Travel Guide Middle East Israel

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Introduction

It's not really golden...

It's not really golden...

© All Rights Reserved Ofelia

The State of Israel (Hebrew: מדינת ישראל; Arabic: دولة إسرائيل) is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country bordered by Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest, by the West Bank and Jordan to the east, and by Syria and Lebanon to the north. The country has a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and very limited access to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba (often called the Gulf of Eilat in Israel). Since 1967, Israel has controlled most of the West Bank (often called "Judea and Samaria" in Israel) as well as the Golan Heights. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan, but most other countries, except the United States, reject the annexation, and consider these areas and the West Bank (which Israel did not annex, and Israeli law does not apply to the area) to be occupied Palestinian territory. Wikivoyage takes no stance on these political issues, but notes that in practice, current visitors to these areas will need Israeli visas and permits.

The modern State of Israel was established in 1948 as a homeland for the Jewish people, but the region contains thousands of years of history for many peoples and religions in addition to the Jews. Israel is considered part of the Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories). The four major monotheistic religions - the Baha'i Faith, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - all were founded or have strong ties to here, and their holy and historic sites are major destinations for pilgrims and tourists from around the world.

The Israeli population is about 80% Jews, 19% Arab and 1% other. Most of the Jews are descended from Olim ("returnees" from the Jewish Diaspora), and their diverse origins (Russian, German, Moroccan, Yemenite, and Ethiopian, to name a few of the prominent ones) can be seen in various aspects of modern Israeli culture.

In contrast to its long ancient history, Israel is a highly urbanized, economically developed, first-world society. Unfortunately it is still in conflict with the Palestinians and some of its other Arab neighbors, and sometimes you will see signs of these tensions, but you will almost never be in danger (though there are places you should be more cautious like the West Bank). Although it's in Asia, due to hostility from the Arab countries, Israel participates in European rather than Asian regional bodies.

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Brief History

The Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people, by God, as their homeland.
Between the time of the Israelite kingdoms and the 7th-century Muslim conquests, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule.
Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel. That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible, and is a central theme in the Jewish prayer book. Beginning in the 12th century, Catholic persecution of Jews led to a steady stream leaving Europe to settle in the Holy Land, increasing in numbers after Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

The first large wave of modern immigration, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. While the Zionist movement already existed in theory, Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev pogrom.
During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, which "viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929) brought 100,000 Jews to Palestine. From 1921 the British subjected Jewish immigration to quotas and most of the territory slated for the Jewish state was allocated to Transjordan.

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This caused the Arab revolt of 1936–1939. By the end of World War II, Jews accounted for 33% of the population of Palestine, up from 11% in 1922.

After 1945 the United Kingdom became embroiled in an increasingly violent conflict with the Jews. In 1947, the British government withdrew from commitment to the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. On May 14, 1948, the day before the end of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel; it was not until this day that the world knew that the new state would be called Israel. The following day the armies of five Arab countries - Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq - attacked Israel, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949. During the conflict 711,000 Arabs, according to UN estimates, or about 80% of the previous Arab population, were expelled or fled the country. The fate of the Palestinian refugees today is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arab nationalists led by Nasser refused to recognize Israel or its right to exist, calling for its destruction. In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan massed troops close to Israeli borders, expelled UN peacekeepers and blocked Israel's access to the Red Sea. Israel saw these actions as a casus belli for a pre-emptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, in which Israel achieved a decisive victory and captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. The war ended on October 26 with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but suffering great losses.
Up until this day, constant fights, wars with neighbouring countries and unsolved disputes about the dividing of land between Jews and Arabs are the reality.

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Geography

Israel shares international with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It lies between latitudes 29° and 34° N, and longitudes 34° and 36° E. The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, is approximately 20,770 square kilometers in area, of which two percent is water. However Israel is so narrow that the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean is double the land area of the country. The total area under Israeli law, when including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers, and the total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and partially Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometres.

The Baha'i Garden

The Baha'i Garden

© All Rights Reserved flaviaU


Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the inland fertile Jezreel Valley, mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and toward the Golan in the north. The Israeli Coastal Plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to seventy percent of the nation's population. East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometre Great Rift Valley. The Jordan River runs along the Jordan Rift Valley, from Mount Hermon through the Hulah Valley and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea.

Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques. The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev, which measures 40 by 8 kilometers. A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean basin states that Israel has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin.

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Regions/Districts

Israel possesses a number of diverse regions, with landscapes varying between coast, mountain, forest, and desert landscapes, with just about everything in between. On a single winter day, for example, you could go skiing at the Hermon mountain on the Golan Heights, and then sunbathe next to the Dead Sea. 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:

