Israel is a small, narrow, semi-arid country on the southeastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. It entered history some 35 centuries ago when the Jewish people forsook its nomadic way of life, settled in the Land and became a nation.
Israel is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It lies at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
The official language of Israel is Hebrew. English is widely used as a second language, and recently Russian has become commonplace.
All visitors to Israel must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date they enter the country. Australian citizens will be issued with a three month tourist visa (free of charge) on arrival at the airport.
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Israel is a safe country to visit and to tour. In 2008, three million tourists came to Israel, an all-time record, and all three million went home again safe and sound.
Australian Embassy -Tel +972 3 6935000. Discount Bank Tower Level 28, 23 Yehuda Halevi St. Tel Aviv 65136.
Arriving by aircraft you will notice a couple of security guards waiting when you go up the escalators from your flight – if you seem suspicious they will not hesitate to stop you. But if you dress up nicely, seem a part of another group or a family they are less likely to bother you.
If you are stopped for questioning having the telephone number of friends or colleagues in Israel who can vouch for you always helps the process and if travelling as part of a group security will usually question you separately before cross checking your accounts.
Be aware that passengers who have recently visited Arabic countries (except Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Qatar) may be subject to further questioning.
Bag inspection, both by machine and hand, is routine and should be expected, in addition to repeated interviews about what you intend to do while in Israel.
Tel Aviv Airport Security
Ben Gurion International Airport, the country’s largest in Tel Aviv, is also one of the world’s most secured airports.
All cars, taxis, buses and trucks go through a preliminary security checkpoint before entering the airport compound.
Armed guards spot-check the vehicles by looking into cars, taxis and buses, exchanging a few words with the driver and passengers. Armed security personnel stationed at the terminal entrances keep a close watch on those who enter the buildings. If someone arouses their suspicion or looks nervous, they may strike up a conversation to further assess the person’s intent. Plainclothes armed personnel patrol the area outside the building, and hidden surveillance cameras operate at all times.
Email Inspections by Israeli Airport Security
Security checks may not stop at your luggage. Since mid 2012, immigration and security officials have asked certain in-bound visitors to open their email accounts or Facebook pages to be inspected. Several Palestinian-Americans and known Palestinian sympathizers have been subjected to this new type of search and have been refused entry to Israel.
You can read details of their cases in this Boston.com report.
According to the report, Israeli officials admit they use ethnic profiling, calling it a ‘necessary evil’ to maintain security.
This means intending visitors of Arab or Indian descent, or those known to have publicly supported the Palestinian cause will be specifically targeted for this type of interrogation.
Will I Be Targeted When Arriving in Israel?
If you have a history of publicly supporting the Palestinian cause, or have publicly advocated sanctions against Israel, then the Israeli authorities will probably know about it and you may very likely be interrogated in this way.
If you have not publicly supported the Palestinian cause and are genuinely visiting Israel and the West Bank for a vacation, BUT are Islamic, of Arab or Indian descent, or have an Arabic or Indian name, you still may be asked to open your email and social media accounts.
It doesn’t matter that you are not carrying a computer with you, the security agent will ask you to log-in on one of theirs.
You may be asked if you feel more Arab than American (or British or whatever nationality you are). Think carefully about your answer. It doesn’t sound fair or ‘right’, but for the time being it’s a reality.
Airport Departure Security in Israel
If leaving the country arrive at the terminal at least three hours before your flight as Israeli security procedures can be time-consuming.
Departing passengers are personally questioned by security agents even before arriving at the check-in desk. This interview can last as little as a minute, or as long as an hour if a passenger is selected for additional screening.
Luggage and body searches may be conducted. After the search, bags are placed through an X-ray machine before passengers proceed to the check-in counters.
Occasionally, if security have assessed a person as a low risk, they will pass them straight through to the check-in desks, bypassing the main x-ray machines.
Average summer temperatures range from 18 degrees to 32 degrees C (65 degrees to 90 degrees F) over most of the country. Winters are mild, with temperatures averaging 14 degrees C (57 degrees F) along the coast and 9 degrees C (48 degrees F) in the mountains. The Rift Valley is about 9 C degrees (15 F degrees) warmer than the rest of the nation in winter. The Dead Sea area is the lowest place on the planet and the climate is one of the hottest regions in the world.
Israel is an ultra-modern country with the world’s highest number of doctors per capita, and a health and hospital system that is the envy of the world. No vaccinations are required to visit Israel (unless you have recently been in an area where there have been epidemics of yellow fever, cholera or ebola). You can buy most standard over-the-counter equivalent of North American drugs in Israel. You can also bring supplies of your standard prescription drugs with you. (If you need to bring syringes and vials of medicine – bring along a letter from your doctor attesting to your needs, just in case.) If you need to see a doctor in Israel, check with your hotel concierge. Travel insurance (including medical coverage) is always recommended for all foreign travel.)
