General information


This section originates from information collected for the guidebook published in 2000.


This section covers:

Calendars in use

There are three main calendars in use which determine the day, month and year. In addition there are several other recognised ways of calculating the date. The main systems are:

  • the Jewish Calendar, dating from creation 5761 years ago (designated AM or Anno Mundi);
  • the Gregorian Calendar based on the birth of Christ (which is the system used in Western Europe and the US). This gives rise to the abbreviations BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, In the year of our Lord – ie after Christ’s birth)
  • the Islamic Calendar, used by many Arabs starts in 622CE (AD) when Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina. It is called AH or Anno Hegirae.

The equivalent year to 5761 is 2000 Gregorian and 1378 Islamic, although it is only the Gregorian calendar that has New Year on January 1st. Both the Jewish and Muslim calendars are based on phases of the moon in which each month begins and ends with a new moon. To make up the difference between a year of twelve lunar months and a solar year of 365-366 days, the Jewish calendar adds on a month every three or four years. The Muslim calendar does not include such leap years and consequently regresses against the Western Gregorian calendar by approximately eleven days a year. What this means in practice is that both Jewish and Muslim festivals fall on different days on the Gregorian calendar every year. Guidebooks and diaries will give these dates for the next few years, but be warned that the dates of Muslim holidays are fixed according to actual sightings of the new moon, so the predicted dates are only approximate. The basis for the various dates is well explained in the Rough Guide.

Both Jews and Muslims use the term Common Era (CE) when referring to Gregorian years. Thus Before the Common Era (BCE) is used for before the time of Christ. In the West, the reference is more normally to AD and BC. We have generally used the ‘Common Era’ convention in the guide, except in some cases when referring to Christian sites or historical events of particular Christian significance. The Julian Calendar used by Orthodox Christians runs thirteen days behind the Gregorian, while the Armenians use another variation.

There are a lot of festivals, and the different calendars can result in confusion, particularly when finding out whether a place you want to visit is open or not. There are all the Jewish and Islamic festivals, and the Christian ones based on three different calendars. There are at least three different New Year celebrations. Unquestionably, whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Moslem, or of no particular faith, it can be exciting to be around at one of the major festival times. The festival dates for the coming year can he obtained from the IGTO or from the Christian Information Centre. They are also published in some of the guide books. During the more important religious holidays, the sites you want to visit may be closed. There are also important secular holidays, and Israel has its Independence Day, while Palestinians keep both Fatah Day and Independence Day as public holidays.

Because of all these different festivals and public holidays, it is important to take advice about what may be open at particular times. There are large-scale closures of Jewish sites during Pesach/Passover, and Islamic sites are likely to have restricted opening times during Ramadan.

One bizarre variation we encountered while in Jerusalem during the (Gregorian) Easter weekend in 1999 was that Israel introduced Summer Time on the Thursday night, so that the clocks went forward by one hour. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) areas however, did not change their clocks on the same day, so that as we were staying at a Guest House partly staffed by Palestinians, nobody quite knew what time it was ! It illustrates the need to be very relaxed about time, and to be prepared to ‘go with the flow’ rather more than one might when at home.

Car hire

Hiring a car makes a visit to the Holy Land possible for many disabled people. If you can afford it (and obviously provided someone in the group can drive) the use of a car will make it possible to visit many places that you would not otherwise see. Your own car gives you the freedom to do things at your own pace and in your own time, and you can collect and return it at the airport. For a family, or group travelling together, car hire need not be expensive. It would almost certainly be less expensive than using specially adapted transport, which is the only other alternative to getting on and off buses and coaches. Negotiating the hire may be a somewhat complex exercise if you want to get the best deal as there are several factors to take into account.

Of the major car hire firms operating in Israel only one offers adapted cars with hand-controls and that is Eldan Rent-A-Car. These must be booked well in advance as there were only three adapted vehicles in the country at the time of the survey.

Eldan International Reservations:

London 136B Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 OBB Tel: 020 8951-5727Fax: 020 8951-5786.

New York Suite 2004, 350 Fifth Avenue, NY 10118, USA Tel: Toll Free 1-800 938 5000; (212) 629 6090 Fax: (212) 629 8253
Paris 51 Rue Richer, 75009, Paris, France Tel: (1) 47 70 21 25 Fax: (1) 48 24 03 88

Eldan Head Office 20 Hahaskala Blvd, Tel Aviv website: www.eldan.co.il Tel: 03 565-4545 Fax: 03 565-4553

The adaptions on the car are of a standard type. There is a “push/pull lever” on the left of the steering wheel and the gears are automatic. Drivers from Britain should note that because people drive on the right in Israel, these controls are (in a sense) the reverse of what you are used to. Our driver is right handed, and has a much stronger right arm than his left, and as a result had considerable problems with the controls. Those from the USA and other parts of Europe are not likely to encounter this difficulty. There are portable adaptions on the market but they are illegal in Israel and should they be fitted, you will not be covered by the insurance.

