advertise one-way fares, but they may be willing to carry you for around €150-170 if you're persistent and they have space -- showing up at the port office on the day of departure may work. Both companies seem to start and stop cruises on short notice, so enquire locally.
If you manage to hitch a lift on a freighter, Israel's major sea ports are Haifa and Ashdod. Private yachts use the marinas at Herzliya (north of Tel-Aviv), Ashkelon (South of Ashdod), Haifa and Tel Aviv.
There are land routes from both Egypt and Jordan to Israel. There are no land routes to either Syria or Lebanon owing to the continuing state of hostilities with these countries. The border crossings have security measures similar to the airports.
Jordan has three crossings with Israel: the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge (the shortest way between Amman and Jerusalem, the busiest crossing); the Jordan River (in the north); and Arava\Yitshak Rabin (2 km from Eilat). If you ask the immigration officers (Jordanian and Israeli) politely they will usually stamp a separate piece of paper. It's fairly straightforward to cross using a series of buses. If you cross the King Hussein Bridge you will not be given an exit stamp for Jordan, and you will not be stamped on re-entry if you choose to return. If you request your Israeli stamp on a separate piece of paper, and have that paper stamped on the way out, you will have entered Israel with absolutely no evidence on your passport. Be advised, however, that requesting no permanent stamp in your passport is a "red flag" for the immigration staff, and you may be detained at the border and questioned, sometimes at length. Mentioning West Bank destinations in your itinerary will also arouse suspicion - it is just best to avoid mentioning Palestine at all while passing the border.
From Egypt you can cross the border at the Taba Border Terminal, near Eilat. From the terminal to Eilat, take bus number 15, or a taxi. The terminal is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the exception of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice.
Israeli rental cars are not generally permitted across the borders for insurance reasons; in addition, it may not be advisable to travel in Arab countries while displaying an Israeli number plate.
Daily direct buses are available from Amman to Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth, via the King Hussein bridge. Call the operator (+972-4-6573984) for details.
To get from Cairo to Israel by bus, or vice-versa, take a look at the From Cairo to Jerusalem by bus article.
If you have more money to spend, there are buses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (US$95-110 one way)to Cairo, operated by Matzada tours (Tel 972-2-6235777) and Aviv tours (Tel 972-36041811). You still have to change buses at the border.
(Note: Use Matzada tours at your own risk! They subcontract the Egyptian side of the Journey and do little to nothing to help if there is any mix up. Our Matazada group from Tel Aviv/Jerusalem was held at the Taba Border - Egyptian side for 7 hours due to the fact that the Israeli company failed to pay the Egyptian company)
In getting around Israel, be aware of the Sabbath: from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, train and bus services are not available in Israel (except in Haifa and Eilat, and limited sherut services - shared taxis, see below). Unless you have a car, or are willing to pay for a taxi (not shared), if you're day tripping on a Friday, you should start thinking about how to get back by noon at the latest, and you should plan on staying near your lodgings on Saturday.
Also note that both youth and students usually get discounts at buses and trains. Showing a valid student ID will usually entitle you for 10% discount for one-way long-distance travel, while for short distance bus travel those below the age of 18 can usually get half-priced Kartysia - a punch-card valid for 20 rides. Each bus driver has a hole-puncher which makes a unique shape on the card. Both the card and (when given) a receipt must be kept until the end of the ride as there are random checks by bus officials.
Public transport is used heavily by soldiers traveling to/from their bases, so a bus or train packed full of soldiers (some armed) is a common occasion and does not indicate any special occurrence. One can expect higher crowding on Thursday evening and Friday morning (due to weekend leave) and very high crowding on Sunday mornings until about 10:00 (due to soldiers returning to their bases).
Main Article: Bus travel in Israel
Buses are the most common form of public transportation for Israelis and travelers alike. They are cheap, fast and reliable. The only problem tourists will face is that it is very difficult to plan your journey through Israel by bus; a problem the main article Bus travel in Israel aims to solve. The extensive national bus system is run by a public corporation called Egged (pronounced "Eg-ged"), the second-largest bus network in the world. Additionally, a bus company called Dan operates mainly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and other major cities such as Be'er Sheva, check their web site for details. Egged, and Dan have English-speaking representatives with nation wide numbers phone numbers. Some other companies are active as well.
Faster than normal buses are minivans, known as monit sherut or "service taxi", that generally follow major bus routes but can be hailed from anywhere on the route (not just official bus stops). They are usually somewhat cheaper and somewhat quicker than buses, their operations hours may be longer - and maybe most importantly, in many cases the sherut runs 7 days a week, including on Shabbat.
For inter-city lines, if a driver is at a station he may wait until he has a full load of passengers before leaving. Ben Gurion Airport has a rule that drivers are supposed to leave one hour after getting their first passenger, but that rule seems to be left mostly ignored. The upshot of this is that unless you're with a group, or the Sherut already has a load of passengers, you might be in for a wait before you leave. Look for an almost full Sherut!
One of the best advances in transport in Israel in recent years has been the modernization of the train system, now set for major expansion as part of the country's efforts to combat global warming, gridlock, and smog. Israel Railways currently runs intercity lines from Nahariya to Beer Sheva via Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport (note that not all trains travel the whole route), and suburban lines radiating from Tel Aviv to Binyamina, Ashkelon, Kfar Sava, Rishon LeZion, Modiin and Bet Shemesh. There are also lines between Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem, and between Beer Sheva and Dimona.
Tel Aviv has 4 train stations, and Haifa has as many as 6, providing easy access to many parts of those cities.
