Difference between revisions of "Israel"
Revision as of 16:17, 17 July 2013
Israel (Hebrew: מדינת ישראל; Arabic: دولة إسرائيل) is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a small window on the Red Sea at the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba). Israel is bordered by Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest, by Jordan to the east, and by Syria and Lebanon to the north. It shares borders to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea with the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli de-facto rule since 1967. In addition to the majority Palestinian Arab populations living in these regions, the Israeli Government has built many Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as in the annexed Golan Heights.
Israel was established as a state for the Jewish people, following the Second World War. Israel is considered part of the Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories). The three major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have historical ties to the region. Israel thus contains a vibrant modern history and culture, based in part on the diverse, immigrant origins of its inhabitants returning from the Jewish Diaspora. These aspects make Israel a fascinating destination for many travelers and pilgrims. As a result of this vast mix of culture, in addition to the official languages of Hebrew and Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish, Amharic and Yiddish are also spoken by a significant minority of Israelis. English in many ways acts as second language. Within Israel's recognized pre-1967 borders, about 80% of Israelis identify themselves as Jewish, the remainder classify themselves as either as Arab and/or Palestinian, Bedouin or Druze.
Israel is a highly urbanized and economically developed society and is therefore best divided for the traveler into its main cities and towns, followed by the regions and other sites.
While the current State of Israel is a relatively new country founded in 1948, the Land of Israel has a long and often very complex history stretching back thousands of years to the very beginnings of human civilization. It has been invaded by virtually every Old World empire including the Persians, Romans, Ottomans and British. (Even the Mongols once raided cities on what is now Israeli soil.) It is also the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem is also a sacred city for Muslims.
Israel has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with Neanderthal remains from the region dating back 50,000 years. Its strategic location serving as the gateway from Asia to Egypt and Africa had made Israel an ideal target for conquerors through the ages. The first nation to have influence was the great Egyptian civilization. Approximately 1000 B.C, an independent Judean Kingdom was set up under King Saul. The land lay to the south of Phoenicia. After intermittent civil war, the land was conquered by the Assyrians and Persians and in c. 330 BC by Alexander the Great. A newly independent Jewish state, ruled by the Maccabees, was conquered in 63 BC by the Romans. Around 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry in the Galilee.
Following a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE, the Israelites were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, creating a substantial Jewish diaspora throughout the world. However, many Israelites did remain in the Land of Israel outside Jerusalem for a few centuries, although persecution gradually eroded at whatever Israelites population was left in their homeland. The area was captured by Muslim invaders in the 7th Century. In the middle ages, European Christians invaded in a period known as the Crusades and established a small kingdom, but after a few centuries were expelled. The land was then ruled for many years by different Muslim empires, culminating in the Ottoman Empire.
During WWI, Palestine, as it was known, was captured by the British. In order to gain support of the Arabs who were siding with the rising Nazis, the British designated the eastern two-thirds of Palestine as the country of Transjordan in the 1920's (now known as Jordan). The British agreed to support the idea of European Jews returning to their ancestral homeland in the remaining third of Palestine. During the 1920s and 1930s there was mass migration of Jews into Palestine, many of them European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic riots (caused by political movements in Germany) which would eventually lead to the Holocaust. By 1939 the population of Palestine was one-third Jewish (by comparison, in 1917 the population was only 10% Jewish), but after the end of WWII in 1945, the British did not allow any further Jewish immigration into Palestine.
The Jewish nationalist movement was strengthened significantly because of the events of World War II. Many major powers, including the Americans, endorsed Jewish independence in Palestine as the only way to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. The British were more hesitant, however, as they worried about a possible Arab revolt. The Jewish nationalists, emboldened by support from the Americans and the French, grew impatient with the British delay in granting independence and started several armed uprisings of their own against British rule.
After two years of growing violence, in the fall of 1947 the British decided to withdraw their troops from the remaining western third of Palestine. The UN recommended that the territory of Palestine be partitioned into two states: A Jewish state, and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs firmly rejected it. Nonetheless, half a year later, on 14 May 1948, the British withdrew and the Jewish nationalists immediately declared independence as the State of Israel. The Arabs responded with a military invasion of the nascent State of Israel, and thus no Arab State in western Palestine was ever established. The Israelis won a decisive victory in their War of Independence. Over the course of the war, approximately 600,000 Arabs in Palestine fled from the territory of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. To this day, it is hotly debated whether Israel forcibly expelled these people or they moved out on their own, but probably both occurred.
Following the establishment of Israel in May 1948, there was a surge of immigration of refugees survivors of the European Holocaust which had not been allowed to enter Palestine under the British Mandate government. At the same time the surrounding Muslim countries expelled most of their Jewish populations, and Israel experienced a further surge of immigration of these Sephardic Jews from countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. To this day a large proportion of modern Israelis are the offspring of these refugees from those Arab countries. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there was a further large wave of immigration of Jews from former Soviet countries and Russian has now became a common language heard in Israel.
After the establishment of Israel in 1948, further fighting continued over the next few decades, and the Israelis won another decisive victory against the Arabs in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Following this victory and again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a slow movement towards peace and reconciliation began. In 1979, peace was concluded between Israel and Egypt, and in 1994, a peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Both agreements have held to this day. Attempts to create similar treaties with Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian-Arabs have failed, and in 2000 violence resurfaced when Palestinian-Arabs launched a violent insurrection against Israel, the so-called "intifada". This has tapered off. There have been occasional flare-ups over the past decade of missile attacks into southern Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip (from which Israel withdrew totally in 2005) or into northern Israel from Hizbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, but for the most part the vast majority of the country enjoys a quiet peace.
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 30 years. This may change in light of recent discoveries of huge natural gas and some oil finds off Israel's shores, which will reduce imports and increase government revenues. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles and services in various fields are the leading exports. For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government's foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR during the period 1989-99 coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began moderating in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Growth was a strong 6.4% in 2000. But the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly the declines in the high-technology and tourist sectors, and fiscal austerity measures in the face of growing inflation have led to declines in GDP in 2001 and 2002. However, in 2007 the economic growth was 5.3% and the inflation was only 0.4%. In the first six months of 2008 tourism has grown with 45%. In 2011 Israel had one of the best performing economies in the OECD with low unemployment, relatively high growth rate, increased tourism and stable fiscal and monetary policies.
The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews - who make up 75% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan) - and non-Jews (mostly Israeli-Arabs), who make up nearly all of the rest. As well, some 350,000 people who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jews according to halacha (Jewish law), though they largely identify with the Israeli mainstream. In terms of religious backgrounds, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian Arabs and 2% are Druze (a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam).
There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the cultural division between the 'Ashkenazim', who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the 'Sephardim' and 'Mizrahim', who immigrated from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa (Sephardi and Mizrahi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim.) In recent years, the divide between these ethnic groups has, however, grown much less acute and intermarriage has become common.