As with other information, our listings were correct when we collected the information in 1998 and 1999. Local conditions, such as those relating to insurance for driving in PNA areas, will have changed since then, and you will need to confirm such data, and find out the current position.

Eldan will hire to drivers over 21, but with an insurance loading for younger drivers. Their cars were insured for driving in PNA areas (although that is almost certainly no longer the case, currently)

There are several other operators, including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Sixtand Thrifty. All have offices throughout the country. If you are renting and returning to the same place (eg Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or more probably Ben Gurion/Lydda Airport ) there are other operators who may offer more competitive rates and we suggest that you find out about these through the IGTO or from your travel agent. All companies say that you must have had your licence for at least one year. All car hire firms seem to require drivers to be aged over 21 years and have a full clean driving licence. Most have an upper age limit of either 70 or 75.

Younger drivers typically pay more for insurance. An extra charge of typically $3/day is made if there is more than one driver. Theft protection (in addition to collision damage insurance) may involve an extra daily charge, as car theft is quite common in Israel (one of the few crimes that is somewhat prevalent). You can have personal accident and baggage cover for an extra charge, but most visitors will have this insurance already, and there is no point in insuring twice.

One of the more difficult subjects to assess and negotiate is the question of how much ‘excess’ you carry on the insurance and therefore what you might have to pay, if the car gets damaged. We found that the excess risk that you might have to accept varied from US$300-400, to as much as $1000. With some companies you can pay a fee, typically of around $5-10/day, in order to get a reduction in the excess. When you are quoted a daily hire rate it is important to clarify exactly what is and what is not included.

Some rental companies may restrict where you may take the vehicle, and exclude PNA areas (see comment above). Israeli car number plates are yellow, while Palestinian plates are green. This means that you can attract attention if you are in a car with Israeli plates in a Palestinian area and vice-versa. Don’t let this put you off, and just take sensible precautions. Always be aware of where you are. If you want to hire from a Palestinian company, Petra Rent-a-Car operate from Shu’afat (Shufat), just outside Jerusalem. Although their cars have yellow number plates, there is Arabic script all down the side, and they are well recognised within the PNA areas. All companies exclude crossing international borders and driving in Gaza.

Cars are classified in size from A (the smallest) to E (the largest), and the costs of hire are widely different. The bigger cars cost considerably more. The major firms all have slightly different conditions and rates and offer various special deals at different times of the year. These differences have a considerable effect on what you pay, how much risk you carry and even on where you can go. If you are hiring a car to take a wheelchair in the boot, the companies tend to just assume that you will instinctively know the boot size of a Ford Fiesta or a Seat Ensign (or whatever). In terms of boot size for storing a wheelchair they will, inevitably, err on the side of caution, and may hire you a somewhat larger (and more expensive) car than perhaps you need.

Note that hire company offices may be closed, particularly during Shabbat, and you cannot assume a 24-hour seven day a week service except, probably, at Ben Gurion airport. You pay a small surcharge for pick up and drop off at the airport.

Remember when picking up the car, to check the vehicle for scratch marks and dents and ensure that they are noted by the rental company as you will be held responsible for any subsequent damage. It is also a good idea to check the tyres (especially the spare wheel) and the indicators and lights. You are expected to return the car with a full tank of petrol.

Contact details

Avis Rent-a-car, Avis House, Park Road, Bracknell, Berks., RG12 2EW website:www.avis.com Tel: 0870-6060100 Fax: 0870-9035100. Avis do not hire to drivers aged under 21. They provide insurance cover for driving in PNA areas.

Budget Rent-a-car, 41 The Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, Herts., HP1 1XJ website:www.drivebudget.com Tel: 0541-565656 Fax: 01442-276100. Budget do not hire to drivers aged under 25. They provide cover for driving in PNA areas.

Europcar, 2nd Floor, Bank House, Park Place, Leeds, LS1 1RY website:www.europcar.com Tel: 0870-6075000. Europcar do not hire to drivers aged under 21. They provide cover for driving in PNA areas.

Hertz, Swords Business Park, Seatown Road, Swords, County Dublin, Eire website:www.hertz.com Tel: 08708-448844 Fax: 00353-8133416. Hertz do not hire to drivers aged under 21 and do not provide insurance cover for driving in PNA areas.

Petra Rent-a-car, Main Street, Shu’afat, POB 19743, Jerusalem Tel: 02 582-0716Fax: 02 582-2668. Petra do not hire to drivers under 24 and you are expected to carry a considerable insurance ‘excess’. Insurance cover is provided for driving in PNA areas.

