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25 replies
ISRAEL -SAFE??
kat
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Going to europe for a few months leaving may. I have mostly planned it London,France,Spain,Italy. We will be heading to greece also. My friends live Tel Aviv, Israel. I have known them for a few years and they want me to visit(easily accessible from Greece) They say that it is safe where they life and that media really distorts what is going on. Althought everytime I read the newspaper or watch tv it makes me a little hesitant. My parents think i’m crazy to go, but I want to take the chance especially because I have a few friends there to guide me. Does anyone think this is nuts? Thanks kat

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Well, if someone offers you a free Gaza Strip bus pass, I’d turn it down.

Your friends are probably right, your trip will likely be uneventful, but bad events are so random and unpredictable in that region that even a hardcore traveler like myself would probably pass on it right now. Not out of fear for my own rear end, but I couldn’t inflict that amount of worry on my parents. Funny, though, I wouldn’t have any major issues going to any of the surrounding countries in that region right now.

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Most of my family lives in Israel, mostly in Tel-Aviv, and I travel there often. I’m thinking about going there this summer myself, though I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make my mother a little nervous. Your friends are right about the media. For the most part life goes on in Israel just like anywhere else, what we see on TV is the worst of the worst. Of course you want to stay away from the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem that are dangerous, but I’m sure your friends will tell you exactly where it is safe to go. Enjoy your trip. Maybe I’ll see you there!

arnaldo
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I’ve been to Israel a few times over the past 2 years, and have never felt unsafe or threatened. As Sailor and Adeelie pointed out, you’d want to stay away from Gaza and the risky areas of Jerusalem. As a precaution, I also stayed away from bars/clubs that are known gathering spots for westeners. I had a great time in Tel Aviv. Jaffa was beautiful. Also went to the Dead Sea and Massada. Tried to go into Jerusalem once, but had to turn back because my time was limited to one day and getting through the checkpoints was taking way longer than I thought. Bottom line is that I had a great time there, and would love to go back to visit the Golan and other regions I have yet to see.

Sailor is right though… my parents flipped out when I told them I was going

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What is the accommodation situation like in Israel, mostly hotels or is there also a hostel scene? It sounds like most of you were staying with friends but I’d still be interested in what you do know. Also I’m not one to plan out much of an itinerary so is it possible to just show up in Tel Aviv and still find a cheap room or should this be arranged in advance?

Zach1213
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I was in Israel last summer and had a blast! I felt perfectly safe the entire time I was in Tel Aviv AND Jerusalem. The odds that something will happen while you are there are very small…the odds something will happen to YOU are almost zero. But one thing I noticed is that every time I was on a bus I kept my eyes open all the time judging people. Definately not cool of me to do but I talked to other people who did the same thing, though we dont mean to. ENJOY!

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I’m going to Israel for the fourth time this July. The last time I was there was in February of 2001 and I never felt unsafe, even though there have been attacks while I was there the last two trips.

You have to take reasonable precautions of course, but ultimately the randomness of the terrorist attacks should just make you realize that you can’t ever be 100% safe but that shouldn’t stop you from living your life.

If you have the opportunity to visit Israel, do NOT pass it up. It’s a life-changing experience!!!

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quote:
What is the accommodation situation like in Israel, mostly hotels or is there also a hostel scene? It sounds like most of you were staying with friends but I’d still be interested in what you do know. Also I’m not one to plan out much of an itinerary so is it possible to just show up in Tel Aviv and still find a cheap room or should this be arranged in advance?

To be honest, I’ve only ever stayed with friends/relatives, or travelled with a tour (I did the Birthright thing in 2001 which was incredible!) I know there’s a hostelling scene in Israel but I haven’t really tapped into it.

