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ISRAEL – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Israel Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Israel is on the eastern Mediterranean, bordered by Lebanon and Syria to the north, the Palestine National Authority (West Bank) and Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the south. Gaza, a small coastal strip between Israel and Egypt, is claimed by the Palestine National Authority, but under de facto rule by the militant group Hamas. Although only the size of Massachusetts, Israel contains a great variety of terrain and four climate zones. The north of the country is the fertile hill region of Galilee, rising to Mount Hermon and Golan in the northeast. The fertile Plain of Sharon runs along the coast, while inland are a range of hills and uplands with relatively barren stony areas to the east. The country stretches southwards through the Negev Desert to Eilat, on the Red Sea. The Dead Sea (the lowest point in the world) sits along the eastern border. Israel’s largest freshwater lake, the Kinneret (also known the Sea of Galilee) is an important source of drinking water for the country.

HISTORY

Following World War II, the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine, and the UN partitioned the area into Arab and Jewish states, an arrangement rejected by the Arabs. Subsequently, the Israelis defeated the Arabs in a series of wars without ending the deep tensions between the two sides. The territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war are not included in the Israel country profile, unless otherwise noted. In April 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Israel and Palestinian officials signed in September 1993 a Declaration of Principles (also known as the “Oslo Accords”) guiding an interim period of Palestinian self-rule. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

resolved in the October 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. In addition, in May 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations were conducted between Israel and Palestinian representatives and Syria to achieve a permanent settlement.

In April 2003, US President BUSH, working in conjunction with the EU, UN, and Russia – the “Quartet” – took the lead in laying out a roadmap to a final settlement of the conflict by 2005, based on reciprocal steps by the two parties leading to two states, Israel and a democratic Palestine. However, progress toward a permanent status agreement was undermined by Palestinian-Israeli violence between September 2000 and February 2005. An agreement reached at Sharm al-Sheikh in February 2005 significantly reduced the violence. The election in January 2005 of Mahmud ABBAS as the new Palestinian leader following the November 2004 death of Yasir ARAFAT, the formation of a Likud-Labor-United Torah Judaism coalition government in January 2005, and the successful Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip (August-September 2005), presented an opportunity for a renewed peace effort. However, internal Israeli political events between October and December 2005 forced early elections.

THE PEOPLE

Over 80 percent of the population is Jewish, while the remainder 20 percent consists of Arabs who are mainly Muslim including      a smaller population of Arab-Christians. Most of the people of Israel live in metropolitan areas and heavy concentration is found around the cities of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv-Yafo and Haifa.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Israelis are usually very informal but with the European style of hospitality. Israelis are typically blunt and direct in speech, which should not be misinterpreted as rudeness. Visitors should observe normal courtesies when visiting someone’s home and should not be afraid to ask questions about the country as most Israelis are happy to talk about their homeland, religion and politics. The expression shalom (‘peace’) is used for hello and goodbye. Dress is casual, but in the holy places of all religions modest attire is worn. For places such as the Western Wall, male visitors are given a smart cardboard yarmulke (skull cap) to respect the religious importance of the site. Business people are expected to dress smartly, or at least in a smart casual style, although ties are often not worn, while the most expensive of restaurants and nightclubs may expect a similar standard. If formal evening wear is required this will be specified on invitations. It is considered a violation of Shabbat (Sabbath, on Saturday) to smoke on that day. There is usually a sign to remind the visitor of this, and to disregard the warning would be regarded as discourteous.

LANGUAGE

Hebrew is the official language, while Arabic is used officially amongst the Arab minority. English is the most commonly used foreign language.

 GOVERNMENT

A parliamentary democracy, with Basic Laws empowered by the unicameral Knesset.

TIME ZONE

The time in Israel is UTC +2 hours and UTC +3 hours in the summer (daylight savings time).

ELECTRICITY

230 Volts AC; 50 Hz.

CLIMATE

Mediterranean, with a pleasant spring and autumn. Winters in the north can be cool. Occasional light rain in winter is possible, particularly in Jerusalem, though recent years have seen insufficient rain. Snow is rare. Summers can be very hot, especially in the south. The Red Sea resort of Eilat has a good climate for beach holidays all year round.

Clothes to Wear:

Lightweight clothes for warmer months are required. Medium-weight clothing is recommended for winters, although on the Red Sea coast they are unlikely to be necessary during the day.

LOGISTICAL

Entry and Exit Requirements:

The U.S. Government seeks equal treatment and freedom to travel for all American citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity. U.S. citizens who encounter difficulties are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv or the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem.

Security Screening: U.S. citizens are advised that all persons applying for entry to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are subject to security and police record checks by the Government of Israel, and may be denied entry or exit without explanation.