Sixt, 7-11 South Lambeth Place, London, SW8 1SR website: www.sixt.co.uk Tel:0800-0566600 Fax: 020 7 820-9797. Sixt do not hire to anyone aged under 21 and do not provide cover for driving in PNA areas. They can offer cars with roof-racks. Sixt has a tie-up with an Israeli company called Reliable, who advertise car hire at places like Youth Hostels. Their details are: Reliable, 64 Gisin Street, Kiryat Arie, Petah Tikva, Israel website: www.reliable.co.il email: reliable@netvision.net.il Tel: 03 921-4222Fax: 03 921-4343. On their website they quote a minimum age for hire of 21.

Thrifty, The Old Court House, Hughenden Road, High Wycombe, Bucks., HP13 5DTwebsite: www.thrifty.com Tel: 01494-751600 Fax: 01494-751601. Thrifty do not hire to drivers aged under 23 and do not provide cover for driving in PNA areas or even in the Old City of Jerusalem. They can offer cars with roof-racks and Thrifty were the only firm we spoke to who offered a waiver to the insurance ‘excess’ if you are prepared to pay an appropriate daily fee.

Don’t expect quite the same smooth service you might get in the UK or the US. Remember, you’re going to Israel ! Even if the car is pre-booked and pre-everything else, it may take you a while both to collect and return it. It is not, generally, very practical to hire a car just for odd days. If you are unlucky, you might spend a disproportionate amount of the day in the rental office and not much of it driving the car. We have used car hire extensively and while we have had a few minor hassles, our recent experience has been that things are improving.

Climate

The climate is more fully described in conventional guide books, and if you’re disabled you should consider carefully the best time for you to visit. In the summer it can get very very hot, particularly around the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and in the desert areas, with temperatures of over 40ºC. If you visit Israel in the summer you’d be well advised to stay in the hilly areas where at least it gets cool in the evenings, eg in Jerusalem, Safed, or on Mount Carmel. The large modern hotels are, of course, all air conditioned, and you may simply want a resort holiday where you can well cope with (and welcome !) the hot weather.

Our advice is strongly not to go in the summer if you want to tour widely, as it will greatly restrict what you can do, and may put impossible strain on your companions. March, April or October are particularly good months for a visit. You may be lucky with the weather during the winter, though there are periodic spells of rain between November and February. We’ve visited several times during December and have found that the weather has been almost perfect for getting around. Sunny during the day and cool at night. There are occasional flurries of snow in Jerusalem every couple of years, but even in the winter it’ll be fairly warm in Tiberias and around the Dead Sea and in Eilat.

Temperatures and climatic conditions vary considerably in different parts of the country because of the differences in altitude and proximity to the sea. There’s the coastal plain; the hilly areas around Jerusalem and in the north; the areas below sea level (the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea), and the Negev desert to the south each with its characteristic climate. If the weather is likely to be a problem, you’ll need to plan your trip with some care and take advice if possible from those who have been to Israel before.

In May and September there’s often a period when very hot dry winds known as the Khamsin or Sharav blow from the east, and these can he quite unpleasant. Temperatures around the Dead Sea are usually higher than at Eilat.

Average temperatures ºC

Remember that the most common illnesses among visitors are sunburn, heat exhaustion and dehydration, and it’s a shame to spoil your holiday for the lack of a few basic precautions, such as:

  • wearing a hat and using sun protection creams;
  • keeping well covered with light cotton clothing;
  • avoiding going out at mid-day, though not if you are a mad dog or an Englishman;
  • drinking a lot (not alcohol!) even if you’re not thirsty;
  • taking salt tablets;
  • avoiding snacks at roadside stalls and cafés when it is very hot, however appealing they may seem.

The advice about drinking a lot applies at any time of the year. It is only too easy, when out of your normal routine, to drink considerably less than you’re used to, when in fact you should be drinking more. Don’t begrudge a few shekels for coffee and orangeade. It’s money well spent. One or two of our surveyors didn’t take this advice and even in December they paid for it hy getting ill. It was simply a question of dehydration.

Communications

Phoning Israel is fairly easy, using the code 00 972 (from Britain) to replace the 0 in the number given as the internal number within the country. In the guide we have quoted the internal numbers, so, for example for a number in Jerusalem, we have given it as 02 987-1234, so that if you are dialling from London, it becomes 00 972 2 987-1234. Currently, the numbers in PNA areas pass through an Israeli telephone exchange, and therefore have the same prefix combinations.

For e-mail, Israeli destinations commonly have the final attribution “.il” while in PNA areas it has recently agreed that the final attribution “.ps” will be used, although at the time of writing, this has not yet been implemented.