While ethnic divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between 'secular' and 'Orthodox' Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox 'haredim', only 15% (2008 est.) of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics, to 50% who are 'modern orthodox' and finally 45% who consider themselves secular, although still adhere to some traditions. While secular Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
Israel is a Jewish state, and as such, public Holidays follow the Jewish calendar dates vary from year to year. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins at sunset, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the evening hours the day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won't see big changes in the levels of tourist activity.
The voltage in Israel is 220V, and the frequency is 50 Hz. The electric outlets used are type H and Type C. Type H is a uniquely Israeli three-pronged standard, but most modern type H outlets (rounded) can also accept type C European two-pronged plugs while Type C outlet is available only in old housing. In fact, most electronic devices in Israel use type C plugs. Electricity is supplied by the Israel Electric Corporation. The special phone number 103 can be used to reach the customer service center.
Spring: One of the more beautiful times to visit Israel, as the country will be in full bloom from the winter rains. Hiking, especially in the north, is encouraged. Humidity can reach uncomfortable levels in the Tel-Aviv area in the day time, but evening temperatures are moderate.
Summer: Temperatures in the summer can reach uncomfortable levels. Activities such as hiking, especially at Masada, should be done early in the morning in order to avoid heat stroke and dehydration. That being said, the country offers incredible beach weather in the Tel-Aviv area, as rain is extremely rare. In the north, conditions will be hot and humid.
Autumn: While the landscape will be in desperate need of water, autumn provides similar temperatures to spring. The rainy season will begin around early October, and will continue through the season.
Winter: Rain will be plentiful in the winter, and there can even be snow at higher altitudes, especially in the north. Temperatures will vary widely, especially in the south. Day temperatures could provide enough warmth to take a visit to the beach, while night temperatures may necessitate a heavy jacket. Bring clothing for any weather and any temperature.
Israel possesses a number of diverse regions, with landscapes varying between coast, mountain, valley and desert landscapes, with just about everything in between. Beyond the towns and cities, each region of Israel holds its own unique attractions. The metropolitan areas of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv form very much their own regions; from north to south, however, Israel's regions are as follows:
See also: Israeli National Parks
Many countries have a Visa Waiver program with Israel which allows their citizens to visit Israel without a visa arranged in advance. Before embarking on a trip, visitors desiring to stop in Israel on their way to other destinations must check if they need a prearranged tourist visa. The list of countries below specifies from which countries tourists are required to present a prearranged visa. All Visa Waiver Program travelers must present a machine-readable passport at the port of entry in order to enter Israel without a prearranged visa; otherwise a visa is required. This applies to tourists arriving with a passage card from countries with a Waiver Program.
If you're in Israel on a tourist visa (B2) and decide to renew your visa for a longer term, you may do so at the Ministry of the Interior Visa office. In Tel Aviv, it is located at 125 Derech Menachem Begin on the second floor. The office opens Su-W 08:00-12:00. Alternately, citizens from most European and North American countries can renew their visas by crossing into Jordan and returning to Israel at the Arava border crossing near Eilat, or by crossing into Egypt and returning to Israel at the Taba crossing.
Israel's main international airport is Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport (code IATA:TLV, ICAO: LLBG) which is approximately 40km from Jerusalem and 12 km from central Tel Aviv, and serves both cities. Ben Gurion acts as a hub for Israel's three main international airlines, El Al Israel's largest airline and flag carrier offering flights across the globe, Arkia Israel Airlines, Israel's largest domestic airline that also serves a number of European destinations, and Israir that also serves many European destinations. Most American and European carriers have flights to Tel-Aviv, a full list of which can be found on the airport's website.
To get to:
Bus: Take Egged line 947 or 950 (07:00-21:00, every 20 minutes, ₪20 to the Central Bus Station) or a Sheirut (shared taxi) (operates 24/7, ₪63 per passenger for door-to-door service). Be careful not to accidentally board the bus going to Haifa (947) or Netanya (950).
Train: Trains to Jerusalem are notoriously slow and inefficient, so you're discouraged from using this option.
Bus: Take Veolia line 475 to the Tel Aviv New Central Bus Station from El Al Junction until about 22:15. Veolia line 476 leaves at c. 21:30 and 22:50, stopping directly at Terminal 3's bus platform instead, and also going to the Tel Aviv New Central Bus Station. Be careful not to board the buses going to Lod.
Train:Take the direct Tel-Aviv train (03:53-23:23, every half an hour during day, every hour during night, ₪14). From Tel-Aviv to other destinations, continue by train or bus.
Bus: Take the Line 947 Egged bus to access points north of the airport. The bus goes from the airport to Haifa, stopping at Petakh Tikvah, Ra'anana, Netanya, and Hadera. The ride to Haifa costs ₪37.50, and runs from 6:41-21:10.
Train: Take the direct train from Ben-Gurion Station to Haifa. There are three train stations in Haifa. The central bus station is Haifa HaShmona. A trip costs ₪39.50.
All other locations in Israel can be reached easily from these three cities.
It's surprisingly difficult to travel to Israel by boat. The main route is from Limassol in Cyprus to Haifa, and the main operators are Louis Cruises and Salamis Cruises. As the name says, these are cruise services and they do not advertise one-way fares, but they may be willing to carry you for around €150-170 if you're persistent and they have space -- showing up at the port office on the day of departure may work. Both companies seem to start and stop cruises on short notice, so enquire locally.
If you manage to hitch a lift on a freighter, Israel's major sea ports are Haifa and Ashdod. Private yachts use the marinas at Herzliya (north of Tel-Aviv), Ashkelon (South of Ashdod), Haifa and Tel Aviv.
There are five border crossings that can be reached by road. There are two on the Egyptian border and three on the Jordanian border. There are no border crossings accessible to tourists with either Syria or Lebanon. All border crossings have extensive security measures in place to ensure the safety of both Israelis and tourists.
Border crossings with Jordan
Border crossings with Egypt
There is one border crossing with Gaza, the Karni crossing. However, before embarking on a journey to Gaza, be sure to make arrangements well in advance. The Israeli army patrols this crossing heavily, and exiting and entering Israel may be difficult and time consuming.
Israeli rental cars are not generally permitted across the borders for insurance reasons. In addition, it may not be advisable to travel in Arab countries while displaying an Israeli number plate.
Daily direct buses are available from Amman to Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth, via the King Hussein bridge. Call the operator (+972-4-6573984) for details. Otherwise, you can take a taxi from the north bus terminal in Amman (5JD each for four people sharing: if you don't have a group, either wait for either people to arrive or pay 20JD and go yourself). After clearing Jordan customs, a separate JETT bus will take you across the border to Israeli customs for a small fee, then once past Israeli customs, a Palestinian bus company offers buses to Jericho and Ramallah. From Ramallah, a share taxi will take you to Jerusalem.
If you have more money to spend, there are buses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (US$95-110 one way) to Cairo, operated by Matzada tours (Tel 972-2-6235777) and Aviv tours (Tel 972-36041811). You still have to change buses at the border.
(Note: Use Matzada tours at your own risk! They subcontract the Egyptian side of the Journey and do little to nothing to help if there is any mix up. At least one Matzada group from Tel Aviv/Jerusalem reportedly was held at the Taba Border - Egyptian side for 7 hours due to the fact that the Israeli company failed to pay the Egyptian company.)
