Flights & getting there
Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, so it’s easy to combine a visit with a trip to Petra and/or to the Red Sea coast of Sinai. Western governments advise against all travel to northern Sinai for security reasons.
Flights, cars and tours can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings.
Most visitors arrive in Israel via Ben Gurion Airport. Major airlines tend to arrive at the newly built Terminal 3 while some budget airlines use Terminal 2. Ramon International Airport, in Eilat, is scheduled to open in 2018.
Airports & Airlines
Israel’s main gateway is Ben Gurion International Airport, 50km northwest of Jerusalem and 18km southeast of central Tel Aviv. The airport handles about 20 million passengers a year. For up-to-the-minute details on arrivals and departures, go to the airport's English website.
Ramon International Airport, situated in the Arava Valley 18km north of Eilat, is scheduled to open sometime in 2018 as Israel's second international airport. It replaces Eilat's city-centre airport (no more turboprops swooping in low over North Beach), handling the low-cost flights that previously used Ovda (Uvda) airbase. Ramon International AIrport will also be used by flights to Ben Gurion that have to be diverted, eg because of the threat of missiles.
Israeli airport security is very tight so international travellers should check in at least three hours before their flight – when flying both to and from Israel.
Israel’s privatised flag carrier, El Al (www.elal.co.il), has direct flights to several dozen cities in Europe, as well as long-haul services to the US and Canada, South Africa, India, Thailand and China.
Known for having the tightest security in the business, El Al's aircraft – like those of other Israeli airlines – are reportedly equipped with technology to foil heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
The only Middle Eastern cities with direct air links to Tel Aviv are Amman, served by Royal Jordanian (www.rj.com); Cairo, served by Air Sinai (a low-profile but astonishingly expensive subsidiary of Egyptair); and Istanbul, served by Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com).
There is no departure tax when leaving Israel by air, only at land crossings with Egypt and Jordan.
It is relatively easy to enter Israel from Jordan and Egypt, but procedures, prices and timings at the four crossings (one with Egypt and three with Jordan) regularly change – be sure to check with your hostel or hotel before you leave. Israel issues visa on arrivals at all of its crossings, but going the other way visitors may need to apply for Jordanian visas in advance. You will need cash, in both currencies, and infinite patience.
Israel may be at peace with two of its four Arab neighbours (Egypt and Jordan), but its border crossings are still heavily militarised and can be intimidating and challenging places to enter and exit the country. They can also be surreal: at the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan, for example, visitors take a bus across a desolate no-man's land, passing through minefields littered with bombed-out buildings and abandoned military vehicles. Most visitors receive a visa on arrival when entering Israel by land from Jordan and Egypt, but regulations going the other way (particularly entering Jordan from Israel) change frequently. It's always best to check with your hotel or hostel before turning up at the border. It is not possible or advisable to cross by air, land or sea into Lebanon or Syria.
- Peaceful Borders
The borders between Israel and the two countries with which it has signed peace treaties, Egypt and Jordan, are open to both tourists and locals. Note that most Western governments advise against all travel to northern Sinai because of recent attacks against tourists by radical Islamists.
- Blue, Purple & Green Lines
The UN-certified international border between Israel and Lebanon is known as the Blue Line; the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line of 1974 is known as the Purple Line; and the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank is known as the Green Line.
- Border History
Britain and France determined the future borders of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (Jordan) and Iraq in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.
Planning Your Crossing
Banned: Israeli Passport Stamps
Arab and Muslim countries have widely varying policies on admitting travellers whose passports show evidence of their having visited Israel. Jordan and Egypt, with which Israel has peace treaties, have no problem at all, and the same goes for Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and many of the Gulf emirates, as well as for Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the other hand, Lebanon and Iran have been known to put travellers on the next plane out if they find even circumstantial evidence of travel to Israel, for example a passport freshly issued in Amman or a chewing-gum wrapper written in Hebrew. Saudi Arabia is also known to be very strict on occasion.
If there’s any chance you’ll be heading to Arab or Muslim lands during the life of your passport, your best bet is to make sure that it shows no indication that you’ve been to Israel. Simplifying matters is the fact that Israel no longer stamps tourists' passports, instead issuing a loose-leaf visa, and Jordanian officials generally do the same. Egypt, however, is not so flexible, although an Egyptian stamp from Taba is as much a testament to your having visited Israel as an Israeli one. If you need to get from Eilat to Sinai without a Taba stamp, one option is to cross to Jordan and then take a ferry from Aqaba.
Some countries, including the United States, allow their citizens to carry more than one passport: one for Israel and its neighbours, the other for the rest of the world.
Israeli Border Control
Israel's rigorous entrance procedures are a source of annoyance for some and a breeze for others. Don't be surprised if you are asked questions about your reasons for travelling, trips you've recently made, your occupation, your acquaintances in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and possibly your religious or family background.
If you are meeting friends or family, you might want to have their full name, address and phone number handy (a letter confirming you’re staying with them is ideal). If you have hotel reservations, a printout may help – or be completely superfluous.
If border officials suspect that you’re coming to take part in pro-Palestinian political activities or if you have an Arab or Muslim name, they may ask some probing questions; on occasion they have even searched laptops. Sometimes they take an interest in passport stamps from places such as Lebanon or Iran, but often they don't. The one sure way to get grilled is to sound evasive or to contradict yourself – the security screeners are trained to try to trip you up. Whatever happens, remain calm and polite.
Israeli airport security is the strictest in the business. It unabashedly uses profiling, but not necessarily in the way you think. In 1986, a pregnant Irish woman, Anne Mary Murphy, almost boarded an El Al 747 in London with Semtex explosive hidden in her luggage – it had been placed there without her knowledge by her Jordanian boyfriend, Nezar Hindawi, who is still in prison in the UK. Ever since then, Israeli security officials – at Ben Gurion Airport and at airports abroad – have been on the lookout for anyone who might unwittingly serve as a suicide bomber, with young, unmarried Western women near the top of the profiling list.
It is not possible to get to Israel by sea.