Trains run 2-3 times per hour in peak travel times and at least once an hour at off peak hours. Trains on the Nahariya-Haifa-Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion Airport line run through the night too. Note, however, that after midnight trains stop in Haifa at the Hof Hacarmel station only, and in Tel Aviv at Merkaz (Central). All other Tel Aviv and Haifa stations close after midnight. One must also remember that trains operate only on weekdays (there are no trains from Friday afternoon till Saturday evening). In fact, the trains stop several hours earlier on Friday than buses do.
A high-speed train line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem via Ben Gurion airport is now under construction (as of November 2007, the line is open as far as Modi'in, and service to Ben Gurion airport is fully operational). For now, the only train to Jerusalem via Beit Shemesh is very slow, and it ends in the out-of-the-way Jerusalem Malcha station. It's Israel's most scenic rail ride, though, and the area it traverses is sometimes called "Little Switzerland". In winter, after a rare heavy snowstorm, Jerusalem may get cut off for a up to a day from the rest of the country by road, making the train the only possible connection between the capital and other parts of Israel. The scenic line to Jerusalem was built by the Ottoman Turks and dates back to 1892. Because of the long travel time and inconvenient location of the Jerusalem Malcha station, the line is not widely used. During holiday periods these trains can get crowded, though.
Work is also underway on a line that will connect Tel Aviv to its southern suburbs - Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon LeZion - and will continue via Yavne to Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Train fares are generally more expensive then equivalent bus fares (especially for the line from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva, with a train fare almost double that of the bus fare). In exchange, you can generally expect a much higher level of comfort, speed, and safety.
Taxis are very common in Israel. To differentiate from a shared taxi (sherut), a regular Israel taxi is sometimes called special (using the English word). The driver should use the meter both inside and outside cities (in Hebrew, moneh), unless the passenger agrees to prefix a price (however agreeing to go off the meter is almost universally in the driver's favor). There are surcharges; for calling a taxi (3.50 NIS as of June 2006), for luggage (2.90 a piece) and for hailing a taxi at Ben Gurion airport (5 NIS). Drivers are known to try to cheat tourists by not turning on the meter to begin with and then fighting about the cost at the end of the ride. It is best to specify that you absolutely require the 'moneh' to be activated before you leave unless you know how much the trip should cost, in which case you can make a deal. However, if you are caught off guard some drivers will become extremely rude or even violent if you refuse to pay despite the meter never having been switched on. It is best to try to avoid this common situation but it is better to avoid any conflict with the driver by paying and learning rather than saving your money and risking an unpredictable escalation.
It is recommended to use taxi service to get from Ben Gurion airport to almost any city in Israel. There are many companies offering taxi transportation from the airport and a good starting point to find a taxi ride would be to visit the Ben Gurion Airport's taxi guidelines page or booking a taxi from a private taxi company such as Israel Taxi and many others who offer shuttle service from and to Ben Gurion airport.
Israel is known to be one of the easiest places to hitchhike in the world. Most major junctions have a shelter and are well lit throughout the night. This is a great way to meet and interact with the locals. A sign can help (put a blank piece of paper inside a plastic sleeve, and with a dry-erase marker you have a reusable hitchhiking sign). When hitchhiking, instead of a thumb, you extend your hand, with 1 or 2 fingers extended, pointing at the road. For short rides, the 1 or 2 fingers should point to the ground. Drivers staying in the area may point downwards while passing, indicating that they wouldn't make a good long-haul ride.
Generally speaking, hitchhiking in urban areas is less popular than in other parts of Israel. It is more accepted in rural areas, particularly sparsely populated areas like the Golan Heights that have little bus service.
Tourists should note that the British Foreign Office considers it unsafe to hitch-hike in Israel, like most countries in Europe and the Middle East. This advice applies specifically to tourists and is not a comment on the safety of hitch-hiking for locals and is not specific to Israel.
Local West Bank settlers rely heavily on hitchhiking for transportation. Almost every car will stop and suggest a lift if you stand in any settlement's gate as most of them are defended by IDF soldiers. Nevertheless, It is only safe to hitchhike between Jewish settlements/cities, or a few well known and well defended junctions; any other way is considered especially dangerous - in the past Israeli hitchhikers have been kidnapped and murdered by Arabs while waiting for a ride. Hitching through the West Bank is easy and enjoyable - local Palestinians are happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not a settler.
Israel has a modern highway network, connecting all destinations throughout the country. Most roads are well maintained. In recent years, increased investment into infrastructure has further improved the condition of roads. Most roads are numbered according to orientation and significance. In general, east-west roads are given odd numbers, and north-south roads are given even numbers. The most significant national highways are numbered using one or two digits, while the least significant local roads are numbered using four digits. Exceptions to these rules do exist. Road signs are abundant but often confusing. When getting directions, it's best to ask for the name of an exit as well the exit right before it.
Traffic in Israel drives on the right. Traffic signs and regulations are generally standard and resemble those of Western Europe. Usually, each traffic light has an arrow on top, and the traffic light then controls travel to the indicated direction, with a green light guaranteeing that all conflicting traffic faces a red light. Lights without arrows above them control all directions. Red light always means stop. Turning right or left at a red light is strictly forbidden. There is no turning left or right while yielding to opposite traffic, since conflicting traffic always faces a red light, even in the absence of arrows (however, this is not always the case with pedestrians, particularly when turning right). As in several other countries, the green phase is preceded by a red+yellow combination phase. A flashing green light indicates that the yellow light is about to appear, but can usually be found only on roads with speed limits of at least 60 km/h.
White road markings are used to separate both traffic traveling in the same direction and in opposite directions. Yellow lines are used to mark the outer edges of the road (do not cross these, except if stopping at a shoulder), and orange or red lines are used in road works zones or following a recent change in road signs. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are very common; one gives way to cars already in the circle. There are no all-way stop signs like the ones the USA, Canada, and South Africa. All stop signs require drivers to yield to all conflicting traffic after coming to a complete stop. Highway signage is usually in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, although sometimes just in Hebrew and English.