In getting around Israel, be aware of the Sabbath: from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, train and bus services are not available in Israel (except in Haifa, Nazareth and Eilat, and limited sherut services - shared taxis, see below). Unless you have a car, or are willing to pay for a taxi (not shared), if you're day tripping on a Friday, you should start thinking about how to get back by noon at the latest, and you should plan on staying near your lodgings on Saturday.
Also note that both youth and students usually get discounts at buses and trains. Showing a valid student ID will usually entitle you for 10% discount for one-way long-distance travel, while for short distance bus travel those below the age of 18 can usually get half-priced Kartysia - a punch-card valid for 20 rides. Each bus driver has a hole-puncher which makes a unique shape on the card. Both the card and (when given) a receipt must be kept until the end of the ride as there are random checks by bus officials.
Public transport is used heavily by soldiers traveling to/from their bases, so a bus or train packed full of soldiers (some armed) is a common occasion and does not indicate any special occurrence. One can expect higher crowding on Thursday evening and Friday morning (due to weekend leave) and very high crowding on Sunday mornings until about 10:00 (due to soldiers returning to their bases).
Main Article: Bus travel in Israel
Use Bus.co.il to help plan your trip.
Buses are the most common form of public transportation for Israelis and travelers alike. They are cheap, fast and reliable. The only problem tourists will face is that it is very difficult to plan your journey through Israel by bus; a problem the main article Bus travel in Israel aims to solve. The extensive national bus system is run by a public corporation called Egged (pronounced "Eg-ged"), the second-largest bus network in the world. Additionally, a bus company called Dan operates mainly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and other major cities such as Be'er Sheva, check their web site for details. Egged, and Dan have English-speaking representatives with nation wide phone numbers. Some other companies are active as well.
By monit sherut
Faster than normal buses are minivans, known as monit sherut or "service taxi", that generally follow major bus routes but can be hailed from anywhere on the route (not just official bus stops). They are usually quicker than buses, their operations hours may be longer - and maybe most importantly, in many cases the sherut runs 7 days a week, including on Shabbat.
For inter-city lines, if a driver is at a station he may wait until he has a full load of passengers before leaving. Ben Gurion Airport has a rule that drivers are supposed to leave one hour after getting their first passenger, but that rule seems to be left mostly ignored. The upshot of this is that unless you're with a group, or the Sherut already has a load of passengers, you might be in for a wait before you leave. Look for an almost full Sherut!
One of the best advances in transport in Israel in recent years has been the modernization of the train system, now set for major expansion as part of the country's efforts to combat global warming, gridlock, and smog. Israel Railways currently runs intercity lines from Nahariya to Beer Sheva via Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport (note that not all trains travel the whole route), and suburban lines radiating from Tel Aviv to Binyamina, Ashkelon, Kfar Sava, Rishon LeZion, Modiin and Bet Shemesh. There are also lines between Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem, and between Beer Sheva and Dimona.
Tel Aviv has 4 train stations, and Haifa has as many as 6, providing easy access to many parts of those cities.
Trains run 2-3 times per hour in peak travel times and at least once an hour at off peak hours. Trains on the Nahariya-Haifa-Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion Airport line run through the night too. Note, however, that after midnight trains stop in Haifa at the Hof Hacarmel station only, and in Tel Aviv at Merkaz (Central). All other Tel Aviv and Haifa stations close after midnight. One must also remember that trains operate only on weekdays (there are no trains from Friday afternoon till Saturday evening). In fact, the trains stop several hours earlier on Friday than buses do. Following the re-opening of the renewed tracks from Beer-Sheba to Tel-Aviv, all night trains running this line after midnight stop at Ben Gurion Airport as well ( travel time is approx. 59 minutes).
In 2012 a line that will connect Tel Aviv to its southern suburbs - Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon LeZion has also been opened and it continues via Yavne West. This line is currently being extended so it will connect to Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Train fares are generally more expensive then equivalent bus fares (especially for the line from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva, with the train fare almost double that of the bus fare). In exchange, you can generally expect a much higher level of comfort, speed, and safety.
Some lines have double-decker carriages.
Taxis are very common in Israel. To differentiate from a shared taxi (sherut), a regular Israel taxi is sometimes called special (using the English word). The driver should use the meter both inside and outside cities (in Hebrew, moneh), unless the passenger agrees to prefix a price (however agreeing to go off the meter is almost universally in the driver's favor). There are surcharges; for calling a taxi (₪3.50 as of June 2006), for luggage (₪2.90 a piece) and for hailing a taxi at Ben Gurion Airport (₪5). Drivers are known to try to cheat tourists by not turning on the meter to begin with and then fighting about the cost at the end of the ride. It is best to specify that you absolutely require the 'moneh' to be activated before you leave unless you know how much the trip should cost, in which case you can make a deal. However, if you are caught off guard some drivers will become extremely rude or even violent if you refuse to pay despite the meter never having been switched on. It is best to try to avoid this common situation but it is better to avoid any conflict with the driver by paying and learning rather than saving your money and risking an unpredictable escalation. Noting the taxis number clearly visible on the outside of the cab and contacting the local taxi authority is an efficient form of redress.
Having said this one anachronism is that Israeli taxi drivers do not expect a tip and neither should you generally offer one. In addition they are more likely to round the fare down to the nearest shekel than up.
All Israeli taxis are numbered and all print out an official receipt on printers attached to their meters, invaluable if you are traveling on business.
You can use taxi service to get from Ben Gurion airport to almost any city in Israel. Fares are fixed and published and all taxis from the airport belong to the Hadar taci company the taxi queue is rapid efficient and the attendents, though brusque, will help. The taxi point is just by the airport station entrance. Never ever take a touted taxi. transportation from the airport and a good starting point to find a taxi ride would be to visit the Ben Gurion Airport's taxi guidelines page  or booking a taxi from a private taxi company such as Israel Taxi  and many others who offer shuttle service from and to Ben Gurion airport. However, trains are a significantly cheaper option.
Israel is known to be one of the easiest places to hitchhike in the world. Most major junctions have a shelter and are well lit throughout the night. This is a great way to meet and interact with the locals. A sign can help (put a blank piece of paper inside a plastic sleeve, and with a dry-erase marker you have a reusable hitchhiking sign). When hitchhiking, instead of a thumb, you extend your hand, with 1 or 2 fingers extended, pointing at the road. For short rides, the 1 or 2 fingers should point to the ground. Drivers staying in the area may point downwards while passing, indicating that they wouldn't make a good long-haul ride.
Generally speaking, hitchhiking in urban areas is less popular than in other parts of Israel. It is more accepted in rural areas, particularly sparsely populated areas like the Golan Heights that have little bus service.
Tourists should note that the British Foreign Office considers it unsafe to hitch-hike in Israel, like most countries in Europe and the Middle East. This advice applies specifically to tourists and is not a comment on the safety of hitch-hiking for locals and is not specific to Israel.