220 volts AC, 50 hertz. Plugs are 2 or 3 pronged cylindrical, European style. Take with you one European adapter and an Australian 4 point multi-plug. This way you only need to place one plug in the wall socket, attached to your multi-plug which will then take up to 4 Australian plugs (for charging mobiles, shavers, computers etc).
Mobile – Israel’s national and international telecommunications systems are among the most advanced in the world. You are able to use your Australian mobile phones in Israel; however, we would recommend getting a local phone for more affordable call rates. Check with your Australian mobile provider that you will have access in Israel, charges etc.
Internet access – the hotels provide wireless / wired connection. You can also use your Blackberry and iPhone or hire a USB card at a local rate.
The Israeli monetary unit is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) which is divided into 100 Agorot. Currently, the exchange rate between the Israeli Shekel and the Australian Dollar is AUD$1 = 3.4 NIS.
US Dollars are also accepted at times in Israel. Currently, the exchange rate between the Israeli Shekel and the US Dollar is USD$1 = 3.7 NIS.
All major credit cards are accepted at most places, and ATM’s are widely available. You can withdrawal cash with Visa and AMEX logo cards at most ATMs (be aware of fees). If you wish to take some cash, take US dollars as these are easily exchangeable in Israel.
Please see the updated rate on: www.xe.com
It is generally acceptable to leave 10% tip at restaurants, (unless tip is included on the bill).
Jerusalem, Israel’s capital (population 788,100), has stood at the center of the Jewish people’s national and spiritual life since King David made it the capital of his kingdom some 3000 years ago. Today it is a flourishing, vibrant metropolis, the seat of the government and Israel’s largest city.
Tel Aviv-Yafo (population 404,300), which was founded in 1909 as the first Jewish city in modern times, is today the center of the country’s industrial, commercial, financial and cultural life.
Haifa (population 268,200), a known coastal town since ancient times, is a major Mediterranean port and the industrial and commercial center of northern Israel.
Be’er Sheva (population 195,400), named in the Bible as an encampment of the patriarchs, is today the largest urban center in the south. It provides administrative, economic, health, education and cultural services for the entire southern region.
INFORMATION ABOUT INDEPENDENCE DAY
Independence Day, Israel national holiday, marks Israel’s Declaration of Independence with the end of the British Mandate. It is the only full holiday in the calendar decreed by law without a tradition of hundreds or thousands of years.
Independence Day is on the fifth day of the Jewish month of Iyar (from the end of April till mid-May), the day in which David Ben-Gurion, the state’s first prime minister, declared the country’s independence in 1948. It was declared a full holiday in a law enacted in the Knesset in 1949. Over the years various traditions evolved to celebrate the holiday, and it is now marked by family picnics in scenic spots all over the country.
Independence Day celebrations begin on the evening of the fifth of Iyar with the end of Yom Hazikaron, the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, with special ceremonies marking the transition from mourning to celebration. The main ceremony is held in Har (Mount) Herzl in Jerusalem. During Independence Day, the World Bible Quiz is held in Jerusalem and the prestigious Israel Prizes are distributed to the year’s winners in a special ceremony.
Most businesses are closed on Independence Day, but cafes restaurants and other places of entertainment are open because it is not a religious holiday.
Flags – Many Israelis fly flags from their houses, porches or cars, often with colorful decorations.
Entertainment Stages – Because of Independence Day’s profoundly secular nature, a tradition of evolved of free entertainment by performers, dancers and comics on stages set up in the center of cities and other communities on the eve of Independence Day. The shows are often accompanied by fireworks. The main streets of towns and cities are usually packed with people.
Barbeque – Independence Day has become Israel’s unofficial barbeque holiday with families picnicking huge amounts of meat in every green spot they can find in the country.
Visits the IDF camps – Many of the army’s camps are open to the public on Independence Day, offering Israelis a chances to see arms, navy ships, tanks and aircraft.
Israeli Movies – Local channels devote all of their programming to the holiday and often screen old Israeli movies which have become cult items.
Prayer – Even though this is a national and not a religious holidayt, religious Zionists tend to say a special prayer composed by the chief rabbinate. This prayer sometimes includes blowing a shofar (a ram’s horn).
Most sites in the countryside are usually packed on Independence Day, also because this is the only holiday in which both religious and secular Israeli Jews can travel. Since so many Israelis use this day to visits these sites, tourists might wish to stay inside the cities, the main streets of which are also full of people.