Headlights must be turned on (even during the day) on intercity highways from November to March. Motorcyclists have to have their headlights on in all months of the year. Seat belts must be worn at all times in all seats. Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free system is forbidden. If one must exit the vehicle on the shoulder of a highway, there is a law requiring that one put on a reflective vest in order to promote visibility. one is also required by law to keep such a vest within the car, and not in the trunk, at all times. Car rental companies are required to supply such a vest and it is usually located inside the glove compartment.
Parking regulations are indicated by curb markings. Red and white markings mean parking is prohibited. Do not stop near curbs marked red and yellow, because these are usually reserved for certain vehicles, such as buses at bus stops. Blue and white markings permit parking only with a parking permit purchased at a machine. Red and grey areas are reserved for residents, but might only be reserved at specific times when a sign appears at the beginning of the street. Grey areas are free to park at. And of course, do not park in handicapped zones bearing international markings.
Israel uses the metric system of measurements. Default speed limits are 50 km/h in residential zones, 80 km/h on intercity roads without a physical separation median between opposing lanes, and 90 km/h on intercity roads with a physical separation median. By default, all major freeways (identified by the standard blue European motorway sign) have a speed limit of 110 km/h; however, in practice, speed limit signs bearing a lower limit (usually 90 km/h or 100 km/h) limit the speed on these roads. Currently, only one freeway, toll highway #6 (Cross-Israel Highway) actually allows 110 km/h in most sections.
Police presence on the roads is generally very significant, and speed and red light cameras are common. Both radar (mostly stationary) and LIDAR (laser, hand-held) are in use for speeding enforcement.
Police vehicles in active duty may have their blue lights on for the duration of their trip. Unlike many countries (such as the US) - In Israel this is not a sign that they want to pull you over. If they do, they would either turn on their siren or use a loudspeaker to instruct you to stop on the shoulder. A verbal request, although usually made in Hebrew, will usually include the make of the car. It is advisable to comply.
Israel's Highway 6 is a electronic-toll-highway, unique in having no toll booths. Traveling cars are identified by license plates and/or electronic tags, and bills are sent to the car's registered owner.
The cost is determined by the length of the drive (Number of segments). Various subscriptions are available. Consult your rental company regarding payment of route 6 rides, as they often carry a surcharge.
All drivers in Israel must carry a driver's license. International driver permits, as well as licenses from foreign countries are accepted. Drivers of motor vehicles must be at least 17 years old, whilst insurance is mandatory. Driving a motorcycle or a moped is permitted starting at the age of 16, A drivers license is mandatory for two wheel vehicles as well! All cars in Israel must undergo an annual safety inspection, and a sticker bearing the month and year of the next inspection should appear on the front windshield. Recently, there has been a law passed that require for every car to carry a yellow reflective vest at all times. Theoretically, the police could stop you at any time and ask to see it. If you stop on the edge of the road, and have to get out, you are are required by law to wear the vest. All rental cars should have one so it is a good idea to check before you leave. Note that in Israel the police are allowed to stop you for any reason whatsoever; mostly they do so for license checkups.
Car accident fatalities in Israel are par with most European countries and less than half that of the US. However, Israeli drivers are known to be aggressive and impatient. Take this into consideration if you decide to drive in Israel, and use caution - be prepared for other drivers not to yield when they normally should and not to respect your right of way, especially if you show hesitation. Be especially cautious on two-lane intercity roads, especially when passing other vehicles. While most major highways have a physical separation median, many lower-traffic intercity roads do not. Also be particularly cautious when driving in the Negev desert, since most roads in that region have only two lanes carrying fast-moving traffic, and trips tend to last hours in the heat. Take care while traveling on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as roads tend to be emptier and invite faster, and occasionally more reckless, drivers. Also take care in the winter, when it rains and roads are unusually slick. The first rainy days in fall are particularly dangerous, since the oil/grease and other substances that accumulated on the road all summer is dissolved.
Most major international car rental companies; Hertz, Avis, Budget and Sixt, as well as many Israeli ones including, Eldan (Israel's largest car rental company), Traffic and Tamir, a car rental service that delivers and picks up your rental car.
Note that you will be charged VAT for your car rental if you do not produce a visa (for example, if you entered via Allenby and avoided the stamps, although the paper will do). Also, the Israeli government requires expensive insurance on rental cars that can cost up to $20 per day.
If your interest in touring Israel goes beyond the 2 dozen or so famous tourist sites, than consider a private/rental vehicle and a professional tour guide. The tour guide will run about $200/day, plus the vehicle rental. They can take you to more than 1,500 other sites missed by the package tours or aimless personal touring.
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel. Hebrew is most commonly spoken. 20% of the population are Israeli-Arabs who speak Arabic as well.
Because Israel was a British colony, and also because the United States is now Israel's closest ally, English is the most popular foreign language. Israelis study English in school from an early age, and it is commonly understood in Israel. Nearly anyone you meet on the street will be able to communicate with you in English. All street and road signs (and many others) have English names, as well as the Hebrew and Arabic names.
Massive immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s brought a large number of immigrants who speak Russian. Other commonly encountered languages in Israel, reflecting the diverse origins of Israelis, include Romanian, French, German, Polish and River Plate Spanish. Some of the older members of the population and some of the ultra-orthodox population speak Yiddish, an Eastern-European Germanic Jewish language. Foreign workers from China, Philippines, Thailand, and other Asian countries can be seen everywhere in central Israel. You can hear a mix of a dozen languages while on buses, trains or walking in transportation hubs, especially in Tel Aviv central bus station.