Local West Bank settlers rely heavily on hitchhiking for transportation. Almost every car will stop and suggest a lift if you stand in any settlement's gate as most of them are defended by IDF soldiers. Nevertheless, It is only safe to hitchhike between Jewish settlements/cities, or a few well known and well defended junctions; any other way is considered especially dangerous - in the past Israeli hitchhikers have been kidnapped and murdered by Arabs while waiting for a ride.
Israel has a modern highway network, connecting all destinations throughout the country. Most roads are well maintained. In recent years, increased investment into infrastructure has further improved the condition of roads. Most roads are numbered according to orientation and significance. In general, east-west roads are given odd numbers, and north-south roads are given even numbers. The most significant national highways are numbered using one or two digits, while the least significant local roads are numbered using four digits. Exceptions to these rules do exist. Road signs are abundant but often confusing, even to Israelis. When getting directions, it's best to ask for the name of an exit as well the exit right before it.
Traffic in Israel drives on the right. Traffic signs and regulations are generally standard and resemble those of Western Europe. Usually, each traffic light has an arrow on top, and the traffic light then controls travel to the indicated direction, with a green light guaranteeing that all conflicting traffic faces a red light. Lights without arrows above them control all directions. Red light always means stop. Turning right or left at a red light is strictly forbidden. There is no turning left or right while yielding to opposite traffic, since conflicting traffic always faces a red light, even in the absence of arrows (however, this is not always the case with pedestrians, particularly when turning right). As in several other countries, the green phase is preceded by a red+yellow combination phase. A flashing green light indicates that the yellow light is about to appear, but can usually be found only on roads with speed limits of at least 60 km/h.
White road markings are used to separate both traffic traveling in the same direction and in opposite directions. Yellow lines are used to mark the outer edges of the road (do not cross these, except if stopping at a shoulder), and orange or red lines are used in road works zones or following a recent change in road signs. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are very common; one gives way to cars already in the circle. There are no all-way stop signs like the ones the USA, Canada, and South Africa. All stop signs require drivers to yield to all conflicting traffic after coming to a complete stop. Highway signage is usually in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, although sometimes just in Hebrew and English.
Headlights must be turned on (even during the day) on intercity highways from November to March. Motorcyclists have to have their headlights on in all months of the year. Seat belts must be worn at all times in all seats. Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free system is forbidden. If one must exit the vehicle on the shoulder of a highway, there is a law requiring that one put on a reflective vest in order to promote visibility. one is also required by law to keep such a vest within the car, and not in the trunk, at all times. Car rental companies are required to supply such a vest and it is usually located inside the glove compartment.
Parking regulations are indicated by curb markings. Red and white markings mean parking is prohibited, although this rule is often flouted outside weekday daytimes. However, just because others are doing so, doesn't mean your car won't be fined or towed. Do not stop near curbs marked red and yellow, because these are usually reserved for certain vehicles, such as buses at bus stops.
Blue and white markings permit parking only with a parking permit purchased at a machine. There is not always a machine nearby, if so, parking tickets must be purchased at a local kiosk or a cellphone payment system must be used. In some areas, such as in parts of Tel Aviv, blue and white markings are restricted even at night to residents only. A sign at the beginning of the street, usually in Hebrew only, will explain the specific restrictions. Similarly, red and grey areas are reserved for residents, but might only be reserved at specific times as stated in signs. Grey areas are free to park at. And of course, do not park in handicapped zones bearing international markings.
Israel uses the metric system of measurements. Default speed limits are 50 km/h in residential zones, 80 km/h on intercity roads without a physical separation median between opposing lanes, and 90 km/h on intercity roads with a physical separation median. By default, all major freeways (identified by the standard blue European motorway sign) have a speed limit of 110 km/h; however, in practice, speed limit signs bearing a lower limit (usually 90 km/h or 100 km/h) limit the speed on most of these roads.
Police presence on the roads is generally very significant, and speed and red light cameras are common. Both radar (mostly stationary) and LIDAR (laser, hand-held) are in use for speeding enforcement.
Police vehicles in active duty may have their blue lights on for the duration of their trip. Unlike many countries (such as the US) - In Israel this is not a sign that they want to pull you over. If they do, they would either turn on their siren or use a loudspeaker to instruct you to stop on the shoulder. A verbal request, although usually made in Hebrew, will usually include the make of the car. It is advisable to comply.
-Israel's Highway 6 is a electronic-toll-highway, unique in having no toll booths. Traveling cars are identified by license plates and/or electronic tags, and bills are sent to the car's registered owner.
- The Carmel Tunnels is a set of 4 tunnels (2 in each direction with the Neve Sha'anan interchange between them) that crosses Haifa under the Carmel mountain. The cost is determined by the number of segments that you use (1 or 2 segments). there are toll booths in this road.
All drivers in Israel must carry a driver's license. International driver permits, as well as licenses from foreign countries are accepted. Drivers of motor vehicles must be at least 17 years old, whilst insurance is mandatory. Driving a motorcycle or a moped is permitted starting at the age of 16, A drivers license is mandatory for two wheel vehicles as well! All cars in Israel must undergo an annual safety inspection, and a sticker bearing the month and year of the next inspection should appear on the front windshield. Recently, there has been a law passed that require for every car to carry a yellow reflective vest at all times. Theoretically, the police could stop you at any time and ask to see it. If you stop on the edge of the road, and have to get out, you are are required by law to wear the vest. All rental cars should have one so it is a good idea to check before you leave. Note that in Israel the police are allowed to stop you for any reason whatsoever; mostly they do so for license checkups.
Car accident fatalities in Israel are par with most European countries and less than half that of the US. However, Israeli drivers are known to be aggressive and impatient. Take this into consideration if you decide to drive in Israel, and use caution - be prepared for other drivers not to yield when they normally should and not to respect your right of way, especially if you show hesitation. Be especially cautious on two-lane intercity roads, especially when passing other vehicles. While most major highways have a physical separation median, many lower-traffic intercity roads do not. Also be particularly cautious when driving in the Negev desert, since most roads in that region have only two lanes carrying fast-moving traffic, and trips tend to last hours in the heat. Take care while traveling on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as roads tend to be emptier and invite faster, and occasionally more reckless, drivers. Also take care in the winter, when it rains and roads are unusually slick. The first rainy days in fall are particularly dangerous, since the oil/grease and other substances that accumulated on the road all summer is dissolved.
Most major international car rental companies; Hertz, Avis, Budget and Sixt Israel , as well as many Israeli ones including, Eldan (Israel's largest car rental company), Traffic and Tamir, a car rental service that delivers and picks up your rental car.
Note that you will be charged VAT for your car rental if you do not produce a visa (for example, if you entered via Allenby and avoided the stamps, although the paper will do). Also, the Israeli government requires expensive insurance on rental cars that can cost up to $20 per day.
If your interest in touring Israel goes beyond the 2 dozen or so famous tourist sites, then consider a private/rental vehicle and a professional tour guide. The tour guide will run about $200/day, plus the vehicle rental. They can take you to more than 1,500 other sites missed by the package tours or aimless personal touring.