  • Galilee (Western Galilee, Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, Galilee Panhandle, and Sea of Galilee region) - A hilly forested region, known for its beautiful landscapes and religious history. The Galilee is composed of five sub regions - the Western Galilee (the northern coastal plain), the Upper Galilee (characterized by mountains, the highest of which is Mount Meron), the Lower Galilee (characterized by relatively low hills separated by valleys), the Galilee Panhandle (in the far northeast), and the Sea of Galilee (the largest freshwater lake in Israel).
  • Carmel Range, Jezreel Valley and Beit She'an Valley - From west to the east; the Carmel Range extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the south-east, containing various towns and villages, as well as Haifa, the third largest city in Israel; the Jezreel Valley is a large valley bounded by the Lower Galilee in the north and the mountains of Samaria in the south; and the Beit She'an Valley lies between the Gilboa mountain range and the Jordan River.
  • Israeli Coastal Plain (The Sharon plain, Gush Dan and the Southern Coastal Plain) - A planar region which stretches along the Mediterranean coast which is the most developed part of the country and in which about 70% of Israel's population lives. This region is characterized by sandy shores and Mediterranean climate. This region contains many cities, towns and villages, including the Tel Aviv urban area, which is the largest urban area in Israel.
  • Jerusalem Hills - A mountainous region in the center of the country, which is a sub-region of ​​the Judaean Mountains. This region includes Israel's capital, Jerusalem, which is the largest city in the country.
  • Shfela - The fertile, hilly hinterland bounded by the Coastal Plain in the west, the Judaean Mountains in the east, Samaria in the north, and the Negev in the south.
  • Dead Sea Valley - The Dead Sea, which receives its water from the Jordan River, is the lowest point on earth (427 meters below sea level as of early 2013). Technically, the northern half of the western Dead Sea Valley lies in the West Bank and thus Palestine. However, it is part of Area C and therefore under full Israeli control.
  • The Negev, Southern Judaean Mountains, Southern Judaean Desert, and the Arava Valley - The Negev region is a desert area covering much of the south of Israel and includes among other the Ramon Crater. The southern parts of the Judaean Mountains region and the Judaean Desert region (the northern parts are on the West Bank) are between the West Bank the Negev regions. The Arava Valley is the section of the Great Rift Valley that is between the Dead Sea in the North and the Gulf of Eilat in the South and forms part of the border between Israel to the west and Jordan to the east.

Disputed territories

  • Golan Heights - Mountainous area north-east of the Sea of Galilee region. Occupied in 1967 by Israel, unilaterally annexed in 1981, but claimed by Syria. The annexation of the Golan is only recognized by one other country - the United States, and is not recognized by the United Nations. Israeli law applies in the region.
  • West Bank and Gaza Strip - Two physically separate territories, the West Bank to the east of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip in the southwest along the Mediterranean coast. Not recognized internationally as part of any country. The West Bank receives government services (security, medical service, etc.) by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, or a combination, depending on the exact location as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas.

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Cities

  • Jerusalem is one of the most religious cities in the world and the capital of the country. Jerusalem is holy to all three of the major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
  • Tel Aviv, including Jaffa - Tel-Aviv has been described as the city that never sleeps. This is 100% true, with people of all ages walking along the promenades, sitting at sidewalk cafés or going out on the town to numerous night spots. Part of the city called the White City of Tel Aviv is of particular interest as it is on the Unesco World Heritage list.
  • Haifa - the largest city in northern Israel, on Mount Carmel next to the sea. Home to the Baha'i World Center (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
  • Beersheba, one of the biblical tels.
  • Akko - northern Israel, an ancient town with a historic port and the most sacred Baha'i site. Its coastal old town is particularly beautiful
  • Ashdod - just south of Tel Aviv.
  • Arad (Israel) - in the South District, about 25 kilometres from the Dead Sea
  • Eilat, in the south by the Red Sea. Eilat is known for its beautiful coral reefs. It is on the border of Egypt and is a popular tourist site for both Europeans and Israelis.
  • Nazareth - hometown of Jesus, now the largest Arab city in Israel.
  • Nahariya is a beautiful coastal city near the Lebanese border. It was once a very popular city with honeymooners.
  • Herzliya - just north of Tel Aviv.
  • Safed (Tzfat) – a fascinating mountaintop city filled with artists and mystics, home to ARI school of Kabbalah
  • Tiberias - northeast of Israel, a modern resort town with an ancient background, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee

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Sights and Activities

Overview
Not surprisingly, Israel's main appeal is its spiritual significance. Being able to retrace the steps of the Jewish Patriarchs or Jesus or pilgrims who have visited throughout the centuries is what thousands come here to do. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has preserved and restored many biblical/historical sites complimented by well informed and interesting tour guides, audio-visual presentations, computer simulations, slide shows and live action re-creation.

For those less interested in spirituality, Israel still has an extensive list of activities, be it floating on the Dead Sea, rafting on the Jordan River, hiking in the Negev Desert or striking up a towel on one of the many fine beaches along the Mediterranean coast. There are dozens of national parks and reserves to enjoy, both with natural and cultural features or a combination of both. If you are an art lover, you should visit the Israeli museum in Jerusalem, Yad VaShem, Tel Aviv museum of art and the Raw Art Gallery.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a magical city, where the ancient and modern worlds collide. Very few places bear the immense significance that Jerusalem has for Jews, Muslims and Christians, which explains why Jerusalem is such a fascinating city. The Israeli Museum is just one of many highlights here. If you want to read more about the city, visit the Jerusalem article.

North Israel

Nigerian pilgrims, Sea of Galilee

Nigerian pilgrims, Sea of Galilee

© All Rights Reserved rd wrld1yr

In northern Israel, you'll find beautiful, rolling green hills and expansive valleys rich in vegetation, with flowers galore and so very much to see and do in the Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is called the home of Christ and is a beautiful fresh water area. The Golan Heights (only considered territory of Israel by the country itself, but internationally regarded part of Syria) afford great views of the surrounding land. There also are a lot of historical and cultural sights to explore in this less visited region. For example Nimrod Castle, a beautifully located Crusader castle above the Galilee Sea.