There are currently rapid technical advances in international communications, and while conventional phone calls to Israel are quite expensive, there are an increasing number of companies offering international calling cards with cheaper rates. It is also probable that in time an internet-style telephone system will develop, offering much cheaper ways of phoning.

Public phones in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories have been run by Bezeq, the state-run company, and are operated by phonecards which are widely available at both shops and hotels. The network is not particularly well maintained, particularly in PNA areas, and lines are ‘out of order’ from time to time. There are moves to privatise the system, and a number of new companies have started to operate, so that from appropriate phones using the international codes 012, 013 or 014 you are likely to get a lower rate than using the standard Bezeq code of 00. Mobile phones are very widely used, and Israel has one of the world’s highest rates of ownership and use.

Both fax and e-mail provide a cheap way of sending short messages. Remember, however, that e-mail is in its infancy, and the network is still growing. It is essential to get the recipient to acknowledge receipt of an e-mail before you can be sure that the message has got through and has been understood.

If you are travelling around independently, it is well worth considering the hire/use of a mobile phone. It can be very useful for phoning ahead and checking that places are open, and for getting gates and doors unlocked (and even toilet doors opened, possibly), before you arrive. Solan Communications offer rent-free mobile phones for short periods with a charge of $0.4/minute for incoming calls and $0.7/minute for outgoing calls. Used carefully (with a stop-watch !) a mobile phone could be invaluable, including the possibility of breakdown and as a contact to and from home in the event of emergency. Be careful though not to hang on for long periods waiting for the right person to answer, and it is very expensive if used for ‘chatting’. Sensibly used, a free rental mobile can be of great value. Details fromSolan Communications, POB 173, Ben Gurion Airport, Israel Tel: 03 979-2323 Fax:03 979-2626. While it probably makes sense to pick-up and return the phone at the airport, there are other branches, including:

  • 2 Luntz Street, Jerusalem Tel: 02 625-8908
  • Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem Tel: 02 628-0382
  • 13 Frishman Street, Tel Aviv Tel: 03 522-9424.

Israel has recently moved from a six-digit number system to a seven-digit base. Unfortunately many printed documents, including people’s cards and headed stationery do not reflect this. If you are quoted a six-digit number, then the following may help:

  • For Jerusalem numbers, try adding a 6 in front of the six-digit number
  • for Gaza numbers, try adding a 2
  • for Haifa numbers, try adding an 8
  • for Herzlia numbers, try adding a 9
  • for Nazareth numbers, try adding a 6
  • for Tiberias numbers, try adding a 6.
  • Jericho numbers beginning “99″ now generally begin “23″ instead, and Ramallah numbers beginning “99″ now begin “29″.

There will probably be ongoing changes in the telephone numbering system as the demand for lines increases, and if the PNA areas wish to become independent of Israeli exchanges or to have separate codes.

Currency and deposits

Israeli currency (shekels – New Israeli Shekels – and agorot) is used everywhere. The exchange rate is published in the Jerusalem Post every day. You can now buy your shekels before departure from your own bank, or at Heathrow for example. There is also a useful 24-hour exchange facility on arrival at Ben Gurion/Lydda airport. US dollars circulate fairly freely. Credit cards are widely used, although less so in some Palestinian areas. Remember that using a credit card to get cash can be an expensive way of doing it. You normally pay a transaction charge, and on top of that, interest is charged at up to 30% APR (annual percentage rate) from the time of the loan until you repay both the loan and the interest.

Many prices are set in terms of dollars and if you pay in foreign currency or by using a foreign credit card, you may escape paying local taxes, eg for accommodation and in restaurants. If you are paying cash, US dollars are nearly always the best option for larger purchases. If you want to carry money in the form of travellers cheques, these can provide a safe method, but banks and money changers tend to charge a commission for cashing them.

If you are staying at ‘five star’ accommodation, then part of the service will probably be good facilities for money exchange, more or less on demand, although the exchange rate may not be brilliant. As in many countries, if you are staying somewhere cheap and depending on a bank to change travellers cheques, you may run into what may appear to be somewhat eccentric opening hours. Using a bank is a slow process, and may take well over half an hour if you are unlucky. You queue at one desk, where you show your passport and get an authorisation for exchange. Then you join another queue for the counter where you can get your money. In Jerusalem, there are several money changers just inside the Jaffa Gate, and in other places where foreign visitors go there are an increasing number of bureaux de change. If you are not staying ‘five star’, it is almost certainly worth having an adequate amount of cash to last for at least three or four days, and provided you take sensible precautions this should be perfectly safe.