U.S. citizen visitors have been subjected to prolonged questioning and thorough searches by Israeli authorities upon entry or departure. U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin; those who have been involved in missionary or activist activity; and those who ask that Israeli stamps not be entered into their passport may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may even be denied entry into Israel, the West Bank or Gaza.

U.S. citizens who feel they have been wrongly denied entry to Israel or the West Bank, or unnecessarily subjected to additional security screening, may fill out the Denial of Entry Sheet located under the U.S. citizen services tab at the Jerusalem Consulate General web site, or contact the American Citizen Services (ACS) unit of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Entering Israel: A passport valid for six months from the date of entering Israel, an onward or return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds are required for entry. A no-charge, three-month visa may be issued upon arrival and may be renewed. Anyone who has been refused entry, experienced difficulties with his/her status during a previous visit, overstayed the authorized duration of a previous visit, or otherwise violated the terms of their admission to Israel should consult the Israeli Embassy or nearest Israeli Consulate before attempting to return.

Entering the Gaza Strip: The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization. American citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The U.S. Government does not permit its personnel to enter the Gaza Strip, making it difficult for Americans in the Gaza Strip to receive consular assistance. Please contact the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for updated guidance, if necessary. See the latest Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for the latest information concerning travel to the Gaza Strip. Private vehicles may not cross from Israel into Gaza or from Gaza into Israel. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is generally closed and the Gaza Airport is no longer operating.

Entering the West Bank: The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. Please contact the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for updated guidance, if necessary. See the Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for the latest information concerning travel to the West Bank.

Finally, the Government of Israel’s policy notes: “Foreign citizens whose passports were stamped recently with the words ‘Last Permit’ may nonetheless leave the West Bank and submit a new visa request. However, the entry of individuals into Israel and the West Bank remains subject to imperative considerations of policy and security by the relevant authorities.”

Israel-Jordan Crossings: International crossing points between Israel and Jordan are the Arava crossing (Wadi al-‘Arabah) in the south, near Eilat; and the Jordan River crossing (Sheikh Hussein Bridge) in the north, near Beit Shean. American citizens using these two crossing points to enter either Israel or Jordan need not obtain prior visas, but will be required to pay fees, which are subject to change.

Allenby Bridge (King Hussein Bridge): For detailed information, please refer to the Consulate General’s web site. Visas should be obtained in advance for those wanting to cross the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank.  Procedures for all three crossings into Jordan are subject to frequent changes. Visit the Embassy of Israel web site for the most current visa information.

U.S. citizens traveling in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv or the Consulate General in Jerusalem through the State Department’s travel registration web site in order to obtain updated information on travel and security within Israel, the West Bank or Gaza. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

The U.S. mailing address is 9700 Tel Aviv Place, Washington, DC 20521-9700. The telephone number is (972) (3) 519-7575. The emergency number after 4:30 p.m. and before 8:00 a.m. local time is (972) (3) 519-7551. The fax number is (972) (3) 516-4390, or 516-0315.

Embassy Locations:

United States Embassy in Israel

71 Hayarkon Street

Tel Aviv, Israel 63903

(972)(2) 622-7200

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy should be contacted for information and assistance in the following areas: Israel, the Golan Heights, and ports of entry at Ben Gurion Airport, Haifa Port, the northern (Jordan River) and southern (Arava) border crossings connecting Israel and Jordan, and the border crossings between Israel and Egypt. A U.S. Consular Agent who reports to the Embassy in Tel Aviv maintains an office in Haifa at 26 Ben Gurion Boulevard, telephone (972) (4) 853-1470. The Consular Agent can provide both routine and emergency services in the northern part of Israel.

The Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is located at 27 Nablus Road in Jerusalem. The U.S. mailing address is 6350 Jerusalem Place, Dulles, VA 20189-6350. The telephone number is (972) (2) 622-7200. The Consular Section’s public telephone number for information and assistance is (972) (2) 628-7221, Monday through Friday from 8am to 12 pm. Messages may be left at that number at other times. For after-hours emergencies directly involving an American citizen (after 4:30pm and before 8am local time,) calls should be directed to (972) (2) 622-7250. The Consular Section’s fax number is (972) (2) 627-2233. You may contact the Consulate by e-mail.

Embassy of Canada to Israel

3/5 Nirim Street, Tel Aviv, 67060

Tel: (011 972 3) 636-3300
Fax: (011 972 3) 636-3380

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/israel/

Health:

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Israel. The Ministry of Health ‘reserves the right’ to deny entry to visitors who declare their status. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Israel before you travel.

For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_diseases/en/. Further general health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

 

Banks & Currency:

New Shekel (ILS; symbol ₪) = 100 agorot (singular, agora). Notes are in denominations of ₪200, 100, 50, and 20. Coins are in denominations of ₪ 10, 5, 2 and 1, and 50 and 10 agorot.