Negev desert

The Negev desert in southern Israel is a gorgeous destination with a quiet and majestic beauty which will astonish you. It covers the southern portion of the country including the coastline of the Red Sea near Eilat and is home to just a small part of the Israeli population. Beer Sheba is one of the bigger settlements here and is one of three biblical tels (prehistoric settlement mounds) along with Megiddo and Hazor which is on the Unesco list. Other features include the Ramon Crater, the largest crater in the country. The Incense Route is a route along the Nabatean desert cities of Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta which is on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Dead Sea

Masada

Masada

© All Rights Reserved moutallica

The Dead Sea is located in the east of Israel on the border with Jordan which also has part of the coastline and lake within its territories. This is the lowest point on earth at almost 400 metres below sea level and is the lake has the saltiest water in the world. People with certain skin diseases may find the water healing. In the region of the Dead Sea Valley which is part of the Great Rift Valley you can find the Ein Gedi National Park which is the biggest and the most important oasis in Israel. Another important feature includes Masada which is a rugged natural fortress, a symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel and its violent destruction.

Red Sea Diving

Just like its neighbours Israel has some fantastic diving locations to explore the Red Sea near Eilat. The Red Sea among divers is one of the best locations in the world to see an abundance of species of fish, turtles and other sea creatures, including impressive coral.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Masada is the famous fortress in the south of Israel were the Jews made their last stand against the Romans in the 1st century AD.

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Events and Festivals

Israel has many national and religious holidays and they often involve days where most of the stores and places of entertainment are closed for business so it is worth checking before you travel.

Eilat Bird Festival

March is the perfect time for birders to visit Eilat, in company with the many millions of feathered friends arriving during the spring migration season. Around 240 bird species use the surrounding countryside as their summer home, including the Pharaoh eagle owls, pied wheatears, McQueen’s bustards and Nubian nightjars.

Red Sea Jazz Festival

A four-day international festival featuring all styles of jazz, this ever-popular Israeli event kicks off in Eilat at the end of July. Nightly jam sessions at bars and clubs and eight or nine concerts every evening make sure no-one misses their favorite.

Jerusalem Beer Festival

This fun event has been running for eight years, getting larger and more popular at every turn. Held in August in downtown Jerusalem’s Hebron Road Old Train Station, its highlights include the 100 beer brands from across the globe, with micro-breweries well represented. Lots of food stalls, top bands and beer brewing demonstrations complete the picture.

Karmiel Dance Festival

The Galilee city of Karmiel bursts at the seams with 5,000 Israeli and international dancers arriving every August along with many thousands of fans. Over 80 events and performances take place, and a huge bazaar and other activities are part of the fun.

Purim

Purim in February/March (the date varies slightly each year) is a joyous celebration when everyone dresses in fancy dress and there are streem parades with large floats in most of the major cities. You'll find a lot of parties during this festival.

Safed Klezmer Festival

The soulful, exotic sounds of traditional Jewish Klezmer music are heard all over ancient Safed in August from the eight stages set up in the Old Quarter’s public squares and parks. For lovers of this iconic style, it’s a not to be missed event in Israel.

Jerusalem Summer Culture Festival

The months of July and August are a great time to be in Jerusalem for the summer culture festival, which involves music, dance and theater performances held everywhere from the alleyways of the Old City through parks and gardens to the major theaters.

Sukkot

One of the loveliest and most traditional of all the Jewish festivals is Sukkot, similar in origin to the Western Harvest Festival, but rooted in the ancient Israeli traditions of the 40 years spent wandering the desert as described in the Old Testament. During the festival, tents are erected and covered with greenery and produce, with families eating at least one meal in their sukkah each of the seven October evenings.

Jacob’s Ladder Festival

Mid-December sees the start of Israel’s friendliest social event featuring bluegrass, country, blues, Irish, Scottish and folk music. Taking place over a long weekend on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, it’s a laid-back, cool event which draws regulars every year.

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Weather

Any time is a good time to visit Israel, though a few basic weather precautions can be taken into account. Spring & summer months are the best times to visit Jerusalem, where there is always a cool afternoon breeze blowing across the Judean Hills. If you can bear the heat and humidity along the coast, come in July and August, when there's lots to do, see and experience.
The best time to visit the south of the country is during late summer and autumn and in spring. Even winters are still warm though, but summers are unpleasantly hot, with temperatures near Eilat over 40 °C not uncommon. In the Negev desert, temperatures over 50 °C have been recorded. The northern coastline is somewhat milder and has hot and dry weather in summer and mild weather in winter with occasional showers. In winter snow is possible more inland and even in Jerusalem.

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Getting There

By Plane

El Al is the national airline of Israel, based at Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) close to Tel Aviv. El Al has flights to and from a number of European cities, including Amsterdam, Madrid, London, Frankfurt and Geneva and flights further away include those to Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Beijing. Dozens of other airlines (including several Israeli based) serve the country, mostly to Europe and the former Sovjetunion republics and to Cairo.