Note that if you are offered Palestinian money, which you may be in some places, this consists of old notes and coins dating from the time of the British Mandate. These are quite rare, and are collectors items, so it may therefore be (or seem) very expensive. You can buy PNA stamps, and these make quite an attractive souvenir, as do Israeli stamps, but there is as yet no Palestinian currency. In some parts of the PNA areas Jordanian dinars circulate quite widely.

Make sure your money is carried somewhere safe, and you may be wise to keep it split up in two or three different places. We found that a small pouch for your money and passport kept under your shirt or blouse and held by a string round your neck is particularly effective. They’re widely available in travel shops described as a BodySafe and may be more comfortable than a money belt. You need to see what is most comfortable for you. A method of carrying things where the wallet is in some way tied to you makes theft much more difficult. The worst option is to carry your money, cards and passport in a shoulder bag or handbag, and the next worst is to stuff your money in a back pocket. Remember that being in a wheelchair or being a disabled walker is no protection against theft.

Deposits can normally be paid these days by using a credit card number. Hotels normally require a credit card guarantee of payment of the first night of a booking when taking a reservation. Banks can electronically transfer money to a local bank account (for a fee), or you can use a cheque, an International Money Order or MoneyGram obtainable through a Post Office.

Electrical supply

This is standardised as 220 volts AC 50 cycles and so will cause no problems for visitors from Britain. Americans may need to buy a transformer if they want to use electrical items. Remember that if you use an electric wheelchair, the airlines sometimes won’t carry the batteries and you may need to organise some batteries and a charger to be available on your arrival in Israel, either through your tour company, through Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross), or through a local organisation for the disabled.

Having an international plug adapter can be useful. Although some British two-pin plugs may work, for example off an electric razor socket, in some places you will encounter an incompatible three-pin system. American visitors may need to convert their electrical equipment to the 50 cycle system compared with the 60 cycles normally used in the US. Get proper advice before travelling.

Holiday helpers

A big problem in planning a holiday can be finding companions who are strong and resilient enough to help get over the various minor problems you’ll meet. Much, of course, depends on your degree of disability, how heavy you are and also how well you get along with people ! Only you will know all that. If you have friends or family who can go as well, that is obviously ideal, although you must be careful in the planning not to try to undertake too much, especially through the hot summer months. Even if you have a lot of money, finding helpers and escorts to accompany you if you need help is like looking for a needle in a haystack. If your funds are more limited, and you are looking for volunteers, then it’s even more problematical.

One approach (in Britain) would be to go through the various organisations like RADAR, SCOPE, the Muscular Dystrophy Group, or the Red Cross. If you only need some limited help while you are in Israel, then undoubtedly the best people to talk to are Yad Sarah. Some specialist tour companies may be able to help, but it may take some time to negotiate something, and don’t be surprised if it’s difficult.

Insurance

People rarely go on holiday without proper insurance, largely because there are small but out of the ordinary risks involved in travelling abroad. Even though the risk to the individual traveller is very small, the cost of medical treatment and/or of emergency repatriation in the event of an accident can be huge. You hear from time to time about overbooked hotels, Legionnaire’s disease, insolvent airline companies, and the work of pickpockets, but remember that bad news always travels fast and often gets exaggerated. The relatively low cost of insurance which includes administration and a profit margin to the insurer, indicates that claims are relatively unusual.

Insurance is offered as part of most holiday package deals, but for the disabled traveller, a careful look at the insurance conditions is advisable.

Key issues

The most important section for almost everyone is that covering health insurance. Some policies still have a clause excluding those with a pre-existing medical condition or disability. Others exclude anyone who has had recent hospital in-patient treatment. The period stipulated can vary from the previous six months, to as much as two years since the treatment. The clauses vary in detail, and it is unfortunately important to read the small print of any policy. Some, quite reasonably, have an exclusion relating to people who are expecting to go into hospital for treatment. Remember that your travel agent may not understand the implication of a particular clause for you. Also that it is important to tell your insurer in writing of any material facts that might affect the risk being covered. The probability is that they will simply take note of what you say, and then you will be fully covered in the event of anything going wrong.

The increasing tendency to arrange cover over the telephone leaves the customer at greater risk, as there is no written record of the details you have given, or of the precise cover offered.

Another important aspect of a policy is how the company pays for the necessary health care. The best system for hospital and/or repatriation costs is that the insurer pays for it directly, rather than that you pay and then claim the money back later. What should happen is that you arrive at a hospital where you are admitted. The hospital checks with your insurer that you are covered and then the insurer pays the bills. For smaller sums such as the cost of a doctor’s consultation and/or the purchase of medication, it’s simpler to pay for these yourself, and keep the receipts for making a claim on your return.

This advice may seem to be boring, but it may also save you from being excluded from claiming a substantial sum of money if something does go wrong.

