Population: 6 million (5 million Jews, 1 million Israeli-Arabs)
Languages spoken: Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian
Race: Jews from all around the world, Israeli Arabs (scorned by the Palestinians for making a deal with the Israelis), 1 million Russian Jews still in the process of assimilation, Ethiopian Jews in the same way and then a whole bunch of Chinese, Thai and Phillipine contracted and illegal workers.
Government: Democratic and based on proportional representation. This means that the religious parties have too much influence on politics.
Visas and Immigration
“Hello? Where are you coming from today? Why are you coming to Israel? Do you know anyone here? Do you have a weapon in you bag? Why do you look so nervous?”
The security and immigration people have special training in making you feel small. Don’t worry about it, it’s just their job.
Most nationalities get 3 months at the airport. They’ll ask you if they can stamp your passport (ie. making it impossible for you to go many Muslim countries) – if you say no, you may be in for more questioning.
If you come in over the border from Jordan or Egypt you’ll have an even harder time and they may only give you two weeks stay. It may help if you have your bed or room booked before you get to the border as they’ll want to know where you’re staying.
You can extend for a month at a time in the immigration office in Tel Aviv (it’s in the Shalom Meyeer Tower). Look smart and have a good reason for staying longer.
If you overstay your visa it doesn’t seem to be a big deal when you leave. We heard of one traveler who overstayed by four months. The girl behind the immigration desk took his passport and disappeared into the office of her superiors. From behind the frosted glass he could see wavings of arms and raised voices. Finally she came back through with some handcuffs.
“I’m afraid I have to arrest you.” She told him.
“Ah, just shoot me instead.” He replied.
“No, it’s okay,” She laughed.“You can go.”
In fact, the rumour is that Israel doesn’t even keep its immigration records. So if they deny you entry for life you could change your passport and come right back in a few months later.
When to Travel in Israel
The winter here is no big deal but as houses aren’t insulated it can be unpleasant. For Israelis it means the time that it rains and their survival is pretty linked with the whole water issue. People stay in their houses more and it’s not the best time to arrive looking to make contacts.
It starts getting warmer though by March and the following couple of months are the best time to be in Israel; everything is green, the flowers are out, Israelis take off everywhere on trips to the Dead Sea or valleys in the North. There’s a whole bunch of Jewish festivals at this time with the Bombamela ( the biggest one and with an Indian theme) around Pesach in April and Shan Tipi in May. These are great chances to meet a wide range of Israelis and make your contacts.
The summer is a heavy affair with hot khamsin winds blowing in and temperatures flirt between the 35-50 centigrade mark. You need to be drinking a lot of water and to shower at least twice a day. The long, warm evenings are great but it can be sticky at night. The sea gets warm for swimming though and the girls drive the guys crazy walking around in their summer clothes (”I have to turn my head until my darkness goes…”).
There’s no such thing as an Israeli autumn. It stays hot through September and October and then, one day in November or December, rain falls and the good times are over. September and October are holiday months where Israelis get a lot of time off and there are many cool festivals like Be’erashit in the north to mark the Jewish New Year.