By Car

There are land routes from Egypt and Jordan to Israel; these border crossings have security measures similar to the airports. There are no land routes to either Syria or Lebanon, owing to the continuing hostilities with these countries.

Jordan has three crossings with Israel: the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge (the shortest way between Amman and Jerusalem, the busiest crossing); the Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein Bridge (in the north); and Arava/Yitshak Rabin (2 km from Eilat). It's fairly straightforward to cross using a series of buses, though pay attention to the childish Aqaba border taxi Mafia. 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. Mentioning West Bank destinations in your itinerary will 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 the Jewish Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Feast of the 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.

Travellers leaving Israel by land will need to pay an exit fee at the border. (No fee needs to be paid at the airport – it may be included in the ticket cost.)

By Bus

Mazada Tours has buses between Tel Aviv/Jerusalem and Cairo. Buses also travel between Haifa/Nazareth and Amman in Jordan. Also connections to Amman exist from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You can do most trips in stages as well. Eilat is a convenient places of doing daytrips to Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan.

Falafel Bus is a hop-on hop-off service in the Middle East, and offers transport, accommodation and side trips, accompanied by guides, with many stop-overs across Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

By Boat

Ferries are supposed to travel between Haifa and Cyprus but check in the ports to make sure, because services get suspended quite often and after a while resume again. In summer, there is a higher chance of getting a ferry or a last minute place on a more luxurious cruiseship if you fancy that. For the more adventurous travellers, there are also cargo ships going from Haifa to Limassol on Cyprus. If you want to avoid travelling through Israel, take the Aqaba to Nuweiba ferry. Check the getting there sections of Egypt and Jordan to see details.

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Getting Around

Israel has a modern, sophisticated travel network. It is safe and easy to get around the country. Israelis are always willing to help a lost tourist, so never be afraid to ask people for directions or advice.

Travelers should also be aware of Shabbat (Hebrew: שַׁבָּת) the Hebrew word often spelled "Sabbath" in English. From Friday afternoon until Saturday night, travel can be difficult and expensive. Most national buses do not run on Shabbat. For inner-city bus travel, it will depend on the city. Places like Haifa, Nazareth, or Eilat will have bus service throughout Friday night and Saturday. There will be limited taxi service, and a weekend surcharge applies. In preparation for Shabbat, many people will be on the move, so traffic will be worst on Friday afternoon. Travelers should allow for extra travel time. This also applies to days preceding public holidays.

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.

The (official) national call center for public transportation information (available in English as well) is on *8787 or 072-2588787 (for phone with no access to *star numbers). There is no fee except for regular call-charge. The public transit mobile app Moovit and Google Maps are helpful.

By Plane

Arkia (Israel Inland Airways) and Israir offer flights between both Tel Aviv and Haifa and Eilat daily except Saturdays.

By Train

Israel Railways runs intercity lines from Nahariya to Be'er Sheva via Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport, from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and suburban lines radiating from Tel Aviv to Binyamina, Ashkelon, Kfar Sava, Rishon LeZion, Modiin and Bet Shemesh. There is also a suburban line between Be'er Sheva and Dimona.

Tel Aviv has 4 train stations, Haifa (including its eastern suburban neighborhoods) has 6, and Be'er Sheva has 2, 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-Be'er Sheva line run through the night too. However, after midnight, trains stop in Haifa at the Hof Hacarmel station only, in Tel Aviv at Merkaz (Central) only, and in Be'er Sheva at Merkaz (Central) only. All other Be'er Sheva, 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.

There is also an old, scenic Ottoman-era line to Jerusalem via Beit Shemesh, mostly useful for tourists. During holiday periods it can get crowded.

By Car

Israel has a modern highway network, connecting all destinations throughout the country. In general, avoid travelling by car as traffic is significant in all daylight hours, drivers are aggressive, and road signage while abundant is often confusing.

Road signs often follow city names (rather than compass directions). Than means, that you will see signs to Road 1 Jerusalem and Road 1 Tel Aviv, rather than Road 1 West and Road 1 East, so generally you must follow the name of the largest city at the direction of your destination, even if it is not marked. For example, when traveling from Haifa to Be'er Sheva, you will need to travel southwards which means to follow signs directing to Tel Aviv. When approaching Tel Aviv, you will start see directions to Be'er Sheva. When getting directions, it's best to ask for the name of an exit as well the exit just before it.

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. Numbers generally increase from south to north, and east to west. 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.

Traffic in Israel drives on the right. Traffic signs and regulations are generally standard and resemble those of Western Europe. Highway signage is usually in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, although sometimes just in Hebrew and English. Having signs in 3 languages (Hebrew, English, Arabic) usually makes signs overloaded with text, thus only the name of the destination is written in text and a pictogram is used for the type of destination. 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 travelling 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 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.

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. Using a mobile phone without a hands-free system is forbidden. If one must exit the vehicle on the shoulder of a highway, it is required to put on a reflective vest in order to promote visibility. It is required to keep the reflective vest at all times within the passenger's cabin of the vehicle, and not in the trunk. Car rental companies are required to supply such a vest and it is usually inside the glove compartment.