Policies available

In Britain, there are a number of excellent policies which will provide cover, and some good policies simply say that cover will he given so long as you are not making the trip against the advice of a doctor. Quite how that works if you haven’t actually asked your doctor (because you have a stable condition and advice isn’t really needed) is a moot point. In most cases, there will be no problem, but for your own protection, it might be worth having some back-up documentation, either by mentioning your disability directly to the insurer, and by dropping a note to your doctor saying that you are going off travelling.

We spoke to Extrasure, who we recommended some seven years ago in our Access in Paris guide, and discovered that their approach had changed considerably. They have a Medical Help Line with whom you would have to negotiate, and I was told that ANY medical condition would need to be declared. The list they gave meant that well over half the population would need to inform and consult them before they would assess the premium OR people would be going off only partly covered. We mention this to illustrate the need for doing the necessary homework with any insurer. The probability is that there will be no loading or increase in the premium, unless your condition is genuinely unstable. If, however, you give full information to your insurer, then your cover is cast iron and secure.

For some people, it may be necessary to use specialist companies. For anyone with cerebal palsy, or spina bifida, or multiple sclerosis, for example, the appropriate national association which provides information and help may well have information on the best policy for you. For children with cancer, consult (among others), theChristian Lewis Trust, The Child Care Centre, 62 Walter Road, Swansea, West Glamorgan SA1 4PT website: www.christianlewistrust.org.uk Tel: 01792-480500 Fax:01792-480600.

Fish Insurance, 3-4 Riversway Business Village, Navigation Way, Preston PR2 2YPTel: 01772-724442 has been in the business of providing insurance for people with disabilities and their families and companions for a considerable time. Cover can include the cost of a replacement personal assistant if someone fulfilling that role is ill or injured while you are abroad.

Europ Assistance, Sussex House, Perrymount Road, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 1DN Tel: 01444-442038 provide a wide range of travel insurance. Like other insurers, they require that all and any medical condition is revealed, since, even if it has been stable for ages, it can be regarded as a pre-existing disability in the event of a claim. They may simply need a note from your doctor saying that there is no reason why you shouldn’t travel. This would seem to be a sensible precaution before travelling anyway, to ensure that any insurance is valid.

Travelcare, 68 High Street, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 5AQ see: www.travelcare.co.ukemail: travelcare@compuserve.com Tel: 020 8295-1234 Fax: 020 8295-1345 offers an excellent and flexible policy. There is no age limit or loading, and you can exclude personal possessions cover if these are already covered under your household policy. They have a Medical Line on Tel: 0345-020303 (charged at local call rates) to consult if you have a medical condition diagnosed or treated within the last two years; if you have ever been treated for a heart or breathing condition; or if you have been diagnosed with cancer or a psychiatric disorder. A call giving details will enable them to detail what cover can be given, and for many situations you will be fully covered.

In making our enquiries, we got some basic quotations from different companies. What we paid ourselves, taking out what seemed to be an adequate policy for the disabled members of our group, was about £20 per person for insurance for two weeks in Israel. The policy was that of STA Travel, 86 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 Tel:020 7361-6161, and covered medical expenses except for any condition that had been treated during the previous year, and excluded travel against the advice of a doctor. Travelcare quoted a basic cost of £42, and Europe Assistance quoted £64. The policies undoubtedly differ in many respects. Each may be good value for the cover given, but remember that IF you needed emergency repatriation on a stretcher for Israel for some reason, and you discovered that you weren’t covered because of some undeclared pre-existing condition, you would look pretty silly.

It is not an issue to sweep under the carpet, nor to rely on a travel agent to deal with. The agent may know less than you do. The best thing to do is to make enquiries of three different companies, such as the ones we have mentioned, and possibly of a ‘standard’ supplier. You can then ensure by declaration, doctor’s note or whatever method, that you are adequately covered.

RADAR at 12 City Forum, 250 City Road, London EC1, or Tripscope, will be able to advise about the latest position and of any new companies offering competitive policies.

In the US we can suggest various avenues of inquiry, in particular SATH (Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped) 347 Fifth Avenue, Suite 610, New York 10016, and look at the websites listed.

American legislation is much stronger than Britain with anti-discriminatory clauses about areas like insurance. However, it is still as well to be careful. Insurance in the US seems to operate on a somewhat different basis from that in Britain. Certain aspects of your car insurance may cover you when driving a hire car abroad. Your household policy with ‘all risks’ clauses may cover your possessions when abroad, but many American insurers exclude theft of your belongings from their travel policies.

One major American player is Travel Guard, 1145 Clark Street, Stevens Point, WI 54481, USA see: www.noelgroup.com Tel: (1-800) 826-1300, and the cover they offer specifically includes pre-existing disability. The premium however is calculated in relation to the total estimated cost of your trip. From their published table, a trip costing $2000, cover costs about $150, while for one costing $3000, cover is $240 (at 1999 prices). Those figures seem high by British standards, but one has to take into account that the US is much further away, so repatriation costs would be much higher.