While speaking Hebrew Slang, words of Arabic origin are commonly used. For example: "Walla?" (Is that so?), "Yalla!" (Come on, let’s move!), "Sababa" (great), "Akhla" (good), "Sachbak" (friend), and many more. Street talk is also much affected by the military language, which is second nature to many Israelis.
See also: Hebrew phrasebook, Arabic phrasebook
A large number of major attractions in Israel are located some distance from large towns and cities:
The Israeli currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). Colloquially, it is called a shekel (plural: shkalim) or sha-ch. Each shekel is divided into 100 agorot. The common symbols for the shekel are ש״ח or ₪.
The following banknotes are in circulation: NIS 20 (green), NIS 50 (violet), NIS 100 (brown), NIS 200 (red). Newer NIS 20 notes are made of polypropylene and are almost impossible to break or tear. Paying with large notes for small charges is frowned upon.
Coins in use: 10 Agorot (copper), 1/2 Shekel (copper), 1 New Shekel (nickel), 2 New Shkalim (nickel), 5 New Shkalim (nickel), 10 New Shkalim (bi-metallic; copper core, nickel rim).
ATMs are available everywhere. Credit cards of all kinds are widely accepted. Note that the showing of the Visa logo by an ATM does not especially mean it takes all types of Visa cards, at the moment the ones with Chip-and-Pin technology seem to be only accepted by Bank Leumi ATMs.
You can get VAT refunds when leaving the country, though be prepared to queue at the airport. Additionally, VAT refunds are only available for individual receipts in excess of 400 shekels. Eilat is a VAT-free city for citizens as well as for foreigners, but being a resort city it is often more expensive to begin with.
US Dollars are accepted in some tourist locations, particularly Jerusalem, at a rough exchange rate of 4 NIS to the dollar. If you are asked for dollars or euros outright, you are most likely being ripped off.
Living and travelling costs in Israel are almost on a par with Western Europe, North America and Australasia, making it by far the most 'expensive' country in the Middle East region outside the Gulf area.
Small food kiosks (pitzukhiot) offer various snacks such as freshly roasted peanuts, sunflower, and melon seeds, soft drinks, cigarettes and candy. Take note that currently (June 2009) the price of a soft drink can is between 5 and 8 shekels and a 0.5L bottle is generally one shekel more expensive than a can. Prices in tourist areas in big cities, especially tourist cities like Eilat can be up to 20 shekels per 0.5L bottle, however often a small walk will reveal the more local places that will sell you 6 1.5L bottles for as cheap as 32 shekels. In fact, it is possible to buy a 6 pack of 2 liter "Ein Gedi" bottles for a preset price of 12 shekels.
Fast food wise, a shawarma in lafa should cost roughly 24-30 shekels (drink not included), while a regular meal at a burger chain (McDonald's, Burger King and the local Burger Ranch) will set you back at least 35 shekels -- and there is no such thing as a "free refill" anywhere in the country.
Restaurants generally are in a high standard of taste and style, a first course averages 15-25 shekels, a main dish about 40-60 (good meat can go from 60-100) and the desserts are usually 25-35 shekels. Soft drinks are somewhat costly and usually go for 10-12 shekels for an average sized glass without refills.
Restaurants - Tip 5%-15%. 10% is the average. 15% is considered a generous tip.
Hotel staff - No tipping.
Tour guides - No tipping.
Bartenders - Tip 5%-15%. 10% is the average. 15% is considered a generous tip.
Hair - No tipping.
Moving - No tipping.
Food delivery - Tip 5 shekels.
Groceries delivery - No tipping.
Other deliveries - No tipping.
Handymen - No tipping.
Taxi drivers - No tipping.
The business days are Sunday through Friday in Jewish towns, allowing for observance of the Sabbath ("Shabbat") from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. On Friday, many shops will close at about 14:30-15:00 to allow ample time return home before sundown. Many shops, especially in malls, will re-open on Saturday evening, at about 19:00 in winter, and 20:30 in summer. Some shops, especially outside city limits or in tourist areas, as well as 24-hour convenience stores, remain open on Saturdays. In Arab towns, shops are generally open 7 days a week.
Shops in malls and on major shopping streets are generally open from 9:30 to 21:00 daily. Banks and post offices, as well as some smaller shops, stick to traditional business hours of 8:30-19:00, with a lunch break from about 13:00 to 16:00, so do check.
Markets usually open and close early.
Bargaining in Israel is prevalent. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for foreigners to figure out when bargaining is expected and appropriate. A general guideline: Sales agents, high prices, or no displayed prices -- bargain. Anything that looks established or corporate -- don't.
Bargaining in bazaars and rural markets is common yet subtle. Vigorous bargaining which is common in developing countries will likely get you nowhere and is improper. If you are giving a fair price, don't bargain for sport -- it is frowned upon.
Bargaining in shops with sales agents is expected (for example, in an electric appliance store). Sticker prices are exaggerated for the purpose of bargaining. It is best to compare offers and figure out the true market price before purchasing.
Bargaining is improper in small mom and pop shops that sell low-cost items.
Bargaining with independent service providers (technicians, plumbers, movers, handymen) is common. It is not with non-independent service providers (hired employees).
In shops with displayed prices where you are not dealing with a sales agent bargaining is improper and will get you looks of bewilderment. This includes corporate shops (e.g. McDonald's, Starbucks), most stores in malls (without sales agents), and pretty much all businesses a tourist interacts with (with the exception of travel agents): accommodation, transportation, food (including food stands in markets), and entertainment.