By Bus

EGGED is the national bus service company, offering frequent, cheap, comfortable and reliable bus links to almost any city, town and even smaller villages. They don't run on Shabbat (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday). Older buses travel between East Jerusalem and the West Bank towns. Dan bus company operates in the Tel Aviv region only. Sheruts are 7 to 13-seat minibuses plying the same routes as buses. They are a bit more expensive but do run on Shabbat. For bus tours check out Egged Tours or Dan Tours as well. These are the top tour companies in Israel which run basically the same routes in and around the major sightseeing areas. Within Jerusalem the public Egged bus number 99 does a loop past most of the major sites and in Tel-Aviv there is a hop-on-hop-off tour bus run by Dan.

By Sherut

A sherut (Hebrew for service) or servees (Arabic) is a shared taxi that seats more than four people (the usual capacity is ten). Depending on the circumstances, a driver will follow a predetermined route like a bus, or will transport a group of people from one location to another based on demand. A sherut can be hailed from anywhere, but can be easily found outside major bus stations. They are usually quicker than buses, and will usually stop at any point along the route (not just predetermined stations). Prices vary depending on the length of the trip and are not negotiable. Drivers may wait until their vehicle is full before beginning their journey. This form of transportation is best when traveling from a large bus station to a surrounding town or suburb, with a precise destination in mind.

By Boat

Kinneret Sailing Company has ferries across Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) from Tiberias on the west side to Ein Gev kibbutz on the eastern shore. Other than that, you can take short boat excursions from Eilat to go diving in the Red Sea. Cruise ships come and go from Haifa usually on short 3 - 7 day Mediterranean cruises.

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Red Tape

Main article: Visas (Israel)

Visa Restrictions: Due to the ongoing Israeli–Arab dispute, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen block passports containing stamps or visas from Israel. You may also have difficulties getting into and/or be refused visas to other Islamic countries, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, etc. However, this is no longer a problem since in most cases Israeli passport control no longer stamps visitors' passports. Under a new system, visitors entering Israel are given special entry cards by the passport control. Having said that, be careful if entering or exiting Israel by land though (e.g. from Jordan or Egypt), as a stamp from the land border crossing or a neighboring country with Israel will be taken as evidence that you have visited Israel, and could also result in you being denied entry to any of these countries, especially to the former countries mentioned. In this case, you'll have to apply for a second passport, which allows you to have a stamp of any neighboring countries or even Israel in one passport and travel to Arab states with another one. (Inquire at your own embassy). Arab customs might also check for luggage stickers (or their residue) from Israel or neighboring countries on your suitcase or the back(s) of your passport. So, remove any leftovers or signs of them.

Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Israel visa-free for up to 3 months: all European Union member states, Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Fiji, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Jamaica, Japan, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Macao, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, the United States, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

If, however, you are suspected of being of overt and illegal activities, of Arab descent, Muslim, or a political activist, there is a possibility of you being subject to additional questioning, searches and/or denied entry, if they are not satisfied after questioning, according to the US Department of State. Be aware that holding citizenship in one of the above listed countries does not guarantee entry. Decisions are left to the discretion of immigration officers.

A visa or residence permit will not be granted to you if you, or the organization you're part of, have knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel or pledged to take part in such a boycott.

German citizens born before 1 Jan 1928 do have to apply for a visa in advance. This visa will be given if you were not heavily involved in persecution during the Nazi era and will be valid for the whole time your passport is valid.

For 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 going to your (other) country of citizenship.

Israeli Customs and Immigration officers 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 Ben Gurion 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 or 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 for a small fee. Just call Ministry of Interior Call center at +972 2 629-4666 to find out where is the office near you. 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.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The new sheqel (Hebrew: שקל חדש, abbr. NIS) is Israel's currency. It is made up of 100 agorot (אגורות). Notes come in
20, 50, 100 and 200 new sheqalim denominations and coins come in denominations of 10 agorot and ½, 1, 2, 5 and 10 new sheqalim.

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Work

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

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Study

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 and Recanati International School in the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya offer international programmes for foreign students.

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).

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Language

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.

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. Many Jews living outside of Israel live in anglophone countries, and the land of Israel was under a British mandate between 1917 and 1948.

Massive immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s brought a large number of immigrants who speak Russian.

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Eat

shook in jerusalem spice tower

shook in jerusalem spice tower

© All Rights Reserved Sarah 2116

While many popular dishes in Israel are typical to the Middle Eastern Cuisine, its cuisine is as diverse as the population. Food is generally of a very high standard, and immigrants from around the world brought almost every genre and type of food to Israel. Kosher food is widely available. Even restaurants without Kosher certificates follow some guidelines of Kashrut to some extent. Tipping is very common in sit-in places that have waiters - not tipping in sit-in restaurants is frowned upon, but is accepted for signalling atrocious service. 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. Restaurants may charge a "security fee" - roughly ₪1-2 per person. However, this fee is not mandatory, and it is common to ask for the fee to be removed from the bill, as well you should. 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. Restaurants are required to allow this. Perhaps surprisingly, items that are typically associated with Jewish cuisine in much of the English-speaking world such as bagels and pastrami are not widespread in Israel, though they can still be found in eateries operated by American or Canadian immigrants. If you need an English menu, ask for a "tafrit b'anglit".