Other American insurance companies are listed in the RG.

It is essential to consider carefully the whole question of insurance. Although the chances of anything happening to you or your property aren’t much greater than at any other time, the cost to you may be much, much more. It is worth shopping around to get adequate cover, since the cost of illness abroad or of emergency repatriation can be very considerable, and we would advise taking the maximum cover possible. It’s important not to accept your travel agents advice without checking the small print relating to health insurance.

Local customs

There is a great deal we could say, but most of it doesn’t really fall within the scope of an access guide, so we’d advise you to read elsewhere as well. However, we include a few basic points.

It is clearly important not to offend others in either Moslem, Christian or Jewish Holy Shrines by going “improperly dressed”. In most places men should wear long trousers and women should cover their arms and possibly their heads and wear a reasonably long dress. Skull caps are worn by men in Jewish holy places, and these are normally available at the door. In mosques, and possibly some other places, you may be asked to remove your shoes. Not all holy shrines are open to the public. This applies to churches, mosques and synagogues. If you want to visit some of the places that are not part of the main tourist/visitor itineraries, then you may have to get permission from the appropriate authorities.

We came across a complete ban on the entry of chair users into the main mosques when we first researched this guidebook some twenty years ago. This is because people normally take off their shoes, thus leaving the ‘dust on their feet’ outside the sacred building. For a chair user this isn’t quite so simple. We suspect that the Islamic authorities hadn’t ever been asked about wheelchair access before. In correspondence, then, with the Awqaf authorities in both Amman and Jerusalem, we negotiated entry for chair users into mosques. We know, however, that the guards at the door to the mosques often do not know about this discussion. In 1999 we got a new letter from the Awqaf Administration in Jerusalem, as those in charge are anxious to welcome disabled people. This gives permission for wheelchairs and their users to enter the mosques on Haram al-Sharif, which are the most important ones for visitors.

We understand very well that mosques are primarily places of prayer, but they are appreciated also by those of other faiths, and by some with little or no faith. We were pleased to see an ‘accessible’ mosque while we were in Gaza City. We happened to be passing, and saw a man in an electric wheelchair outside this mosque. As we passed, the door opened, and a temporary wooden ramp, in two parts, was put down for the two steps at the entrance, and the wheelchair user was able to go directly inside on to the carpets. We suspect that he may have been injured in the intifada, and that this may have forced a local rethink of the implications of Islamic law.

The letter is reproduced in the guidebook

Only Kosher food is served in many, if not most, Jewish hotels and restaurants and this involves following the Jewish dietary rules. Basically it means that no butter or milk is served either with, or after, meat. In practice, and to the unknowledgeable outsider, it seems to make relatively little difference to the food served. It is important to respect Jewish custom by, for example, not smoking in dining rooms or public rooms on the Sabbath. Depending on where you’re staying or where you’re planning to go it’s worth checking on what might give offence. In one or two ultra?orthodox areas (Mea Shearim in Jerusalem for example) pushing a button on an electric wheelchair on the Sabbath is normally considered to be work which breaks the Law. We would advise both care and sensitivity. Oddly enough, we were told that pushing a manual chair is not considered to be work. Pushing a button is.

Some people, particularly some Arab women and ultra-orthodox Jews, don’t want to be photographed. To them, a photograph represents a “graven image”, which is offensive. The sign language employed in such a situation is usually pretty clear!

There are a number of key festivals and public holidays, including:

  • the Jewish and Israeli ones of
    • Purim (March);
    • Passover (April);
    • Independence Day (April);
    • Shevuot (May);
    • New Year (Sept);
    • Yom Kippur, Atonement Day (Sept);
    • Succot (Oct); and
    • Hannukah (Dec).

Some of these involve the same kind of strictures as the sabbath, while Purim and Hannukah are more light hearted, and are not associated with the same discipline;

  • the Muslim ones of
    • Eid al-Adha ( currently in March);
    • Al-Hijra, New Year (Mar/Apl);
    • Moulid al-Nabi (generally in June);
    • Ramadan (starts in Nov or Dec) and
    • Eid al-Fitr (Dec or Jan), but as explained in the section on calendars in use, the Muslim calendar steadily regresses against the Gregorian one by about eleven days a year;
  • there are several Palestinian national days, such as
    • Fatah Day (1 Jan);
    • Jerusalem Day (22 Feb);
    • Land Day (30 Mar);
    • Black September (18 Sept);
    • Independence Day (15 Nov);
    • Palestine Day, declared by the UN as a day of solidarity with the Palestinian peoples (29 Nov);
  • the main Christian festivals of
    • Christmas and
    • Easter

take place according to the three different calendars already discussed. The main western celebration of Christmas is on December 25th while Easter falls either in April or towards the end of March.