Maddy-wah
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What’s "the Birthright thing"?

segacs
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Birthright is a program that sends Jewish young people aged 18-26 to Israel for 10 days absolutely free. See or http://www.birthrightisrael.com/bin/en.jsp?enPage=HomePage or http://www.israelfree.com. I went in 2001 and it was one of the best times I ever had in my life.

segacs
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Nadrazi, for hostels in Israel, check out the Israeli Youth Hostel Association at http://www.youth-hostels.org.il/, or more at http://www.youth-hostels-in.com/israel-hostels.htm. I hope that helps.

segacs
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Just an update:

I spent 2 1/2 amazing, incredible weeks in Israel last month. It was my fourth time there but each time seems better than the last.

And no, I never felt unsafe. What I mean by that is, I went to bars, restaurants, crowded beaches, nightclubs, shopping malls, rode public transit (city buses and commuter trains), and never really thought about security concerns at all. Most public places have security guards doing bag-checks at the entrances, but they’re usually cursory and they don’t disrupt much of anything.

The only time I felt scared for my life was during a particularly harrowing taxi ride (if you know how Israelis drive, you’ll understand what I mean).

I spent a week on a tour and a week staying with an Israeli friend. Her friends were mostly perplexed to learn that my friends and relatives back home were actually worried about me. They found it amusing that the international media paints Israel as this war zone or something.

If you’re considering visiting Israel – GO!!! It’s an amazing experience and you’ll be glad you went.

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quote:
Birthright is a program that sends Jewish young people aged 18-26 to Israel for 10 days absolutely free. See or http://www.birthrightisrael.com/bin/en.jsp?enPage=HomePage or http://www.israelfree.com. I went in 2001 and it was one of the best times I ever had in my life.

Is there a way to prove that you are jewish? Can I sign up for a free trip if I say I’m a jew?

segacs
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Hmmm I have no idea… I guess there’s no real way to &quotrove" anything… but I’m not advocating abusing the program, it’s all funded by donations.

leannz
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as some one who actullay live in Israel i can say it’s safe
their hasn’t been any bombing for months now(boy that must make you feel good (: )
no, but really the places where tourists hang out are quite safe
no one walks here around the street looking for bombers it’s quite normal,you don’t feel it, you no how there’s a war in iraq only you don’t really feel it it’s like your not really part of that war but it’s your country thats fighting, it’s kind of the same way it feels over here like there is a war only it’s really far away, we only hear of it when a solidar dies or an illageal settlement is under attack, and to be honest as far as i’m concerned it’s their fault for chosing to live on a land that’s not yours
but the buttom line, you have a better chance to die in a car crash over here than a bombing, i would not like to live in Israel (as i’m doing now (: ) but as a tourist you can have so much fun, people are nice, the clubs are amazing,you have the dead sea the dead sea, lot’s of great fun
do come!

roz
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The hostelling scene in Israel is great. I stayed in hostels in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Ein Gedi and Jerusalem. I usually don’t stay at HI hostels, but the one in Ein Gedi was unbelievable. They had a Friday night dinner, with great food, and I met so many people. It’s fantastic!

For Birthright, there’s a website that will give you all info on showing that you’re Jewish.

In terms of security, I was there during one of the worst times of the Intifada and still felt safe. You just need to be careful, but you don’t feel like you’re in a war zone.

segacs
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When were you there, Roz? I was there in February 2001 and again this past July. You’re right, Ein Gedi is unbelievable.

Leann, thanks for some perspective. Though the ‘no bombings in months’ thing isn’t quite accurate anymore unfortunately (there was a pigua in Tel Aviv in July, and of course this week’s horrible bombing in Beersheva), that’s what makes the headlines. You’re right that statistically you’re more likely to die in a car accident than due to any kind of terrorism, and you’re even more likely to die in a car accident in most of the USA than you are in Israel… so logically then, the safest thing you can do is to go to Israel and take the bus Smile

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JUST GO TO ISRAEL.
ITS FUN SAFE AND EXCITING

THE ONLY KIND OF TERRORISM I FELT (LITERALY) WAS FROM THOOSE GODDAM MEDUSSAS (JELLYFISH) SWIMMING IN THE MED.

GO ITS GOING TO BE THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE.

TAKE A PIC OF THE "BERLIN WALL" FOR ME WHEN YOUR THERE.