Israelis tend to consider usually falafel and hummus as national dishes, although these dishes do not originate in Israel. A serving of Falafel includes falafel balls, which are small fried balls of mashed chickpeas and/or fava beans, usually served inside a pita bread (or its larger cousin, the lafa bread) with hummus-chips-salat (hummus, French fries and vegetable salad) and tahini. 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 (₪10-15), and it's vegetarian (and often vegan). You can also order half a serving ("chat-TZEE mah-NAH"). If you don't know which falafel joint to go to, pick one with a good flow of customers, because falafel balls are tastiest when extremely fresh. Hummus is a popular dip made of chickpea granules and various additions (such as olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon juice and tahini) and usually eaten with pieces of pita. At places that specialize in Hummus (commonly referred to as "hummusiot"), you can find the dish topped with chopped lamb, fried chicken breast, and many other different toppings, such as cooked masabacha grains, shakshuka, ground beef, pine nuts, fried onions, mushrooms, etc.

Another popular option is shawarma - sliced turkey or lamb meat, also served inside a pita/lafa with hummus-chips-salat toppings. Many other things can fit your pita: for example, Me'orav Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite mix), which contain several types of offal meat, or schnitzel, a batter fried chicken breast somewhat inspired by the Viennese original.

Another street food gaining popularity is the Iraqi-origin sabikh: a pita bread stuffed with a hard boiled egg, batter-dipped deep fried eggplant, hummus, tehini, potatoes, and salad.

Kosher Food

Israeli cuisine is heavily influenced by the ancient Jewish laws of kosher food. The word kosher means anything that is allowed by Jewish religious laws, in this case food laws. Among other things kashrut requires complete segregation of meat and dairy foods, dishes and utensils; select types of fish are kosher but most 'sea foods' are not; meat must undergo a ritual slaughter process; and all foods must be prepared under controlled and monitored conditions. Kosher restaurants and hotels display a valid, dated certificate issued by local rabbinical authorities; kosher restaurants close for the Shabbat. Because of the meat-and-milk restrictions, kosher restaurants bill themselves as either בשרי (b'sari, "meat") or חלבי (chalavi, dairy). Dairy restaurants will also serve fish (as Jewish law does not consider fish to be meat), and egg products. If you find cheeseburgers or pizzas with meat toppings in a kosher restaurant, they are made from soy or other substitutes for either the meat or the cheese.

Due to the secular nature of much of Israel, both kosher and non-kosher foods and restaurants can be found. Restaurants in Arab areas rarely follow kosher laws (unless they cater to a mixed clientèle), though they often follow Halal laws (the Muslim equivalent).

Most 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 spread are common substitutes). Most big supermarkets sell only kosher products, but more and more non-kosher supermarkets and convenience stores have appeared, due in part to the many secular Jews who have immigrated from the former USSR. With restaurants, things vary by location: in Tel Aviv a large proportion of restaurants are non-kosher, while in Jerusalem nearly all restaurants are kosher. Restaurants that remain open on Shabbat cannot receive kosher certification. So some restaurants serve kosher food while not being certified, but not every restaurant that claims this is necessarily telling the truth.

One attraction for practising Jewish (and other) tourists is the kosher McDonald's restaurants. Most of the branches are not kosher, so ask before ordering. Branches of Burger Ranch, an Israeli burger chain, are kosher. 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 they can make money by selling fake kashrut certificates. Therefore, someone looking for kosher food should look for a certificate from the local rabbinate or a recognized kashrut agency. Certificates from unknown organizations should not be relied upon.

The word for kosher is pronounced kasher (כָּשֵר) in Modern Hebrew, while the Hebrew word for "fitness" is Kosher (in Israel, gyms are known as kheder kosher, i.e. fitness room). The words have the same root - kosher food is food that is "fit" to eat for religious Jews.

Ethnic Food

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.

Most Israelis enjoy instant coffee and will order it in restaurants and shops. The quality of this coffee is often quite high. However, Israelis also appreciate a café culture. While concoctions such as "botz" (mud) coffee, also known as "cafe turki" or Turkish coffee (an inexpensive extra-finely ground coffee, often spiced with cardamom, that is cooked on a stove and served unfiltered/unstrained) are popular, the coffee culture in Israel has become refined and the quality has drastically increased in the last couple of decades. High quality espresso has replaced instant coffee as the base of most coffee drinks. There are several highly popular local coffee chains and numerous independent coffee shops. Many Israelis like to just spend time sipping their café latté (the most popular coffee in cafés) and chatting with friends. You can also have a light meal with sandwiches and salads. Aroma is Israel's largest coffee chain that has good coffee. 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 a little better. Other chains include Elite Coffee, cafe cafe, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Cafe Hillel (of which some branches are Kosher dairy). Israelis frown upon US-style coffee, and Starbucks failed miserably in Israel because their coffee was considered inferior by the locals.

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Sleep

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 have star ratings, so beware that where these are seen, they are awarded by the hotels themselves.

Hostel/hotel owners in Israel do not appreciate it when you turn up onsite and ask for the best price leaving out the monopolistic middle man. Hence, you should instead book online (through their website, or one of the many commercial websites) or by phone, and take the best price you can get. Also, accommodations seem to use confusing US$ quotes and then demand shekels on purpose to prevent comparability. Make sure to always get the shekel (NIS) quote and demand to pay what was agreed on in shekels.

