The infrastructure in Israel is impressive; the roads are good, and well signposted in Hebrew, Arabic and - on the main routes - English. Things get a little more complicated elsewhere. Observant Isreali Jews celebrate the Sabbath from Friday to Saturday evenings, which means that on Saturday shops are shut, except in places such as the more secular Tel Aviv and the Christian and Arab quarters of Jerusalem. And in accordance with the decree forbidding melakhak (roughly: labour) during the hours of Sabbath, many lifts in the country have a Shabbat (Sabbath) setting, which means during the hours of observance they stop at every floor in a building in order to avoid the unnecessary pressing of buttons.
During Passover festival (in early spring), no bread can be eaten. On the day of Yom Kippur (in September or October) Jews traditionally fast. For Hanukkah (eight nights and days in late November or December) Israel can be busy, especially when it overlaps with Christmas, when many Christians arrive in Israel to celebrate.
In the Muslim majority Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) Friday is a holy day so shops are shut, and observant Muslims will also fast during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan, which runs for a month and happens ten or 11 days earlier each year in accordance with the lunar calendar. Some shops are shut in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem on Sundays.
When it comes to buying goods, expect to have to haggle in markets. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Israel, and there are several ATMs, but cash is king in the West Bank. When it comes to tipping, we recommend $30 for guides per day and $20 for drivers, and more for groups. Leave a 10% tip in restaurants everywhere.
Security in Israel
Expect meticulous security checks at the airport. We recommend arriving at the airport three hours before your flight and elsewhere in Israel there are occasional checkpoints. Don’t expect many smiles from Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers. After their obligatory national service young Israelis take a year off, usually financed by working in the tourist industry, which can lead to service that’s occasionally less than perfect. In the West Bank most people with a job are grateful to have one, so you can expect friendlier service.
- There is no visa required to enter Israel. A voucher will be given to you on arrival by the border police, and must be returned on departure. This coupon allows you to be exempted from paying VAT on your purchases.
- Inspecting luggage at the airport is a very rigorous process and greatly slows the check-in procedures.
- Do not be surprised when leaving Israel that your luggage is systematically searched. Each passenger is questioned about the provenance of items purchased in Israel and/or the West Bank. This is part of the procedure.
- Keep your passport with you at all times. There are identity checks to access certain places.
- Israeli hotels are usually equipped with WiFi access. In Tel Aviv, numerous cafes/restaurants also offer WiFi to their customers. It can even be free on the inter-city bus.
- It is normal for hotels to request your credit card when checking in, to guarantee the settlement of extras when you leave.
- Female visitors to both Israel and the West Bank should avoid outfits that are too low-cut or too short and male visitors should avoid shorts. Always have a handy shawl to cover shoulders and arms when visiting religious sites. As for skullcaps (kippah or yarmulke), men will be loaned one when necessary.
- Israel is perhaps the only country in the world where you don’t dial 00 to call abroad, but select an operator by typing 012 or 013 or 014 or 015 instead, then + 44 etc...
- A tip when visiting the Temple Mount: the opening times are limited to the morning and the site is closed to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. Access to non-Muslims is via the entrance ramp next to the Western Wall.
- As a pedestrian; it is strongly recommended to respect the traffic lights for pedestrian crossings, at risk of being shouted at.
- Pharmacies are numerous and recognisable by the sign ‘Superpharm’.