Israel

 Jerusalem, Israel  Dead Sea

Why Israel?                                                                     Click here to view video 

Israel, or Palestine depending on your politics, is one of the world’s oldest travel destinations. Everyone from Moses to Mark Twain has dreamed of going there. The appearance of prophets seems to be dwindling and the Crusaders have long since hung up their swords and shields, but travellers still come in droves, almost magnetically, to this land still considered holy by countless millions. The appeal of Israel’s ancient and holy past may be obvious enough but many new arrivals are surprised to see that it’s much more than a lesson in history. While Jerusalem is a dazzling amalgam of past and present, and a contested hotbed for the world's monotheistic faiths, the whole country is a tightly packed ball of everything from Mt Masada and the Negev desert to the beaches of Eilat. On a leisurely weekend you could surf, ski, sip wine, ride horses, go clubbing in Tel-Aviv or enjoy some cutting-edge theatre – and that’s just the start. You can also work on a kibbutz, volunteer at a West Bank school, float in the Dead Sea, hike across the Israel National Trail…
 
Like the patchwork of new arrivals at Ben-Gurion airport, Israel is an amalgamation of peoples who arrived over centuries of time, each one staking their claim to the land. Territorial disputes led to violence, which in turn made for some epic accounts in the Bible – not terribly dissimilar to what is playing out on nightly newscasts where you are today. But contrary to popular belief, Israel is not a war zone to be avoided, and it has such rigid security that travel is surprisingly safe. 

Somewhere along the line, politics and the bitter facts of life in this uncertain land will nudge their way into your trip. And while Israelis and Palestinians love nothing more than to argue, muse and prognosticate over the latest political currents, it’s best to leave your own opinions at the door. Enter the Holy Land on a clean slate and you’ll never watch the nightly news the same way again.
                                                     
  • When should I travel?
Many tourists visit Israel in the summer, which is unfortunate. Summer in Israel is very hot, the coastal areas are humid as well as hot, and the landscapes are parched brown since it never rains in summer. The other three seasons, in contrast, have absolutely beautiful weather. In spring and autumn the temperature is near-perfect every day and nearly all days are sunny (the ancient Jewish pilgrimage holidays were scheduled in autumn and spring to take advantage of this weather). Winter is a mixture of cold rainy days and cool, sunny days which are great for hiking and touring. So while summer may be the most convenient time to visit Israel, any other season is much more enjoyable.

  • Is it safe to travel and are there places to avoid?
In general, travel to Israel is safe, and most other crime rates are well below those found in most other Western Countries. Statistically, the chances of being involved in a traffic accident are much higher than the chances of being involved in an attack. Though it is a good idea to stay informed of developments before and during your stay. Caution should be used particularly in the disputed areas. Also don't leave any bags unattended in a public area, as it may be suspect as a bomb. This is Israeli national policy, however, is business as usual. Police in Israel wear light blue or very dark navy clothing with flat caps, while Israeli Border Guards 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 is rare.

  • What money should I take?
The currency is the New Shekel (ILS).  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.  All major credit cards are accepted. ATMs are widely available and travellers cheques are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars.

  • What language will they understand?
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages. Hebrew is the first language of about two-thirds of the population. Arabic is spoken by around 15%. Other languages, including English, French, German, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish are widely spoken. A large proportion of the population speak good English as it is a compulsory school subject.

  • How about my health?
Israel has excellent medical facilities and tourists may go to all emergency departments and first-aid centres. However, any form of medical treatment can be expensive. Health centres are marked by the red Star of David on a white background. Medical insurance is recommended.

  • Public Holidays

2012
08 March Purim
07 April Pesach (Passover)
26 April Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day)
27 May Shavuot (Pentecost)
17 September Rosh Hashana (New Year)
26 September Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
01 October Sukkot (Tabernacles)
09 October Simchat Torah
09 December Chanukah (Festival of Lights)

2013
24 February Purim
26 March Pesach (Passover)
15 April Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day)
15 May Shavuot (Pentecost)
05 September Rosh Hashanah (New Year)
14 September Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
19 September Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)
26 September Simchat Torah
28 November Hanukkah (Festival of Lights)

  • Do I need a visa?
South African passport holders require a visa for Israel.

  • Will I need any innoculations before I depart?
No innoculations are required when entering Israel