There are many free camp grounds available in Israel, especially in the Negev, which offer a great alternative to save some money. Most of the time you won't even need a tent, because rain and mosquitoes (and such) are sparse in the Negev.

Israel Hostels (ILH), a network of 40 independent hostels, guest houses and lodges designed for independent travellers. They hand out visiting cards you can use at the next ILH to get 5 % discount, so ask for them. Even so, make sure to confirm the price beforehand by calling or online, the quoted prices from their website/flyers do not always seem to be reliable.

Israel Youth Hostel Association (IYHA) runs a thriving network of youth hostels, but is generally more expensive than the former one.
The Israel Hotel Association (IHA) is the umbrella organization for Israel's hotels and also represents them. About 350 hotels, from Metulla in the North to Eilat in the South, are members of the IHA.

A large number of kibbutzim now include bed and breakfast accommodation among their activities.

A number of private residencies (popular in northern communities) offer a room to let (commonly known as "zimmer", from the German word for room).
Israel has a number of 3-4 star hotel chains. Israel has a large number of boutique hotels and one large chain of boutique hotels, Atlas Hotels. In the Negev Desert, there are multiple Bedouin camps that offer shelter and an unforgettable desert experience. You may be able to ride a camel, depending on the camp.

Due to a Jewish religious prohibition on couples sharing a bed during certain periods in the woman's menstrual cycle, most king-sized beds at hotels are actually two smaller beds pushed together, which can be separated if necessary. It is therefore possible for two travellers who are not in a romantic relationship to book a room with one king bed if nothing else is available, then separate it into two separate beds.

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Drink

There are three main brands of Israeli beer:

  • Goldstar - a Munich-style dark draught, it is the most popular Israeli beer in Israel. Can be found in bottles and cans of 0.5 and 0.3 liters (1 pint and half a pint, respectively), or KHE-tsi and shlish (Hebrew for "half" and "third". Referring to the amount based on litres, as Israel uses SI). It is also available from tap (meh ha-kha-VIT, Hebrew for "from the barrel"). Some say it is delicious with Bissli, a snack food indigenous to the area.
  • Maccabee - a pilsener, lighter and smoother than Goldstar. Comes in bottles, cans or from tap. This beer has a bad reputation in Israel as being of foul taste. Recently, its recipe was changed and the beer has been regaining popularity in Israel. Still, due to its bad reputation many bars do not serve it. Be aware that the local variety of Maccabee tastes differently than the exported one.
  • Nesher - comes in bottles, mostly malt.

Lately, several brands of micro-breweries have established themselves, and a wide selection of boutique beers such as Sins-Brewery, Bazelet, Golda, Laughing Buddha, Asif, Dancing Camel 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 L, mixed with equal amount of water and ice leading to a characteristic milk-like opaqueness. 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. Wine is mentioned in the Torah and Israeli winemaking tradition goes back to before the Roman conquest. Much of Israeli wine is kosher. Kosher wine has historically had a terrible reputation that is mostly unjustified in the 21st century and has been fading due to the good quality of many kosher wines becoming more widely known among connoisseurs and the wider public alike. The Golan Heights are among the premier wine growing regions under Israeli control.

Most of the regular Western soft drinks are available, and many have local variants that aren't very different in taste. The Coca-Cola Company, RC Cola, and PepsiCo fight for the soft drink market aggressively. Israeli Coca-Cola is thought by Cola connoisseurs to be tastier and more authentic than elsewhere, because it is made with sugar, 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 Coca-Cola; if the place serves Pepsi, they will usually ask if it's fine. "Soda" generally means "soda water", and is not a generic name for carbonated soft drinks. There are several more authentic soft drinks:

Tropit – cheap fruit flavor drink which is usually grape. Comes in a tough aluminum-like bag with a straw. The bag is poked using the straw to make a hole through which you drink. A very portable drink (until holed), which has become very popular in summer camps. In the newer varieties there is a marked area where the straw should be inserted. Even then it can sometimes take practice to insert the straw without the juice squirting out, if you are from the US it is just like the Israeli version of "Capri Sun."
Chocolate milk – there are a number of brands of sterilized chocolate milk (SHO-ko) which comes in plastic bags and small cartons. The tip of the bag is bitten or clipped off, and the milk is sucked out. As with Tropit, it is very portable (although due to its milky nature, not as much) until opened, after which it is impractical to reseal. Chocolate milk in a bag is usually served cold, and it would be a very bad idea to warm it.
Spring Nectar – fruit flavored drinks that comes in cans or 1.5L bottles. Sold in most supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations, as well as many take-away stands. Comes in a number of flavors such as peach, mango, and strawberry.
Prigat – fruit flavored drink that comes in plastic bottles. Is sold at pretty much every supermarket, petrol station and corner-store around Israel. Comes in many flavors including grape, orange, apple, tomato and a few more exotic options as well.
Primor – fruit juice in plastic bottles. Sold pretty much everywhere. Comes in many flavors, mostly citrus and apples.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Israel. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Yemen. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Particularly when there is no fighting on the Lebanese or Gazan borders, travel to Israel is quite safe, and crime rates are well below those found in most other Western countries. Having said this, buses and bus stops have been targeted by Palestinian bombers since the early 1990s, though this became unusual after construction of the West Bank security barrier was initiated in 2005. Some Palestinians have deliberately driven cars or other vehicles into crowds waiting for the Jerusalem Light Rail, for example. However, statistically, the chances of being involved in a traffic accident are much higher than the chances of being involved in an attack.