If you are bringing a large group of people to a club or a bar, it may be possible to negotiate a discount before arriving with the group. If you are already there, bargaining won't get you anything substantial.
Prices in tourist traps such as the Old City of Jerusalem can routinely be haggled down to as low as 25% of the asking price. Usually it's easier to make a deal if you are buying multiple items rather than a single item.
When buying larger items (e.g. electronics), it's often possible to get a discount of about 3% for paying in cash.
Bargaining with taxi drivers over fare is possible, though rarely to your advantage. It is best to instruct them to use the meter (moneh) if they don't already do so as required by law.
Israeli wine, kosher products, t-shirts, diamonds. Almost needless to say, Israel is one of the best countries for purchasing Judaica and Christian pilgrim trinkets.
While it is legal to purchase antiquities from the small number of government-licensed dealers, exporting antiquities from Israel is illegal, except with a written authorization from the Israel Antiquities Authority .
Israeli cuisine is as diverse as the population which makes up this gastronomic country. Food here is generally of a very high standard, and immigrants from around the world mean that almost every genre and type of food is available. Not tipping in sit-in restaurants that have waiters is frowned upon. It is standard to give 10%-15% (or more for exceptional service). 20% tip is considered generous. Including a service charge in the bill is no longer legal in Israel and should not be paid. In recent years, restaurants have been charging a "security fee" - roughly 1-2 NIS per person. However, this fee is not mandatory, and it is common to ask for the fee to be removed from the bill.
Most restaurants accept credit cards, but do not accept personal checks. If you wish to include the tip in your credit card charge, state this before paying.
Falafel was officially adopted as the national food. These are small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside a pita bread with hummus-chips-salat (hummus, French fries and vegetable salad) and tehina. A selection of more salads is usually available, and you can fill your pita with as much as it can take. This is usually the cheapest lunch available (10-15NIS), and it's vegetarian. You can also order half a serving ("kheh-TSEE mah-NAH").
Another popular option is shawarma, sliced turkey or lamb meat, also served inside a pita, or its larger cousin lafa, with hummus-chips-salat. Many other things can fit your pita: for example, Me'orav Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite mix), which contain several types of meat, or Schnitzel, a batter fried chicken breast somewhat inspired by the Viennese original.
Hummus, a cream of chickpeas, tehina, onion, lemon and olive oil, is also served on a plate, and scooped up with small pieces of pita. At places that specialize in Hummus, you can find the dish topped with chopped lamb, fried chicken breast and many other different toppings.
Another street food gaining popularity is the Iraqi-origin sabich sabich, a pita bread stuffed with a hard boiled egg, batter-dipped deep fried eggplant, hummus, tehina, and salad.
The Hebrew word Kasher (כָּשֵר), pronounced by East-European Jews as Kosher, means "fit" (in Israel, gyms are known as kheder kosher, i.e. fitness room). When associated with food, it means anything that is allowed by the Jewish religious laws concerning food. These laws are quite complex, but the short version is that they totally forbid certain products (such as pork and shellfish), and allow others only under restrictions - most importantly, that meat and dairy products are not to be cooked together or eaten at the same meal, which bans all sorts of Western staples like cheeseburgers and pizzas with meat toppings. In addition, lighting a fire on Shabbat is forbidden, so only cold or long-simmered food is allowed. Having said this, due to the secular nature of much of Israel, many foods can be found, and many restaurants aren't kosher depending on the region. Kosher laws do not usually apply to Arab areas of Israel (unless they cater to mixed clientele), although Halal dietary laws (the Muslim equivalent) do.
Most of the hotels in Israel are Kosher, so breakfast is dairy, and during lunch and dinner you'll not be able to get milk for your coffee or butter for your bread (although soy milk and margarine are common substitutes). Most big supermarkets sell only Kosher products, but more and more non-Kosher supermarkets and convenience stores have appeared in recent years, due in part to the huge numbers of secular Jews who have come to Israel from the former USSR. With restaurants, things are more complicated: in Tel-Aviv, there are fewer kosher restaurants than in more religious cities like Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, Kosher cafes and restaurants are much more common. Bear in mind that restaurants that remain open on Shabbat cannot receive Kosher certification, so some restaurants that do not carry a Kosher certification are nevertheless kosher as far as the food is concerned, and could have kosher kitchens. So if you care, you shouldn't assume anything and always ask. Where restaurants are kosher, they will either be dairy or meat. Dairy restaurants are useful for vegetarian tourists, but still are likley to serve fish and egg products.
One attraction for practicing Jewish (and other) tourists is the kosher McDonald’s restaurants. Note that most of the branches are not kosher, so ask before ordering. Most Burger King restaurants in Israel are kosher, though - and so are branches of Burger Ranch, an Israeli burger chain. In addition, Pizza Hut branches in Israel are kosher, and thus will not serve pizzas with meat toppings, while Domino's chains are not kosher, and serve a toppings selection similar to their Western branches.
One pitfall with finding kosher food is that some con-men have found thay can make money but setting up business selling fake kushrut certificates. Therefore someone look for kosher food should look of a certificate from the local rabbinat or a recognized kashrut agency . Certificates from from unknown organizations should not be relied upon.
Another series of strict restrictions come into force during the seven days of Passover, when leavened bread (hametz) — taken to include any grain product that may have come into contact with moisture and thus started fermenting — is banned. Some Jews even widen the ban to cover rice and legumes. The main substitute for the bread is matza, the famously dry and tasteless flatbread, and you can even get a matzoburger from McDonalds during Passover.
Vegetarians/Vegans should have a relatively easy time eating in Israel. Due to "kashrut" (the rules of keeping kosher) there are many restaurants that serve only dairy food, which makes them popular with vegetarians. In some parts of the country you can also find Vegan restaurants. Amirim is a vegetarian/vegan village in the Galilee with several restaurants.
