Tel Aviv is unsafe for European travelers
I had completed my internship for my studies (social work) in Israel and therefore immediately seized the opportunity to stay a little longer and get to know the country and its people. Overall, I was in Israel from March to June 2014. I not only toured Israel, but also the West Bank (Palestine) and Jordan.
Before that, I had no ideas about how religions are lived in Israel and what it is like to be with one another. Of course you always heard about the conflicts between the West Bank (Palestine) and Israel in the news, but I wanted to see and experience it with my own eyes and maybe understand a little bit.
Everything you always wanted to know about ISRAEL ...
Preparation and Visa:
The easiest option is to arrive by plane.
By land you can enter from Jordan (Allenby Bridge near Jericho and Arawah near Eilat) or Egypt (Nizzana, Rafia and Taba). But here you are guaranteed to get a stamp in your passport, which is not welcome in some Arab countries.
By plane you can enter the traditional way with the El-Al-Airline (Berlin Schönefeld - Tel Aviv) or with Pegasus Airline (Berlin - Istanbul - Tel Aviv). Back then I took the Pegasus Airline and paid around € 230 (there and back). You won't get a stamp in your passport with the plane, but you will get a card.
Important: Pegasus Airline may be less stressful for single travelers (especially women) with a backpack and only one visitor visa. You only get the visa in Tel Aviv and you have to listen to questions at a counter for about 10 minutes. Israeli airport staff are trained psychologically. You have to say that you have enough money, ideally name a hostel where you stay and don't want to go to the West Bank and Jordan. If you have friends in Israel, pass on numbers and names to the officials. It is not allowed to work for board and lodging, for this you need a work visa (expensive).
It gets more complicated with El-Al. Here you are already being asked in Berlin. There are 3 adhesive dots on your ticket: green, yellow, red. Yellow and red must be asked separately. A friend of mine had to strip naked and have her clothes scanned. She was interviewed for 30 minutes (for only 2 weeks in Israel). My friend was also searched and questioned for 30 minutes. Very intimate questions! If your luggage is classified as unsafe, it will arrive in Tel Aviv 1-2 days later, you will receive an emergency bag as compensation.
The airport in Tel Aviv is approx. 30 km outside and can be reached by motorway or train. There are also two buses, but only with a change. You can rent a car (you have to show at least € 900 on your credit card) or take the train (16 shekels), which is fast and runs every hour. Hitchhiking is very easy in Israel, there are bus stops and even illuminated highways everywhere. Just stretch out your arm and casually hold your index finger on the road. Somebody once told me that only the Jewish population does that. Everyone knows the European version of hitchhiking. The Egged buses are relatively cheap and take you from town to town.
I don't recommend the train to anyone, except to the airport. Important: There are no trains or buses on Shabbat (Friday sunset to Saturday sunrise). The only thing that helps here is a sherut taxi, in which you can negotiate the price (never pay more than 50 shekels from Tel Aviv to the airport)!
Israel is very small! Eilat is 9 hours from Tel Aviv in the south and only 4 hours to the north.
Valuable tips and information
Best travel time are February to May and September to November. In summer it is very hot and in winter it rains a lot. You will see soldiers everywhere! Except for a few places such as bus stations or shopping centers, you will not be searched. But there may be times when you have to empty your entire backpack. It is compulsory to sign up for the army after school - men for 3 years and women for 21 months. University students can be deferred from military service. Arab citizens, Orthodox religious women and Yeshiva students are exempt from military service. I once heard that Christians are also liberated. Those who refuse can also do military service substitute in a social institution.
Stay: If you have little money and are in Israel for a long time, I recommend couch surfing or wwoofing / workaway (board and lodging for work). Some nice hostels: Tel Aviv - HaYarkon48 Hostel, Haifa - Bethel Hostel, Mitzpe Ramon - The Green BackPackers.
In theory, you can camp anywhere, the police only issue a warning. I can recommend it for the following places: at the Dead Sea (caution HEAT, so have a lot of WATER with you), in the south (semi-desert) in Ezuz and on the Mediterranean (beach) near HaBonim. Israel is densely populated. You won't be the only campers 🙂
My itinerary and tips:
I started from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I didn't like Tel Aviv and didn't think the markets were nice either. Haifa is one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. But one day is enough to see the Baha'i Temple and to see the city a bit.
We continued via Nahalal (Moshav), there is an interesting permaculture farm and a place to sleep, to Nazareth. Very touristy and crowded. You don't know where the city ends and begins. We continued north to the Golan Heights, there is a beautiful national park (Hula Reserve) and a place where you can watch vultures (Gamla). Following the Sea of Galilee, which I found unspectacular. The bathing season is only allowed from April and bathing is only partially allowed. There are some hiking trails south of the lake. The place of baptism of Jesus Christ is not worth it - mega touristy and money rip-off. Further south comes the Dead Sea, where you can find some "beaches" with fewer tourists but having to pay admission. But it's worth it because there are showers there!