SHALOM,SALAM,PEACE

ANI PSYCHI METORAF
BULBUL

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Oh yeah, a friend of a friend was stung by a jellyfish in Tel Aviv. They were really bad this year, it seems. Didn’t stop us from spending lots of time on the beach though. I absolutely adore the Mediterranean coast!

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I wanted to bring this one back up as I am heading to Israel in December to do some volunteer work. I just was curious about some logistics:

1. What are transportation options/costs/time needed to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
2. Same question in regards to getting from Jerusalem to Jericho City?

I may get into Tel Aviv a day early and spend the night in a hostel and meet up with other volunteers the next day to travel eastward together. So if that happens:

1. Hostel recommendations that are convenient in regards to airport proximity and departure spot for the travel to Jerusalem (oh, and safe and relatively clean!)

How does transport work? Is it pretty much private hire cars and taxis? Any tips on what the asking price should be for journeys and just how it works (I lived in Honduras for awhile and learning the ways of riding taxis took some time!). Also, please take into consideration that I am a young white American female traveling alone.

thanks!

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Sorry, forgot one thing. I heard from several sources that they are tight on visitors entering at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv and that my volunteer plans should not be mentioned. So is it simple enough to just say that I am a studnet on winter break and wanted to travel through Israel? Is there any extra documentation I should have to back this up (I know a return ticket is an obvious must)…maybe a hostel reservation or something like that?

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Hi Tracy,

Let me try to take these one at a time.

1. Jerusalem is about a 45-minute drive (without traffic) from Ben-Gurion airport, which is actually a bit outside Tel Aviv. There are buses but the simplest and most convenient option once you land is to get a "sherut" taxi to Jerusalem. The "sherut" is a favourite transportation option among Israelis because it’s convenient and the network runs on Friday nights and Saturdays, unlike public busses. A sherut is generally a van that fits 10-11 people, and you share the cost of the taxi ride between you. Usually the driver won’t leave until his van is full but it’s cheaper than a private taxi and the sherut will usually take you right to the door of wherever you’re staying. To get a Sherut, just follow the ground transportation signs when you land, and ask the person in the little booth to point you to a sherut to Jerusalem. Depending on how long the taxi takes to fill up and how far apart the other riders’ destinations are, the whole thing should take you a couple of hours max.

2. Jericho’s much harder to get to because it’s in the territories and the security situation and road closures might make it near impossible to get there and back. The last time I was there was in 1993, when the situation was very different. To be honest, I’m not sure what the transportation situation is right now.

3. It’s probably just as convenient to head to Jerusalem and find hostel accommodations there, than it is to make your way into Tel Aviv for the night. However, there are hostels in both cities. The Israel Youth Hostel Association’s website can be found at http://www.youth-hostels.org.il/youth-hostels/english.html.

4. In general, the best ways to get around are by public bus or shared taxi (or train, on the Med coast).

The public bus system is cheap and easy to use, and the main bus stations usually have information booths with helpful English-speaking people that will provide you with maps and schedules. Egged’s bus network is very extensive, and the busses will get you just about anywhere. The fare varies by city but if I remember correctly, it was just over 5 shekels per trip in Tel Aviv and about 5.50 in Haifa. They won’t give you a transfer so if you have to switch buses, you’ll have to cough up again. Also be aware that the bus system doesn’t run on Friday evenings or Saturdays for Shabbat. Some people are wary of the busses because of terrorism, but to be honest I felt much safer on the busses than in taxicabs, cause Israelis are crazy drivers! (Sorry to any Israelis reading this, but you are… and this is coming from a Montrealer!)

The "sherut" system that I described above for transportation from the airport is the other main way to get around. Shared taxis run on more of a scheduled network in Tel Aviv, with designated routes that sometimes are faster and more convenient than the busses, and not much more expensive. Elsewhere, you usually have to call to schedule a pickup. Be aware that the timing is a bit lax, so if you absolutely must be at the airport by 10am for example, leave plenty of extra time for the driver to drive across town, pick up a bunch more people, and then sit in traffic. Sherut rates are usually negotiated when you get into the taxi, and are the same for everyone unless someone’s going somewhere out of the way. You can sometimes haggle a bit for a deal. When in doubt, leave the negotiations to local riders, as drivers may try to take advantage of a group of tourists. The Sherut system runs all week, including Saturdays.