Jews immigrating to Israel from different parts of the world brought with them many different cooking traditions. Most of these are now served in a handful of specialty restaurants, so check the individual chapters and ask around. Among the selection: Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish), Bulgarian, Turkish, North African, Iraqi, Iranian, and many others. One can also enjoy excellent local Arab cuisine served in areas with large Arab populations, mostly in the north of the country and in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
One dish, however, is known across nearly the entire Jewish Diaspora. Known in Europe as Cholent and in the Middle East and North Africa as Chamin, it is a sort of stew that has simmered for many hours over a low fire. It is traditionally a Shabbat dish, originating from the prohibition on lighting fire and cooking on Shabbat. The exact ingredients vary, but it usually contains meat (usually beef or chicken), legumes (chickpeas or beans) and\or rice, eggs, and vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. Chamin is served in some restaurants on Saturday, and can be bought in delicatessens on Friday.
Israelis appreciate good coffee and a café culture thrives in the country. Although the Starbucks enterprise has not been so successful (the enterprise's coffee standarts were much low compared to the local chains) , there are several highly popular local coffee chains. Many Israelis like to just spend time sipping their "hafuch" (Cafe latté) and chatting with friends. You can also have light meal with sandwiches and salads. Aroma is Israel's largest coffee chain. You can order sandwiches there in three sizes and choose from three types of bread. Arcaffé is slightly more expensive, but their coffee (some say) is even better. Other chains include Elite Coffee, cafe cafe, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and the kosher (dairy) Cafe Hillel. Many Israelis still like to drink "botz" (mud coffee, also known as "cafe turki" or Turkish coffee) which is an extra finely ground coffee that is cooked on a stove and is comparable to an espresso, but much stronger. But you probably wouldn't order "botz" in a chic espresso bar, and those who are used to Starbucks-like coffee most likely won't find it palatable.
Krembo (A hybrid of the words KREM and BO, "Cream" and "In it", respectively) is a favorite Israeli chocolate snack. It is composed of a round cookie, on which cream (Most often Vanilla-flavored, but there is also a mocha variety) lies, covered with a chocolate shell. Krembos come wrapped in aluminum foil, and are very delicate. They are rarely found in the summer due to the weather. Krembos have been eaten in Israel for two generations now, and there is a well known argument as to the right way for eating it. 1. Holding the cookie while eating the chocolate and the cream, and then eating the cookie. 2. Holding the chocolate while eating the cookie and then eating the chocolate and the cream. 3. Eating all of it at once. 4. While holding the cookie, eating the chocolate. Then the cookie and "lastly" the cream.
There are three main brands of Israeli beer:
Palestinian beers are also available:
Lately, several brands of micro-breweries have established themselves, and a wide selection of bee rott boo teek (boutique beers) such as Bazelet, Golda, Laughing Buddha, Asif, Gamal Meofef and many others can be found in selected alcohol houses and in some chain retail stores. In addition, a wide variety of international brands are available throughout Israel, some of which are locally brewed. Among the most popular are Heineken, Carlsberg, and Tuborg.
A common liqueur in Israel is Arak. It is clear, and anise-flavored, quite similar to Pastis or the Colombian Aguardiente. It is usually served in a glass of about 0.3 liters, mixed with equal amount of water and ice. Some like to drink it mixed with grapefruit juice. Arak is usually kept in the freezer. A common brand is called Aluf Ha-Arak and Elit Ha-Arak (both of the same distillery) with the former of higher alcohol per volume and the latter of stronger anise flavor. They are of slightly different volume although the price is accordingly different.
There are several local big vineyards and a growing selection of boutique ones, some of them of high quality.
Most of the regular western sodas are available, and many have local variants that aren't very different in taste. Pepsico and Coca-Cola Company fight for the soft drinks market aggressively. Israeli Coca-Cola is thought by Cola connoisseurs to be tastier and more authentic than elsewhere. This is due to the fact that Israeli Coca-Cola is made with sugar, and not with high-fructose corn syrup. Tempo (not to be confused with Tempo Industries, Ltd. which is the brewer of most Israeli beer and bottler of most soft drinks including the local Pepsi) and Super Drink are dirt-cheap local variants, at times sporting very weird tastes.
The generic name for Coke or Pepsi is "Cola", and it usually implies Coke; if the place serves Pepsi, they will usually ask if it's fine.
There are several more authentic soft drinks:
Israel is host to a huge variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels through to 5-star luxury hotels. Accommodation in Israel is similar to Western standards in general both in terms of price and what you can expect as service. Hotels in Israel do not currently possess star ratings, so beware that where these are seen, they are awarded by the hotels themselves. A good way of finding good hotels in Israel is by looking through reviews on websites such as Tripadvisor, although the links below act as good starting points.
Israel has many universities which tend to be well regarded by the international community. Special programs for students from abroad are offered by the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Lowy School for Overseas Students at Tel-Aviv University and the Ginsburg-Ingerman Center for International Student Programs at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva. Also the Technion in Haifa.
The International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in West Jerusalem also offers a variety of educational options relating to the Holocaust or you could also use your time in Israel to study Hebrew. Hebrew school is called Ulpan (pl. Ulpanim).
There are even ways to learn Hebrew online from outwith Israel - try Hebrew Online , or Virtual Ulpan if you want some basic background for free. A good starting point for finding more information on study and volunteering programs, can be found on the website of the World Zionist Organization .
If you are interested in learning firsthand about the social, political and cultural aspects of life in Israel, there are several programs and organizations offering courses, workshops or learning tours, such as: The All Nations Cafe in the Jerusalem - Bethlehem area.