Prices for tourist services are sometimes quoted in US Dollars. This is usually where the expectation is that a credit card will be used, for example when hiring a car. In these instances, the amount paid would be written in US Dollars.

Foreign currency can only be exchanged at authorized banks, hotels and change shops. Change shops found in most cities charge no commission and equal the bank exchange rates. It is advisable to leave Israel with the minimum of Israeli currency. Payment in foreign currency exempts tourists from VAT on certain purchases and services, and is sometimes preferred by shop keepers.

All major credit cards are accepted. ATM’s are widely available.

Travelers’ checks are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take travelers’ checks in US Dollars.

There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding ₪90,000 or equivalent must be declared.

Banking hours: Sun-Fri 08:30am-12pm and Sun, Tues, Thurs 4pm-6pm.

Communications:

Country Code: 972. Outgoing Code: 00.

Internet cafés are widely available in most cities and towns, and free Wi-Fi access is common in cafés.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink:

Israeli eating has distinctive characteristics, especially the fondness for fresh, finely chopped salads, eaten at every meal including breakfast. In general the cuisine is a fusion of East and West, plus many dishes and flavors brought by Jewish immigrants from all over the world. Most restaurants are moderately priced. Table service is the norm, except at the many low-cost snack bars. Restaurants, bars and cafés catering for tourists usually have menus in both Hebrew and English. The Hebrew word kosher means conforming to Jewish religious laws. The laws include not eating milk, cream or cheese in the same meal as meat and avoiding pork and shellfish (although imitation seafood is common and may be indistinguishable from the real thing).

National specialities:

  • Falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas) in a pita bread, with hummus (ground chickpeas), tahina (sesame seed sauce) and salads
  • Salads, which include savory vegetable dishes served cold, such as aubergines
    • Shishlik (charcoal-grilled meat on a skewer)
  • Shwarma (slices of grilled meat served in a pita bread with salad)
  • Ashkenazi classics like cholent (Shabbat meat stew) and gefilte fish, a white fish dish.

National drinks:

  • Soft drinks (Israelis are among the world’s largest consumers)
  • Fresh fruit juices are very popular and widely available, made from all kinds of fruit
  • The wines of Israel range from light white to dry red and sweet rosé. The best come from the Golan and Carmel regions
  • Gold Star and Maccabe (Israeli beers)
  • Sabra (chocolate and orange liqueur). A centre for liqueurs is the monastery at Latrun on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Nightlife:

There are nightclubs and discos in most cities. Israel’s scene, particularly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, draw DJs and club fans from around the world. Israeli folklore and dance shows can be seen everywhere, especially in the kibbutzim. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra can be heard at the ICC Binaynei Ha’uma Hall in Jerusalem during the winter. A summer attraction is the Israel Festival of International Music.  The New Israel Opera hosts an annual season at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts centre. The season runs from October to July. Cinema is popular in Israel and many cinemas screen three daily shows of international and local films (all Hebrew films are subtitled in English and French). Tickets for all events and even films can be bought in advance from ticket agencies and sometimes from hotels and tourist offices.

Shopping:

There is a wide choice for shoppers in Israel. Contrary to a widespread belief among visitors, bargaining is not usual in Israel except in the few Arab markets. There are also very animated Jewish markets (shuks) of tremendous cultural diversity, notably the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. The best place to buy food is at these outdoor markets; the produce is cheap and fresh.  Tourists benefit from a zero rate of VAT (a tax on transactions) on many goods and services. In addition, when buying from souvenir and specialist shops displaying a Ministry of Tourism sign, especially jewelers and luxury good stores, it is possible to obtain a refund of VAT: when making your purchase, ask for a Tax Refund Invoice; then, when leaving the country, take the invoice to the tax refund desk at the airport or port for the VAT refund.

Shopping hours: Sun-Fri 8am-7pm; some shops close 1pm-4pm and some early on Friday. Remember that Jewish-run stores close for Shabbat from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, while Arabic stores close Friday. It takes a while to realize that Sunday is a normal working day unlike in Christian countries. For shoppers, Jewish stores are therefore open Friday, Arab markets Saturday and both are open Sunday when Christian stores close. Shops in hotels are often open until midnight.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Appreciated in sit-in restaurants. It is standard to give 10% (or 15% for exceptional service). Some establishments include a service charge in the bill; in this case it is clearly marked (normally in Hebrew and in English). It is suggested that tour guides and drivers share $10 to $15 per person per day on escorted coach tours ($6-$10 per person per day for guide and $4-$5 per person per day for driver).

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people. Observant Jews will not appreciate being photographed on Shabbat (sundown Friday through sundown Saturday), when they themselves would be unwilling to operate a camera. The security forces at the Western Wall will actually prevent you from taking pictures there on Shabbat.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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