There’s a nice, modern commuter train system running along the Mediterranean coast, and it’s very convenient for getting from Tel Aviv to Haifa for example. The trains don’t currently go to Jerusalem.

Regular private taxis are everywhere. The Hebrew word is "monit". Make sure to tell your driver to turn on the meter when you climb into the cab. Otherwise, he’s liable to just drive off and then quote you some ridiculous "flat rate" when you arrive at your destination. Some drivers will try to pretend that the meters don’t apply late at night. Don’t let them pull that on you. Always make them use the meter or find another cab. Taxis can get expensive very quickly but are good in a pinch when no other transit is available (e.g. to get back from a club at 4 in the morning). Some drivers will play loud music, smoke in the cab, ask seemingly rude questions, or take you on a thrill ride weaving in and out of traffic that makes your heart stop… but hey, it’s all part of the experience!

5. Your last question I really can’t answer because I don’t know the nature of your "volunteer" work. If you mean you’re volunteering with the ambulance service or with a social service organization, or on a kibbutz, and all your visas and whatnot are in order, then I don’t see why there should be any problems at the border.

If, however, you’re planning on engaging in any anti-state "volunteer" activity, then a) I can’t – and won’t – help you and b) I’m sorry I wasted my time trying to give you helpful advice on the rest of your questions. People who claim to be "volunteering" for organizations like ISM, which have links to the Palestinian terrorist networks, are generally scrutinized carefully at the border and may be denied entry… for good reason! The Israeli security won’t let in people it suspects of facilitating terrorism against the state.

The advice I have is be honest and up front with everyone who asks you questions. Don’t try to lie to them because they have good reasons for asking the questions that they’re asking.

In general, you do not need any special documentation as a U.S. (are you American) citizen… just a passport and a return ticket in case they ask. If you’re volunteering for a legitimate organization, some sort of letter from them explaining what you’re doing and where you’ll be staying might be helpful to have on hand. 99% of people are just waved through, like at any airport… but if you give them reason to be suspicious, they will be very thorough.

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Oh, I forgot to mention, there’s no tipping in taxicabs, even though the tipping culture has hit the rest of Israel with a vengeance. And most cabs will only accept cash (shekels). I didn’t encounter any that accepted credit cards, and US dollars are only accepted in rare circumstances in touristy areas.

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WOW!! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply in such detail…it really does help. Yes, I am very familiar with these micro-buses that leave when they fill up as it is what I used often while living in Honduras. I’ve heard of a few good places to stay in Jerusalem and will probably take your advice to just head there upon arrival (my flight gets in around 4pm).

And no worries on the volunteerism. I am familiar with ISM and that is not who I am working for. I’ll be doing more along the lines of manual labor (building, painting, etc.) for both Israelis and Palestinians…and as far as I know my work does not involve political activism of any sort-just helping those who need it regardless of race or religion.

Thanks again for the help and I can’t wait to enjoy Israel!

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No problem. I hope you have a great time.

A word of unsolicited advice, if I may: be very careful who you’re volunteering for. You sound like an idealistic person who just wants to help. But the situation is unfortunately such that people just like you are regularly exploited by seemingly innocuous organizations with political agendas. It’s unfortunate but true. Check out who you’re volunteering for, and refuse to participate if you’re being used. "I didn’t know" is a bit of a hollow excuse later on… for example, in the case of the British ISM "volunteers" who ended up facilitating the suicide bombing at Mike’s Place. I’m not suggesting that this will end up happening to you, but just be careful.

Oh, one more word of advice: "sherut" and its plural, "sherutim", mean two very different things. (Sherut is a shared taxi, and sherutim is washroom. An important distinction.)

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