On the way from the Dead Sea towards southern Israel, the desert is getting closer and closer. Occasionally one sees camels. Beer Sheva is a student city, but not very interesting. Good for couch surfing! Mitzpe Ramon is one of the most beautiful areas! Here you look into a huge crater! You can also hike through it. This is followed by beautiful craters and gorges in the area. In Eilat itself there is not much to experience unless you are into party tourism. Find a beach further south and enjoy the Red Sea. Even if you only walk a little way in with your feet, you will see the first colorful fish - clown fish, box fish etc. Tourism has already destroyed a lot of the coral reef! Please do not step on corals or tear them off!
Back in the middle of Israel we went on to Jerusalem. The cultural city par excellence! In the historic old town, everything is very cramped and touristy. The best thing is to take a free city tour (based on donations) with New Europe (red t-shirts). There is just too much to see! You have to act properly in the bazaar! Half the price is included! The Muslim quarter is also very interesting; you are allowed to enter a mosque yourself if you have the right clothing. A book about Jerusalem is not that bad for understanding the historical background.
Attention, there are two variants in the story, one Israeli and one Arab! Tip: A look into the ultra-orthodox Jewish quarter of Me'a She'arim offers Jewish life up close. There are buses from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (West Bank) several times a day. Now you are in the Arab part. In Bethlehem you are constantly confronted with free city tours, helpers, etc. Decline everything with a clear "No" (preferably in Arabic).
Couchsurfing is not a problem. The Church of the Nativity of Jesus is very touristy. Almost next to the Church of the Nativity there is a "Peace Center" and an information center. There is the story of the conflict from the Arab point of view! Talk to young Palestinians, it's very exciting! Trips to Jericho and Hebron are also worthwhile. Poverty is much more prevalent in the West Bank and women traveling alone are best advised to wear a ring to show they are married. Otherwise you will get hooked up very quickly 🙂
Invitations to tea or dinner are common, but not always meant to be friendly. Often an attempt is made to sell a product after all. Of course you can see the wall in person, there are very nice graffiti in some places, especially in Bethlehem!
Entry and exit from the West Bank are not a problem, the residents of the West Bank have a much harder time than tourists! Tip: a headscarf is always good. Always a sign that you are married.
Excursion to Jordan
From Eilat I traveled to Jordan with a friend for 3 days. Entry is easy and costs money. Sometimes queues arise upon entry. Right on the other side you will be greeted by thousands of taxis, supposedly all one price. Take a taxi to Aquaba, there is no alternative unless you want to walk or take a tourist bus (hitchhiking). There is a tourist information office in Aquaba, but it is not very helpful. There are buses to Wadi Rum, Amman and Petra. You just have to know 🙂 Back then we took a taxi that was much too expensive, but the price was still okay. In Petra there is the expensive version with entry (around 30, - € per person) or illegally sneaking in from behind (fence!). Or you can take a taxi to Klein-Petra, about 15 km away. Little Petra is free and only smaller than the 'normal' Petra. Nevertheless you see caves, baths and temples carved into sandstone. Beautiful! A climbing paradise!
You can spend the night at Klein-Petra on a campsite about 2 km away or in the middle of the stone desert. Warning: women should cover their heads !! Long clothes and a headscarf are an advantage. While hitchhiking on a tourist bus, the bus driver wanted to buy me and give my friend 30 camels. The best thing to do is to say you're married and have children. We drove back from the bus station in Petra by bus (there are no fixed times - everyone tells you something different). Don't go into a taxi and don't believe that the bus isn't coming. It'll come ... someday. Bus is very cheap. Women sit in the back and men in front.
The departure can take a while, questions are asked, often not a problem. But there is a catch: you get a stamp in your passport. This does not extend the visa!
For those interested in culture and religion, Israel is absolutely recommendable. Very European and easy to travel through. To get to know a little more of the 'Arab world', a trip to Jordan is recommended. I was there in the "time of crisis" in June 2014 and felt completely safe and comfortable! Israel is a high-security state and the residents are used to conflicts every two years. So, no fear.
Short cuts Israel
Best travel time:
Spring, summer and autumn are very hot and there is a lot of rain in winter.
Land route: via Jordan and Egypt (then with a stamp in the passport)
Airplane: El-Al-Airline or Pegasus Airline. Surveys and security checks! Visa is valid for 3 months (visitor visa)
Hebrew and Arabic. Almost everyone speaks English. Russian is also widely spoken. All signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
Israeli shekels (approx. € 1 = 4.9 shekels)
Eating out is a bit more expensive than in Germany. Leather things, cloths etc. are cheaper in the bazaar in Jerusalem. Hostels vary between € 15 and € 30.
wwwhere to start
a great overview page
the easy and exciting way to stay the night
the story of the conflict from the Arab point of view
Do not forget
- Headscarf / headscarf for women (protects against heat and is a sign that you are married, especially important in the Arab part)
- water, drink up to 6 liters in the desert and at the Dead Sea
- long, thin clothes
- good cards!
- chocolate (it doesn't taste good in Israel)
Israel / Palestine: Lonely Planet, 2012 Israel and Palestine: Wil Tondok and Burghard Bock, Reise-knowhow, 2013 (very good!)
World Mapping Project: Israel / Palestine, 2014, waterproof !, 1: 250,000 (very good!)
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