One of the iconic activities in Israel is working ("volunteering") on a collective farm: a kibbutz or a moshav.
Another popular option is to volunteer for work on an archaeological excavation, mostly conducted in summer at a variety of locations. Most Israeli excavations offer college/degree credit for international students.
While working on a tourist visa is illegal, if you stay at any cheaper hotel in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the staff may offer to put you in contact with opportunities to wash dishes or work in construction. Pay is only around $5 an hour, and if caught, you can expect to be deported and blacklisted from the country for a period of no longer than one year.
There is a risk of violence between Israeli Forces and Palestinian Militants only in the West Bank and Gaza; additionally, there is a slight risk of further military action between Israel and other countries. Currently the situation makes travel safe. Use prudence if you plan to travel to the Palestinian territories.
In general, travel to Israel is safe, and most other crime rates are well below those found in most other Western Countries. Having said this, buses and bus-stops have been targeted by Palestinian militant groups since the early 1990s. This type of attack has all but ceased since 2005 thanks to the building of the west bank security fence. Since then terrorism in Israel has largely ceased. Statistically, the chances of being involved in a traffic accident are much higher than the chances of being involved in an attack. Though it is a good idea to stay informed of developments before and during your stay. Caution should be used particularly in the disputed areas. If you see anyone acting suspiciously, or find an untended parcel, notify the Police. Also don't leave any bags unattended in a public area, as it may be suspect as a bomb. This is Israeli national policy, however, is business as usual.
It is not unusual to see soldiers and civilians carrying firearms (military rifles and handguns) in public (most of these soldiers are simply on leave from their base). In terms of typical crime, Israel is a very safe country. Israel has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. You can walk around the cities and towns at night without fear, as mugging and drunken violence is practically unknown. Single women in particular should still take care late at night but the risks here are far lower than practically anywhere in Europe and America.
It is very common (Indeed, often required by law) to see private armed security guards at every public doorway (For malls, stores, restaurants, etc). The guards ask to look in your bags, and may use a metal-detector on your person. When entering underground parking lots, the trunk of your car will be inspected. Do not be alarmed this is just national policy.
Israel's relations with its neighbors should always be something that a traveler should be familiar with, as evidenced by the Israeli-Lebanese conflict of 2006. Despite the current cease fire there remains a low danger that the conflict will again erupt. Israel has very good relations with both Egypt and Jordan, whom Israel signed a peace treaty with in 1979 and 1994.
Southern Israel desert region offers amazing hiking trails in a beautiful landscape that possesses some unique geographical features not available anywhere else in the world. However, if you are inexperienced in hiking in the desert do not hike there without an experienced hiker, proper equipment and cloths, plenty of water, and taking the necessary precautions. Dehydration in hot days, hypothermia in cold nights, and flash floods in rainy days are serious dangers!
Hiking trails in southern Israel are adjacent to military fire practice areas. If you are not certain where you are going, do not hike in this region! In similar note, especially near border areas, hiking or leaving the roadways, be aware of standing and/or fallen fences with a sign (yellow with a red triangle on it). These areas are considered off limits due to the possibility of landmines being present. Planted by the Turks, British, Vichy French, Druze, Israelis, Lebanese army, Lebanese Militias, PLO, or the Syrians (Golan Heights, Lebanese border). It could take another 100 years to clear out all those areas.
Although a cease-fire is now held between Israel and Hamas palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip Travel to the Gaza Strip area is not recommended at this time. Also Israel does NOT allow travel to the strip, the only way is via Egypt.
Unlike many parts of the Middle East, Israel is one of the most "gay friendly" countries in the world. In fact, compared to the United States, Israel is quite progressive regarding homosexual rights (there is recognition of foreign same-sex marriages). Criticisms towards homosexuality will vary depending on where one travels, but otherwise, this country is considered safe for gays and lesbians, as violence against them has rarely occurred here. The annual Love Parade in Tel Aviv gets cheering spectators too.
There are no special medical issues in Israel, and no immunizations are necessary for travel here. Pharmacies and hospitals are available in all major cities and emergency and health care is to a very high Western standard. Pharmacists and all medical personnel speak adequate English. In Israeli pharmacies, the "over-the-counter" stuff is in fact over the counter. Ask the pharmacist if you need anything. Travel health insurance is highly recommended; although all Israelis are covered under the national health insurance system, foreigners will be expected to pay for any treatment received in the public hospitals or at a clinic.
Tap water is potable and perfectly safe for drinking all throughout Israel, big cities and rural parts alike.
Street food is safe and clean, including fried dishes, fish and different salads. It still is wise to use common sense and avoid anything suspicious.
Due to the hot climate in sunny Israel, remember to use sunscreen throughout your stay and drink a lot of water.
Please note that Israel is considered the home state and motherland for Judaism. When travelling to Holy Sites, or going through religious neighborhoods or towns, please be very tolerant as the natives will be with you. Also be aware that in Holy Sites men and women should dress in modest clothing in order to respect the sanctity of the site.
Visitors to Israel are very often astounded at the almost compulsive need of Israelis to listen to the news. Ecclesiastes may have stated that “There is nothing new under the sun,” but Israelis believe the opposite: they look forward to the news every hour on the hour out of a seemingly mystical belief that today is different from yesterday. This story could sum this attitude up.
A few years ago the newly-appointed ambassador to Israel of a western European country presented his credentials to the president. After the brief ceremony, the two exchanged the usual pleasantries when the president suddenly looked at his watch, begged his guest's pardon, and turned on the radio on his desk.