A large number of major attractions in Israel are located some distance from large towns and cities:
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.
Massive immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s brought a large number of immigrants who speak Russian. Other commonly encountered languages in Israel, reflecting the diverse origins of Israelis, include Romanian, French, German, Polish and Spanish. Some of the older members of the population and some of the ultra-orthodox population speak Yiddish, an Eastern-European Germanic Jewish language. Foreign workers from China, Philippines, Thailand, and other Asian countries can be seen everywhere in central Israel. You can hear a mix of a dozen languages while on buses, trains or walking in transportation hubs, especially in Tel Aviv central bus station.
While speaking Hebrew Slang, words of Arabic origin are commonly used. For example: "Walla?" (Is that so?), "Yalla!" (Come on, let’s move!), "Sababa" (great), "Akhla" (good), "Sachbak" (friend), and many more. Street talk is also much affected by military jargon, which is second nature to many Israelis.
Foreign television programmes and films are mostly American, and almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Hebrew.
There is a wide choice for shoppers in Israel. There are also very animated Jewish markets (shuks) of tremendous cultural diversity, notably the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem. 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 jewellers 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.
The Israeli currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). Colloquially, it is called a shekel (plural: shkalim) or sha-ch. Each shekel is divided into 100 agorot. The common symbols for the shekel are ש״ח or ₪.
The following banknotes are in circulation: ₪20 (green), ₪50 (violet), ₪100 (brown), ₪200 (red). Newer ₪20 notes are made of polypropylene and are almost impossible to break or tear. Paying with large notes for small charges is frowned upon.
Coins in use: 10 Agorot (copper), 1/2 Shekel (copper), 1 New Shekel (nickel), 2 New Shkalim (nickel), 5 New Shkalim (nickel), 10 New Shkalim (bi-metallic; copper core, nickel rim).
ATMs are available everywhere. Credit cards of all kinds are widely accepted. Note that the showing of the Visa logo by an ATM does not especially mean it takes all types of Visa cards, at the moment the ones with Chip-and-Pin technology seem to be only accepted by Bank Leumi ATMs.
You can get VAT refunds when leaving the country, though be prepared to queue at the airport. Additionally, VAT refunds are only available for individual receipts in excess of ₪400. Eilat is a VAT-free city for citizens as well as for foreigners, but being a resort city it is often more expensive to begin with.
US Dollars are accepted in some tourist locations, particularly Jerusalem, at a rough exchange rate of ₪4 to the dollar. If you are asked for dollars or euros outright, you are most likely being ripped off.
Living and travelling costs in Israel are almost on a par with Western Europe, North America and Australia, making it by far the most 'expensive' country in the Middle East region outside the Gulf area.
Small food kiosks (pitzukhiot) offer various snacks such as freshly roasted peanuts, sunflower, and melon seeds, soft drinks, cigarettes and candy. Take note that currently (June 2009) the price of a soft drink can is between ₪5-8 and a 0.5L bottle is generally one shekel more expensive than a can. Prices in tourist areas in big cities, especially tourist cities like Eilat can be up to ₪20 per 0.5L bottle, however often a small walk will reveal the more local places that will sell you 6 1.5L bottles for as cheap as ₪32. In fact, it is possible to buy a 6 pack of 2 liter "Ein Gedi" bottles for a preset price of ₪12.
Fast food wise, a shawarma in lafa should cost roughly ₪24-30 (drink not included), while a regular meal at a burger chain (McDonald's, Burger King and the local Burger Ranch) will set you back at least ₪35 -- and there is no such thing as a "free refill" anywhere in the country.
Restaurants generally are in a high standard of taste and style, a first course averages ₪15-25, a main dish about ₪40-60 (good meat can go from ₪60-100) and the desserts are usually ₪25-35. Soft drinks are somewhat costly and usually go for ₪10-12 for an average sized glass without refills.
Outside of the food industry, tipping is not common.
Restaurants - Tip 10%-15%. 15%-20% is considered a generous tip.
Hotel staff - No tipping.
Tour guides - 10% - 15% of the daily rate.
Bartenders - Tip 10%-15%. 15% is considered a generous tip.
Hair - No tipping.
Moving - Tipping is optional (but often expected depending on the amount of work).
Food delivery - Tip ₪5.
Groceries delivery - No tipping.
Other deliveries - No tipping.
Handymen - No tipping.
Taxi drivers - No tipping.
The business days are Sunday through Friday in Jewish towns, allowing for observance of the Sabbath ("Shabbat") from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. On Friday, many shops will close at about 14:30-15:00 to allow ample time return home before sundown. Many shops, especially in malls, will re-open on Saturday evening, at about 19:00 in winter, and 20:30 in summer. Some shops, especially outside city limits or in tourist areas, as well as 24-hour convenience stores, remain open on Saturdays. In Arab towns, shops are generally open 7 days a week.
Remember that shop opening hours depend on how religious an area is. In religious areas like Jerusalem, you can expect virtually all stores, restaurants and even public transportation to be shut down on the Sabbath. On the other hand, stores will remain open oftentimes in secular cities like Tel Aviv or Eilat.
Shops in malls and on major shopping streets are generally open from 9:30 to 21:00 daily. Banks and post offices, as well as some smaller shops, stick to traditional business hours of 8:30-19:00, with a lunch break from about 13:00 to 16:00, so do check.
Markets usually open and close early.
Bargaining in Israel is prevalent. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for foreigners to figure out when bargaining is expected and appropriate. A general guideline: Sales agents, high prices, or no displayed prices -- bargain. Anything that looks established or corporate -- don't. Although pushing through a bargain or requesting some freebies with some cellphone companies and the like often is a possibility!
Bargaining in bazaars and rural markets is common yet subtle. Vigorous bargaining which is common in developing countries will likely get you nowhere and is improper. If you are given a fair price, don't bargain for sport -- it is frowned upon.
Bargaining in shops with sales agents is expected (for example, in an electric appliance store). Sticker prices are exaggerated for the purpose of bargaining. It is best to compare offers and figure out the true market price before purchasing.
Bargaining is improper in small mom and pop shops that sell low-cost items.
Bargaining with independent service providers (technicians, plumbers, movers, handymen) is common. It is not with non-independent service providers (hired employees).
In shops with displayed prices where you are not dealing with a sales agent bargaining is improper and will get you looks of bewilderment. This includes corporate shops (e.g. McDonald's), most stores in malls (without sales agents), and pretty much all businesses a tourist interacts with (with the exception of travel agents): accommodation, transportation, food (including food stands in markets). Some entertainment venues and most activity operators (especially extreme sports) can give you quite a sizable discount if you only ask.
If you are bringing a large group of people to a club or a bar, it may be possible to negotiate a discount before arriving with the group. If you are already there, bargaining won't get you anything substantial.
Prices in tourist traps such as the Old City of Jerusalem can routinely be haggled down to as low as 25% of the asking price. Usually it's easier to make a deal if you are buying multiple items rather than a single item.
When buying larger items (e.g. electronics), it's often possible to get a discount of about 3% for paying in cash, and additional discount depending on your haggling abilities.