It is still a good idea to stay informed of developments before and during your stay. Caution should be used particularly in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and areas surrounding the Gaza Strip (particularly the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, which have been targeted by rockets from the Strip). If you see anyone acting suspiciously, or find an untended parcel, notify the police. Also, never leave a bag unattended in a public area, as it may be suspected as a bomb.

Police in Israel wear light blue or very dark navy clothing with flat caps, while Israeli Border Police (similar in function to Gendarmerie) wear dark grey uniforms with green berets or police ball caps. It is not unusual to see plenty of soldiers (and sometimes civilians) carrying firearms (military rifles and handguns) in public. Most of these soldiers are simply on leave from their base. Soldiers have no authority over civilians, except in specially designated zones near borders or military bases, where they are allowed to detain you until the arrival of a police officer.

In terms of typical crime, Israel is a very safe country with 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 are rare. Single women 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 (even 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 body. When entering underground parking lots, the trunk of your car will be inspected. Do not be alarmed: this is just national policy. If you carry a huge backpack, you can often get away with showing a passport, and the guards will be just as relieved as you.

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 ceasefire there remains a low danger that the conflict will again erupt. Israel has stable relations with both Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 and 1994, respectively. The frontier between the Israeli-ruled part of the Golan Heights and Syria has also generally been quiet since 1974, but there have been attempts by Hezbollah to place missile batteries in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights, and some stray rockets from the Syrian civil war have hit the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights.

Fighting and hostilities resumed in mid-2014 between Israel and Hamas Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, affirming that all travel to the Gaza Strip area should be avoided, and in the past several noted foreigners (even volunteers) have been kidnapped by armed militants during escalations. Israel does not allow travel to the Strip; the only way in is via Egypt. And even then, Egypt keeps the border shut most of the time. You might have better luck if you're a journalist, though.

Because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Muslim-Jewish disputes over the status of the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif, violent clashes can sometimes break out in and around that holy place, and that these often include stones being thrown at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. Check on current conditions before going to that part of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Hiking trails in southern Israel (and in the Golan) are adjacent to military fire practice areas. If you are not certain where you are going, do not hike in this region. These firing areas are marked on the official hiking maps.

On a 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 land mines being present. They may have been 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.

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Keep Connected

Internet

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 15 shekels per hour but you can get it for about 10 shekels 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 Wi-Fi" project started. This government started project aims to cover the entire Jerusalem area with Wi-Fi although at the moment the only areas covered are in the city center. A similar project has started in Tel Aviv and in Karmiel in the north. Some other cities are following suit.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The international country code for Israel is 972. Emergency numbers include 100 (police), 101 (ambulance) and 102 (fire). 112 is supported in mobile networks.

Currently Israel offers support for all the available networks including GSM/UMTS (Pelephone, Cellcom and Orange), CDMA (Pelephone) and iDen (Hot Mobile). In any case, you must check with your carrier about the roaming option and the compatibility of your device in advance. A valid suggestion otherwise is to turn off data services.

You can rent a cellphone for use in Israel either before your trip or once you arrive from several firms. You can also rent smartphones with sim cards included sometimes for lower than the cost of renting just a sim card. Vendors such as Israel Phone Rentalsoffer the advantages of a sim card rental without having to worry about bringing your own phone to Israel. If you have a GSM cellphone without a SIM-lock, you can buy a SIM-card. Prepaid SIM cards are available at Pelephone (Talk & Go), Cellcom (Talk Man) and Orange (Bigtalk) phone stores throughout Israel. Almost all shopping malls will have a Pelephone, Cellcom or Orange kiosk or store.

There are many public phones scattered around. Public phones can be always found at hotels, post offices, central bus stations and train stations. These phones use a Telecard, which, today, is a pre-paid calling card that works only with pay phones and can be purchased at post offices and some stores, as well as ordinary calling cards. Some phones also accept credit cards, usually those in hotels and post offices.

Post

The Israel Post is the national postal service of Israel and generally has fast, reliable and affordable services. Efficiency means that letters and postcards send by airmail just take about 3-7 days within Europe, a few days more to the USA and Australia. Express Mail Services (EMS) is available, with which you are guaranteed to have the postcard or letter delivered within 72 hours anywhere in the world. You can buy stamps at post offices, or newspaper stands/kiosks or some souvenir shops and hotels. The main post offices are usually open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Sunday to Thursday and 8:00am to 2:00pm on Friday, though some might keep longer hours. Branch offices and post offices in smaller towns keep shorter hours, usually with a break from 12:30pm to 3:30pm, and on Wednesday and Friday only during the morning. Parcels can be send by the regular post offices or with companies like TNT, UPS, FedEx and DHL.

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Quick Facts

Israel flag

Map of Israel

[edit]

Capital
Jerusalem
Population
6,117,000
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Religions
Judaism, Islam, Christianity
Languages
Hebrew, Arabic, English
Calling Code
+972
Nationality
Local name

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Accommodation in Israel

Use our map of places to stay in Israel to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.

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