PICTURE BY TALIA HARARI
Weather & Climate: Fairly hot, especially during the summer months. Winters are mild, but do necessitate a jacket or coat, snow has been found from time to time in the country. It isn't as humid as other Middle Eastern countries, but it can be uncomfortable at times. The desert of the country is very hot (obviously) and yet can get very cool suddenly in the evenings.
Religion: Religion plays a large role in the country's fractured identity. The country is the only Jewish based state in the world. Yet Israel still functions somewhat as a democracy. Within the Jewish tradition, there are a lot of facets, as in the Muslim. Christianity plays a role in the numerous churches and monasteries throughout the country. Many Palestinians are Christian. The majority of the Palestinians are Muslim. You will hear the Muslim call to prayer side by side with Hasidim walking down the street. This country is indeed a land of religion. Many young Jewish people from the West come to Israel to learn about their backgrounds. Jews are also granted Israeli citizenship, usually without many problems. There is also a concerted effort to emigrate and import Jews from other countries, from Russia to Ethiopia.
Language: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. You will find a large number of English speakers throughout Israel, both Arabs and Jews.
Clothing: Clothing is somewhat conservative, though young Israeli society is fairly Western in their clothing. Bathing suits and bikinis are the norm on the beaches. You must cover up somewhat when visiting religious shrines, mosques, and other similar places. This entails long trousers for men and long dresses for women. Absolutely no tank tops or shorts. Palestinians are somewhat more conservative in their dress, but are used to seeing Western wear.
Visa: You should be aware that apart from Egypt and Jordan, it is very difficult to gain entry into Arab or Muslim countries with an Israeli stamp in your passport. Most people visiting Israel leave it as their last country to go to in the region because of this. At Israeli customs/passport control you can usually request a removable slip of paper if you are traveling on after Israel although it is at the customs official's will that this could happen or not.
Anyone entering Israel needs a passport valid at least six months from the intended date of entering Israel. Anyone traveling to Israel as a tourist must travel with a round-trip ticket.
If you have an Arabic name, Arabic stamps in your passport, Arabic clothing, flags or political material you will likely be stopped and asked questions for as long as several days. Many people have personally contacted us saying that even though they have US passports they have been denied entry into Israel.
If you are from the US or UK you can get a visa upon arrival. If you are from the following countries a visa is not required to travel to Israel as well (up to a three month stay):
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea South, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, St Kitts & Nevis Surinam, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu.
For all other countries, contact an Israeli consulate or embassy.
Driving: Driving in Israel is on the risky side due to the high speed and misuse of the vehicle in the country. More people are killed in car accidents than in any other way. Rental car companies are usually reliable, as are most of the country's roads. If you must drive, avoid doing so at night, while drinking, or in areas that are not inhabited.
International Driving Permit required. Application and info for US drivers on AAA's Web site here: http://www.csaa.com/.
Drugs and Alcohol: Alcohol is available throughout the country. The drinking age is 18. Israel has several pilsner type beers, bars, etc. Alcohol may not be widely available in smaller towns, or in Arab neighborhoods.
Drugs are harshly dealt with, though widely available throughout the younger traveling crowd. Several types of ecstasy are manufactured in Israel. Marijuana is found as well. Drugs are not tolerated well either by the Israeli government or the Arab communities. Prison sentences are given out every year.
Money: The currency in Israel is the shekel, worth about US 25 cents at the moment. Traveler's checks and credit cards are accepted widely. There is also access to ATMs and banks as well.
Vaccinations Needed: None.
Annoyances: Israel is a security heavy country, you can be stopped, searched, or asked questions by machine gun toting young people at any time and for any reason. Terrorism is also a problem in the country, and several suicide bomb attacks have occurred in tourist areas. That said, you are more likely to get hit by a car, and cigarette smoking kills over a thousand people a day in the US alone, so weigh your options logically. The situation in the country, however, is extremely unstable, and you should be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Gay and Lesbian Travel: The gay community is very out and active in Israel, though it is quite conservative. For more info and links to information see http://www.globalgayz.com/g-israel.html.
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