Bargaining with taxi drivers over fare is possible, though rarely to your advantage. It is best to instruct them to use the meter (moneh) if they don't already do so as required by law.
Since the online coupon craze started in 2010, many businesses have stopped publishing real prices, and you can get a completely different price simply by asking for a discount ("yesh hanacha?" - "Is there a discount?") or bringing in a coupon you found on an online coupon site. It's not unusual to get lower prices by up to 50%.
Israeli wine, kosher products, t-shirts, diamonds. Almost needless to say, Israel is one of the best countries for purchasing Judaica and Christian pilgrim trinkets.
While it is legal to purchase antiquities from the small number of government-licensed dealers, exporting antiquities from Israel is illegal, except with a written authorization from the Israel Antiquities Authority .
Israeli cuisine is as diverse as the population which makes up this gastronomic country. Food here is generally of a very high standard, and immigrants from around the world mean that almost every genre and type of food is available. Not tipping in sit-in restaurants that have waiters is frowned upon, 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. In recent years, restaurants have been charging 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. Not all restaurants accept tips on credit cards.
Fast and popular
Falafel was officially adopted as the national food. These are small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside a pita bread with hummus-chips-salat (hummus, French fries and vegetable salad) and tehina. A selection of more salads is usually available, and you can fill your pita with as much as it can take. This is usually the cheapest lunch available (₪10-15), and it's vegetarian. You can also order half a serving ("kha-TSEE mah-NAH").
Another popular option is shawarma, sliced turkey or lamb meat, also served inside a pita, or its larger cousin lafa, with hummus-chips-salat. Many other things can fit your pita: for example, Me'orav Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite mix), which contain several types of meat, or Schnitzel, a batter fried chicken breast somewhat inspired by the Viennese original.
Hummus, a cream of chickpeas, tehina, onion, lemon and olive oil, is also served on a plate, and scooped up with small pieces of pita. At places that specialize in Hummus, you can find the dish topped with chopped lamb, fried chicken breast and many other different toppings.
Another street food gaining popularity is the Iraqi-origin sabich, a pita bread stuffed with a hard boiled egg, batter-dipped deep fried eggplant, hummus, tehina, and salad.
The Hebrew word Kasher (כָּשֵר), pronounced by East-European Jews as Kosher, means "fit" (in Israel, gyms are known as kheder kosher, i.e. fitness room). When associated with food, it means anything that is allowed by the Jewish religious laws concerning food. These laws are quite complex, but the short version is that they totally forbid certain products (such as pork and shellfish), and allow others only under restrictions - most importantly, that meat and dairy products are not to be cooked together or eaten at the same meal, which bans all sorts of Western staples like cheeseburgers and pizzas with meat toppings. In addition, lighting a fire on Shabbat is forbidden, so only cold or long-simmered food is allowed. Having said this, due to the secular nature of much of Israel, many foods can be found, and many restaurants aren't kosher depending on the region. Kosher laws do not usually apply to Arab areas of Israel (unless they cater to mixed clientele), although Halal dietary laws (the Muslim equivalent) do.
Most of the hotels in Israel are Kosher, so breakfast is dairy, and during lunch and dinner you'll not be able to get milk for your coffee or butter for your bread (although soy milk and spread are common substitutes). Most big supermarkets sell only Kosher products, but more and more non-Kosher supermarkets and convenience stores have appeared in recent years, due in part to the huge numbers of secular Jews who have come to Israel from the former USSR. With restaurants, things are more complicated: in Tel-Aviv, there are fewer kosher restaurants than in more religious cities like Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, Kosher cafes and restaurants are much more common. Bear in mind that restaurants that remain open on Shabbat cannot receive Kosher certification, so some restaurants that do not carry a Kosher certification are nevertheless kosher as far as the food is concerned, and could have kosher kitchens. So if you care, you shouldn't assume anything and always ask. Where restaurants are kosher, they will either be dairy or meat. Dairy restaurants are useful for vegetarian tourists, but still are likely to serve fish and egg products.
One attraction for practicing Jewish (and other) tourists is the kosher McDonald’s restaurants. Note that most of the branches are not kosher, so ask before ordering. Most Burger King restaurants in Israel are kosher, though - and so are branches of Burger Ranch, an Israeli burger chain. In addition, Pizza Hut branches in Israel are kosher, and thus will not serve pizzas with meat toppings, while Domino's chains are not kosher, and serve a toppings selection similar to their Western branches.
One pitfall with finding kosher food is that some con-men have found they can make money by setting up business selling fake kushrut certificates. Therefore someone looking for kosher food should look for a certificate from the local rabbinat or a recognized kashrut agency . Certificates from unknown organizations  should not be relied upon.
Another series of strict restrictions come into force during the seven days of Passover, when leavened bread (hametz) — taken to include any grain product that may have come into contact with moisture and thus started fermenting — is banned. Some Jews even widen the ban to cover rice and legumes. The main substitute for the bread is matza, the famously dry and tasteless flatbread, and you can even get a matzoburger from McDonalds during Passover.
Vegetarians/Vegans should have a relatively easy time eating in Israel. Due to "kashrut" (the rules of keeping kosher) there are many restaurants that serve only dairy food, which makes them popular with vegetarians. In some parts of the country you can also find Vegan restaurants. Amirim is a vegetarian/vegan village in the Galilee with several restaurants.
Jews immigrating to Israel from different parts of the world brought with them many different cooking traditions. Most of these are now served in a handful of specialty restaurants, so check the individual chapters and ask around. Among the selection: Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish), Bulgarian, Turkish, North African, Iraqi, Iranian, and many others. One can also enjoy excellent local Arab cuisine served in areas with large Arab populations, mostly in the north of the country and in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
One dish, however, is known across nearly the entire Jewish Diaspora. Known in Europe as Cholent and in the Middle East and North Africa as Chamin, it is a sort of stew that has simmered for many hours over a low fire. It is traditionally a Shabbat dish, originating from the prohibition on lighting fire and cooking on Shabbat. The exact ingredients vary, but it usually contains meat (usually beef or chicken), legumes (chickpeas or beans) and\or rice, eggs, and vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and carrots. Chamin is served in some restaurants on Saturday, and can be bought in delicatessens on Friday.
Many Israelis like instant coffee and will order it in restaurants and shops. However, in the past two decades a café culture has developed throughout Israel, with standards equivalent to coffee shops in Europe. Israelis hold North American filtered coffee in low regard, and Starbucks failed in Israel due to its coffee being considered inferior by most Israelis. A popular way to brew coffee is known as "botz" (mud) coffee (also known as "cafe turki" or Turkish coffee), an inexpensive extra-finely ground coffee that is cooked on a stove and served unfiltered/unstrained, often spiced with cardamom. There are several highly popular local coffee chains and numerous independent coffee shops. Israelis seem to have a preference for "cafe hafuch" (Cafe latté; lit. "upside-down"), but good espresso and various other brews are ubiquitous. You can also have a light meal with sandwiches and salads in most cafés. 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 better. Other chains include Elite cafe, cafe cafe, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Cafe Hillel (of which some branches are Kosher dairy). Those who are used to Starbucks-like coffee or even Italian espresso may be impressed.