The ambassador waited patiently while the president listened to what was a news bulletin and turned the radio off. When the ambassador asked “What happened?”, the surprised president replied, “Nothing.”. The ambassador said, “I thought that if you turned on the radio, you must have a special reason,” and the president said, “No, it's a conditioned reflex. If I don't hear the news, I am uneasy for a full hour ' until the next newscast....”. Another reason said for the constant run to the news is in the early years of the state, Israel was under constant pressure from its surroundings; everyone wanted to know, "Are we at war again?"
Israel is generally a very relaxed country with a western-oriented outlook, but it is fundamentally Jewish in every positive sense of the term. There are a few situations when this should be kept in mind. Visitors to some synagogues, most churches, and all mosques should be aware that entry will normally not be permitted to those with exposed legs (i.e. wearing shorts or short skirts) or women with exposed upper arms. Women may be denied entry or ordered to wear a robe before entering mosques or synagogues. Carry a wrap or bring a change of clothes. Mosques will also require you to take off your shoes before entry. Men should cover their heads in a synagogue.
The Arab-Israeli situation is an emotional issue for many, as is the Holocaust/Shoah, as well as much of Jewish History generally. ( One should be especially respectful to the Holocaust/Shoah as many Israelis are grandchildren of survivors, and most if not all of the Ashkenazi (European) Jews who make up 50% of Israel's Jewish Population population lost family members during the Holocaust.) On the other hand, most people, both Israeli and Arab, would be happy to answer your questions. In addition, one probably should not make disdainful remarks about Judaism toward observant Israelis nor the Quran for Muslims. It is very disrespectful and could land you in hot water!
Israelis sometimes compare themselves to the prickly pear or sabra: said to be tough and prickly on the outside yet sweet and soft on the inside. Israelis are direct in a way that might seem abrupt, even rude, in other parts of the world. Do not be offended by this as Israelis do not mean to insult or offend in any way. Directness and honesty are often valued over politeness and projection of niceness. Direct personal questions are common, and should not be taken as offensive. The information Israelis collect on you is meant to help you in a good way, not to set traps for you. Israelis are used to fighting for their right to exist and have to hold their own against the pressures of the family, religion, the army and other Israelis. Loud and heated debates and arguments are socially acceptable and should not be taken as a sign of hostility. Israelis are typically careful not to be perceived as a FRIER, often translated as "sucker", meaning someone who pays too much, stands in line quietly as others jostle past, and generally is taken advantage of instead of standing up for himself.
But Israelis are also very kind and hospitable. When you make a friend here, they will do their best to take care of you while you're in their country. Foreign visitors are deeply appreciated and are generally shown the utmost respect by locals. Many will even go as far as to show you around some areas in Israel as a sign of their own national pride and towards respect for tourists.
The country code for Israel is +972.
Drop the leading 0 (zero) when calling from abroad:
If you want to phone home from Israel, you need to choose which company you want to use for your international call first. You cannot use an access code for international numbers like in Europe, where '00' is the almost universal common access code. The companies and their access codes are the following:
Note that the 017 and 018 prefixes are for VOIP operators. Thus, they have the cheapest rate but a somehow lower line quality.
You can rent a cellphone for use in Israel either before your trip or once you arrive from several vendors such as IsraelExperts.com - these can be delivered to your home before you leave or you can collect them at the airport upon arrival or have them delivered to your hotel upon arrival. Phone stores that rent out phones can be found in the public arrival hall of Ben Gurion Airport (ie, the non-restricted zone); turn right after leaving the restricted area after picking up your baggage. Here, you will find 'Pelephone' and 'Orange' phone stores, both of which rent out phones.
If you have a cellphone without a SIM-lock, you can buy a SIM-card which is much cheaper than either renting or buying a phone. An 'Orange' pre-paid SIM-card costs about 100 shekels ($20). As of April 2009, A SIM-card with Cellcom's pre-paid "TalkMan" service and including 60 shekels worth of credits cost 100 shekels. Prepaid SIM cards are available at Cellcom and Orange phone stores throughout Israel. Almost all shopping malls will have a Cellcom or Orange kiosk or store.
Some GSM North American and European cell phones will function in "roam" mode in Israel using your regular phone number. Check with your cellular provider for details. Be aware, however, of the costs - calling to the US or Europe, or inside Israel, might cost more than $1 a minute!
There are still some public pay-phones scattered around, usually lacking a booth (just a phone on a pole). These phones use a Telecart, a pre-paid plastic card that can be purchased at post offices and some stores, as well as ordinary phone call cards. The telecarts are at the moment being phased out by Bezeq, the country's premier phone provider. Some phones also accept credit cards, but they are very rare. In Jerusalem especially and in more Jewish-religious areas you will find public phones to be very common, as the more religious Jews tend to frown on the new mobiles with Internet access etc, resulting in a situation whereby every person with a mobile is automatically assumed to be on the Internet 24/7.
It is also possible to find privately operated pay phones that accept (outrageous) payment in coins and/or credit cards. Be warned that most storekeepers will produce their own phones (for the above-mentioned outrageous fee) when asked, in absolutely no relation as to whether there is a (much cheaper) public phone just 10 seconds away.
Israel is a technologically advanced society, and internet cafés are widely available in most cities and towns. The regular price for paid internet cafés is about NIS 15 per hour but you can get it for about 10 NIS in some of the more local places. Free wi-fi access is common in cafés (check individual articles). All branches of 'Aroma Espresso Bar', 'Arcaffe', 'Café Café', 'McDonalds' and 'Yellow' convenience stores have free wi-fi access, though in some you will have to approach the staff for a password.
Recently, the "Jerusalem WiFi" project started. This government started project aims to cover the entire Jerusalem area with WiFi although at the moment the only areas covered are in the city center. A similar project has started in Tel Aviv.