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Israel & the Palestinian Territories
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Facts at a Glance
 Area: 26,990 sq km/16,734 sq mi (20,770 sq km/12,887 sq mi in Israel; 6220 sq km/3856 sq mi in Gaza and the West Bank)

Population: 8.5 million (5.8 million in Israel; 2.7 million in Gaza and the West Bank)

Capital city: Jerusalem (contested); pop 623,000

People: Jewish (80%), Muslim (15%), Christians (1.7%) and Druze (1.3%)

Language: Hebrew, Arab & English

Religion: Jewish, Muslim, Christian

Government: Republic

President: Moshe Katzav

Prime Minister: Ariel Sharon


Smaller than Belgium, New Jersey or Tasmania, Israel is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Lebanon and Syria to the north, Jordan to the east and Egypt to the south. The dominant geographic feature is the Rift Valley, which runs from Turkey, through Israel and down into Africa. It contains the Dead Sea, as well as the Jordan, Arava and Hula valleys and Lake Galilee. Israel is not a wet country (the Jordan is its only main river), and only the north sustains agriculture. The country's main body of water, the Dead Sea, is incredibly salty, as well as being the lowest place on the planet. It's flanked by the Judean Desert, which further south becomes the Negev.

Three geographic zones converge in Israel, and as a result you'll find a wealth of wildlife. Northern Israel is wet and mountainous, and supports laurel forests and streams filled with otters. The south of the country is desert, with wild tulips, irises and date palms. Israel is also the second largest flyway for migratory birds, with species from all over the world swapping hemispheres here. A fifth of the country is national parks - around 300 of them - and the Israelis are renowned for having turned the desert into a garden, as well as having reintroduced a number of species which have become locally extinct since Biblical times. For information on national parks and environmental issues, contact the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

It's hard to pin down the Israeli climate - while it's snowing in Jerusalem it may well be 23° Celsius by the Dead Sea. Generally speaking, however, Israel is temperate and has two main seasons - winter and summer. Winter, from November to March, can be quite severe, and the north is very wet. Summer is hottest below sea level (up to 40° Celsius in Eilat), although it can still get quite cold at night in desert areas. In spring, strong winds can push the temperature up dramatically.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$73 billion

GDP per head: US$12,7536 (US$18,300 in Israel; US$1600 in Gaza and the West Bank)

Annual growth: 5%

Inflation: 4.5%

Major industries: Metal, defence, machinery, technology, diamonds, chemicals

Major trading partners: USA, UK, Belgium/Luxembourg, Germany

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Unless you are a citizen of some African or Central American countries, India, Singapore or some ex-Soviet republics, you do not need a visa to enter Israel. Most tourists are allowed a three-month stay, but those entering overland from Egypt or Jordan may only be granted one month.You will be given a duplicate entry permit on arrival. Do not lose this very losable piece of paper! If you do not have a return ticket and money to cover your stay, you may be put on the next flight home. The main hassle with visiting Israel is avoiding having your passport stamped - most Arab countries will not allow you to enter if you have visited Israel. If you can, get officials to stamp your entry permit rather than your passport.

Health risks: No particular risks in Israel, but you could consider vaccinations for hepatitis, typhoid, polio, tetanus and diphtheria if travelling to other Middle-Eastern countries.

Time: GMT/UTC plus two hours

Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:New Israeli Shekel (NIS)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$3-20
  • Mid-range: US$20-100
  • Top end: US$100-350

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$3-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top-end: US$20-40
  • You can bring as much foreign and local currency as you've got into Israel, which is lucky because you're going to need it. Israel is pricey, but you will get what you pay for. If you're on a tight budget you can get a pretty good dorm bed for $7 upwards. If you want a double room with its own bathroom, you'll be looking at around $50. Food is the real budget breaker - although it's possible to live on three felafel rolls a day for about $2, realistically you'll need $10-16 if you're ever going to get a break from street food. For $25-30 you should be able to get decent accommodation, eat well and travel around, but if you want to drink, go to museums or take a tour that will quickly blow out.

    Up-market spots will be just as happy to take US dollars as NIS, and if you pay this way you'll save yourself 17% VAT. However, if you're frequenting the lower end of the market, you'll need shekels. US dollars are the easiest to change, and anywhere will change them, but most other hard currencies as well as travellers' cheques are also widely accepted. Israelis are renowned for living on credit, and most places will take your plastic. ATMs are also widespread, and the majority of them take international credit cards.

    The tipping culture has hit Israel with a vengeance, and you'll be expected to give at least 15% whether it's been earned or not. Hospitality workers are paid a pittance - keep it in mind when you're wondering whether to shell out those extra shekels. Although there's a value added tax on most goods, you should be able to get a refund if you can face up to the hideously bureaucratic procedure involved.

    When to Go

    Climate shouldn't be a major factor in your choice of when to go to Israel - whatever time of year it is, some part of the country is always pleasant. You might want to avoid major Jewish holidays, as the country fills up with pilgrims, accommodation prices go up and it's almost impossible to travel between cities.

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