Krembo (A hybrid of the words KREM and BO, "Cream" and "In it", respectively) is a favorite Israeli chocolate snack. It is composed of a round cookie, on which cream (Most often Vanilla-flavored, but there is also a mocha variety) lies, covered with a chocolate shell. Krembos come wrapped in aluminum foil, and are very delicate. They are rarely found in the summer due to the weather. Krembos have been eaten in Israel for two generations now, and there is a well known argument as to the right way for eating it. 1. Holding the cookie while eating the chocolate and the cream, and then eating the cookie. 2. Holding the chocolate while eating the cookie and then eating the chocolate and the cream. 3. Eating all of it at once. 4. While holding the cookie, eating the chocolate. Then the cookie and "lastly" the cream.
The drinking age in Israel is 18.
There are three main brands of Israeli beer:
Palestinian beers are also available:
Lately, several brands of micro-breweries have established themselves, and a wide selection of bee rott boo teek (boutique beers) such as Bazelet, Golda, Laughing Buddha, Asif, 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 liters, mixed with equal amount of water and ice. Some like to drink it mixed with grapefruit juice. Arak is usually kept in the freezer. A common brand is called Aluf Ha-Arak and Elit Ha-Arak (both of the same distillery) with the former of higher alcohol per volume and the latter of stronger anise flavor. They are of slightly different volume although the price is accordingly different.
There are several local big vineyards and a growing selection of boutique ones, some of them of high quality.
Most of the regular western sodas are available, and many have local variants that aren't very different in taste. Pepsico, The Coca-Cola Company and even RC Cola fight for the soft drinks market aggressively. Israeli Coca-Cola is thought by Cola connoisseurs to be tastier and more authentic than elsewhere. This is due to the fact that Israeli Coca-Cola is made with sugar, and not with high-fructose corn syrup. Tempo (not to be confused with Tempo Industries, Ltd. which is the brewer of most Israeli beer and bottler of most soft drinks including the local Pepsi) and Super Drink are dirt-cheap local variants, at times sporting very weird tastes.
The generic name for Coke or Pepsi is "Cola", and it usually implies Coca Cola; if the place serves Pepsi, they will usually ask if it's fine. Also note that "Soda" generally means "Soda Water", and is not a generic name for carbonated soft drinks.
There are several more authentic soft drinks:
Israel is host to a huge variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels through to 5-star luxury hotels. Accommodation in Israel is similar to Western standards in general both in terms of price and what you can expect as service. Hotels in Israel do not currently possess star ratings, so beware that where these are seen, they are awarded by the hotels themselves. A good way of finding good hotels in Israel is by looking through reviews on websites such as Tripadvisor, although the links below act as good starting points.
Israel has many universities which tend to be well regarded by the international community. Special programs for students from abroad are offered by the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Lowy School for Overseas Students at Tel-Aviv University and the Ginsburg-Ingerman Center for International Student Programs at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Beer Sheva. The Technion in Haifa also has an international program, specializing in engineering.
The International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in West Jerusalem also offers a variety of educational options relating to the Holocaust or you could also use your time in Israel to study Hebrew. Hebrew school is called Ulpan (pl. Ulpanim).
There are even ways to learn Hebrew online from outside Israel - try Hebrew Online, or Home Ulpan , or Virtual Ulpan , if you want some basic background for free. A good starting point for finding more information on study and volunteering programs, can be found on the website of the World Zionist Organization .
If you are interested in learning firsthand about the social, political and cultural aspects of life in Israel, there are several programs and organizations offering courses, workshops or learning tours, such as: The All Nations Cafe  in the Jerusalem - Bethlehem area.
One of the iconic activities in Israel is working ("volunteering") on a collective farm: a kibbutz or a moshav. 
Another popular option is to volunteer for work on an archaeological excavation, mostly conducted in summer at a variety of locations. Most Israeli excavations offer college/degree credit for international students. 
While working on a tourist visa is illegal, if you stay at any cheaper hotel in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the staff may offer to put you in contact with opportunities to wash dishes or work in construction. Pay is only around $7 an hour, and if caught, you can expect to be deported and blacklisted from the country for a period of no longer than one year.
Police in Israel wear light blue or very dark navy clothing with flat caps, while Israeli Border Guards (similar in function to Gendarmerie) wear dark grey uniform 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. Israel has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. You can walk around the cities and towns at night without fear, as mugging and drunken violence are rare. Single women in particular should still take care late at night but the risks here are far lower than practically anywhere in Europe and America.
Organized criminal activity is endemic in major Israeli cities, but poses no threat to tourists. Crime bosses have violently fought disputes out in public, but rarely have civilians been affected.
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 person. 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 huge backpacks, you can often get away with showing a passport, and the guards will be just as relieved.
Israel's relations with its neighbors should always be something that a traveler should be familiar with, as evidenced by the Israeli-Lebanese conflict of 2006. Despite the current cease fire there remains a low danger that the conflict will again erupt. Israel has very good relations with both Egypt and Jordan, whom Israel signed a peace treaty with in 1979 and 1994, respectively.
Southern Israel desert region offers amazing hiking trails in a beautiful landscape that possesses some unique geographical features not available anywhere else in the world. However, if you are inexperienced in hiking in the desert, do not hike there without an experienced hiker, proper equipment and clothes, plenty of water, and taking the necessary precautions. Dehydration in hot days, hypothermia in cold nights, and flash floods in rainy days are serious dangers!
Hiking trails in southern Israel (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.
In similar note, especially near border areas, hiking or leaving the roadways, be aware of standing and/or fallen fences with a sign (yellow with a red triangle on it). These areas are considered off limits due to the possibility of landmines being present. Planted by the Turks, British, Vichy French, Druze, Israelis, Lebanese army, Lebanese Militias, PLO, or the Syrians (Golan Heights, Lebanese border). It could take another 100 years to clear out all those areas.
Although a cease-fire has been reached between Israel and Hamas, travel to the Gaza Strip area is not recommended at this time, and several noted foreigners (even volunteers) have been kidnapped by armed militants. Also Israel does NOT allow travel to the strip, the only way is via Egypt.
Also note that there is a risk of potential armed confrontation between Israel and Iran, although this is is highly improbable, keep up-to-date with current affairs in regards to this issue prior to travelling.
Gay and lesbian travel
Unlike many parts of the Middle East, Israel is one of the most "gay friendly" countries in the world. In fact, compared to the United States, Israel is quite progressive regarding homosexual rights. Criticisms towards homosexuality will vary depending on where one travels, but otherwise, this country is considered safe for gays and lesbians, as violence against them has rarely occurred here. All 3 major cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa) have an annual "Pride" parade, and the annual Love Parade in Tel Aviv gets cheering spectators too. Though Jerusalem does have an annual pride parade, it is not very common to see openly gay people in Jerusalem.
There are no special medical issues in Israel, and no immunizations are necessary for travel here. Pharmacies and hospitals are available in all major cities and emergency and health care is to a very high Western standard. Pharmacists and all medical personnel speak adequate English. In Israeli pharmacies, the "over-the-counter" stuff is in fact over the counter. Ask the pharmacist if you need anything. Travel health insurance is highly recommended; although all Israelis are covered under the national health insurance system, foreigners will be expected to pay for any treatment received in the public hospitals or at a clinic.
Tap water is potable and perfectly safe for drinking all throughout Israel, big cities and rural parts alike.
Street food is safe and clean, including fried dishes, fish and different salads. It still is wise to use common sense and avoid anything suspicious.
Due to the hot climate in sunny Israel, remember to use sunscreen throughout your stay and drink a lot of water.
But Israelis are also very kind and hospitable. Strangers will gladly assist you, and make great efforts to help a lost or inquiring tourists, sometimes over-whelming you with advice and questions. When you make a friend here, they will do their best to take care of you while you're in their country. Foreign visitors are deeply appreciated and are generally shown the utmost respect by locals. Many will even go as far as to show you around some areas in Israel as a sign of their own national pride and towards respect for tourists.
While traveling in Israel, visitors will discover that Israelis have, in general, a western-oriented outlook with a Middle Eastern touch. The population is laid-back, outgoing, and always willing to help. Some tourists may even feel that Israelis are overbearing, since their definition of personal space is much different than in the west. However, it is extremely important to realize that some parts of Israel follow a strict code of respect based on religious law and custom.
Jewish holy sites in Israel are generally divided into sections based on gender. This is most obvious at the Western Wall, where the wall is separated into mens and womens sections. In addition to gender separation, modest attire is required at holy sites. Men should wear at least jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers, while women should wear a knee-length skirt and a t-shirt with sleeves. Jewish men, and in some instances non-Jewish men, should wear a head covering at holy sites. It is also customary, though not required, for married women to cover their hair.
Visitors should also be aware of their behavior on the Sabbath and all religious holidays. Those at holy sites during these times should refrain from smoking, using their cell phones, taking pictures, or disturbing the serenity of the day in other ways. The religious commuity takes these days very seriously, as they receive a lot of joy from them. Tourists may even want to live a day in the life, and experience these sites according to the local custom.
While the sites most holy to Muslims are in Saudi Arabia, Israel is full of sites sacred to the followers of Islam. In addition, many neighborhoods, especially in the north of Israel, have a Muslim majority. As such, tourists should be sensitive to acting and dressing in a modest way. When entering Muslim holy sites, women should ensure to not wear tight or revealing clothing, and have a scarf with which to cover their hair. Men should also not wear tight or revealing clothing, and should be prepared to take off their shoes.
Most Christian holy sites are located in the north or in Jerusalem. Especially in churches, respect should be paid to worshipers who expect a quiet, serene atmosphere. Along with a modest dress code, tourists should understand the photography is frowned upon, and in some instances not allowed. Candles are available for lighting for prayers and religious observance, and should not be disturbed.
The modern state of Israel was founded in the wake of one of the biggest tragedies to befall the Jewish people. Many survivors of that harrowing experience made their way to Palestine, as it was then known, via British DP camps. While survivors, their children and grandchildren, and all other Jews affected by The Holocaust talk about it to varying degrees, tourists should not press the issue. In addition, making jokes about The Holocaust will not make you many friends. Israel is full of great stories, and an amazing museum, but all travelers should be respectful.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict
Israelis, both Arab and Jewish, will often speak openly about current events, and sometimes without prompting. There are views along the entire spectrum, from the far right Israeli settler movement to Arab nationalists, which can provide visitors with many colorful views. However, travelers should be sure to listen more than they speak. Israelis can be defensive, and often think that their opinion is the right opinion. Keep conversation about the conflict light, and take cues from the locals.
The country code for Israel is +972.
Drop the leading 0 (zero) when calling from abroad:
If you want to phone home from Israel, you need to choose which company you want to use for your international call first. The '00' access code for international numbers is available only on phone lines that chose, in advance, one of the long distance carriers as their preferred provider (so it's not available on pay phones).
Note that the 018 prefix is a VOIP operator. Thus, it has the cheapest rate but a somehow lower line quality.
Cellphone rentals and prepaid phone service
You can rent a cellphone for use in Israel either before your trip or once you arrive from several vendors (a short Google search will give you plenty of such vendors) - The cellphone can be delivered to your home before, to your home/hotel in Israel or you can collect them at vendor's office.
If you have a cellphone without a SIM-lock, you can buy a SIM-card which is much cheaper than either renting or buying a phone. 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.
As of May 2012, there have been several new network providers due to a new law meant to break up the monopoly that had been established. One of the new providers is Golan Telecom. Their plans are lucrative for tourists, because they can be canceled monthly (meaning you can cancel it after your Israel trip), offer unlimited calls, sms and 3G internet (The other prepaid SIM cards don't have any mobile internet.)
Furthermore (and this is probably the most interesting for tourists), calls to 31 countries are free (complete list of tariffs for calls abroad) and the website and all menus are also available in English, French, Russian and Spanish. The price is just a bit above that of the prepaid cards (100 Shekel for one month + 40 Shekel delivery vs. 100 Shekel). The only disadvantage is that you can't buy the SIM card locally, but need to order it from their website and need to have a shipping address in Israel.
Roaming with your own device:
Currently Israel offers support for all the available networks including GSM/UMTS (Pelephone, Cellcome and Orange), CDMA (Pelephone) and iDen (Mirs). In any case, you must check with you carrier the roaming option and the compatibility of your device in advance.
There are still some public pay-phones scattered around, usually lacking a booth (just a phone on a pole). These phones use a Telecart, which , today, is a pre-paid calling card (the scratch kind) that works only with pay phones and can be purchased at post offices and some stores (the original Telecard was phased out as the last factory that manufactured it was shut down), as well as ordinary calling cards. Some phones also accept credit cards, but they are very rare. In Jerusalem especially and in more Jewish-religious areas you will find public phones to be very common, as the more religious Jews tend to frown on the new mobiles with Internet access etc, resulting in a situation whereby every person with a mobile is automatically assumed to be on the Internet 24/7.
It is also possible to find privately operated pay phones that accept (outrageous) payment in coins and/or credit cards. Be warned that most storekeepers will produce their own phones (for the above-mentioned outrageous fee) when asked, in absolutely no relation as to whether there is a (much cheaper) public phone just 10 seconds away.
Israel is a technologically advanced society, and internet cafés are widely available in most cities and towns. The regular price for paid internet cafés is about ₪15 per hour but you can get it for about ₪10 in some of the more local places. Free wi-fi access is common in cafés (check individual articles). All branches of 'Aroma Espresso Bar', 'Arcaffe', 'Café Café', 'McDonalds' and 'Yellow' convenience stores have free wi-fi access, though in some you will have to approach the staff for a password.
Recently, the "Jerusalem WiFi" project started. This government started project aims to cover the entire Jerusalem area with WiFi although at the moment the only areas covered are in the city center. A similar project has started in Tel Aviv.