Maps and guides

There are an enormous number of straightforward guide-books and also books about the “Palestine/Israel” situation. We shall concentrate here on the ones you should be able to get through British or American bookshops, and which will complement the information given in this book.

There’s a scarcity of good maps and many of the street plans of towns leave much to be desired. Most are either slightly, or considerably out-of-date, and compared to the town plans commonly available in Britain, are of relatively poor quality. There is also the problem that different names are frequently used for the same streets, and the name on the map may not correspond to the nameplate in the street itself.

MAP – Mapping and Publishing Ltd, POB 56024, 18 Tschernikhovski Street, Tel Aviv 61560 website: www.mapa.co.il email: info@mapa.co.il Tel: 03 620-3252 Fax: 03 525-7725 publish road maps of the whole country in different formats, and the one we found to be most useful was the ring bound version using A4 size paper and a scale of 1:100,000. The whole area is covered in eighteen double pages, and the maps are very detailed although not always completely up-to-date. They similarly publish a ring-bound A4 street map of Jerusalem as well as a single sheet fold out version which is less easy to handle, but can be helpful when you are driving and trying to follow a route across much of the city. Jerusalem is difficult, because the maps do not show the hills.

The other major map publisher is Carta POB 2500, Ha’uman Street Jerusalem 91024website: www.holyland-jerusalem.com email: cartaben@netvision.net.il Tel: 02 678-3355 Fax: 02 678-2373. They produce a range of maps and books about the Holy Land, and whether or not the style and presentation appeals to you is largely a matter of personal taste. Carta are about to publish Carta’s Guide to Country Lodging 2000 which will list places with facilities for disabled visitors. This information will almost certainly be no better than that supplied by the kibbutz country lodging heqadquarters. Much more important is the updating of both maps and guides, and both Carta and MAP seem to be making efforts to update their main publications.

With the guide-books it’s difficult to know where to start, as there are so many – and they all have different styles. Our favourites are the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide, both called Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the Footprint Handbooks Israel Handbook with the Palestinian Authority areas. All three are based firmly on the practical experience of travellers. None has much to say about access, but some of the maps and diagrams do give some access information, rather by accident. In the guidebook we have crossreferred to the Lonely Planet guide (1999 edition), referred to as LP, the Rough Guide (1998 edition), referred to as RG, and to the Handbook (1999 edition), referred to as IH. The Israel Handbook in particular has a large number of diagrams of the sites it is describing, although it also uses quite a small and not very strong typeface, which some will find difficult. The best maps and street plans are in the RG (in our view), the next best in the LP. Unfortunately in the new (1999) edition of the IH the maps are completely ‘washed out’ and difficult to interpret, although there are still some strong clear diagrams relating to various sites.

There are many other excellent guides, and these include:

  • the AA Baedeker Israel guide with some good diagrams and maps as well as descriptions of the sites. It uses a small but strong typeface;
  • the AA Explorer, and the Insight Guide, both with some spectacular photographs, giving a really good idea of the feel of many of the most important sights;
  • the Bazak guide to Israel and Jordan, written primarily for Jewish visitors;
  • the Fodor guide, perhaps particularly aimed at visitors from the US;
  • the Frommer guides, including one entitled Israel on $45 a day;
  • Let’s Go Israel and Egypt, aimed mainly at the budget student-age traveller;
  • the Tzofit Guide for Touring Israel, with extensive and detailed hotel listings, but less detailed information on the sights than other guides;
  • Easy Walks in Israel by Aviva Bar-Am highlights a series of easy and attractive walks, some of which are wheelchair accessible. It is an enthusiastic little book where the needs of disabled people have been well integrated into the presentation, although unfortunately the reality of some of the access problems has been glossed over; and,
  • Bethlehem 2000 (a guide to Bethlehem and its surroundings) by Sawsan & Qustandi Shomali, published by Flamm Druck Waegner, Waldbröl, Germany, which is one of the few such guides originating from within the PNA areas.

In London, one of the best selections of guides we’ve come across is available fromStanfords Bookshop, 12 Long Acre, London WC2 email: sales@stanfords.co.uk Tel:020 7 836-1321 Fax: 020 7 836-0189. It stocks a variety of Israel maps, including street plans of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The shop is near the Leicester Square end of Long Acre, entrance +1 step and then +2 to the area with the maps.

In Israel, we recommend the Steimatsky Bookshops, with branches in most large centres. If you have time, it is well worth getting your maps and guides in advance as the local bookstores in Israel may not have what you want in stock.

If you are planning to drive extensively, then there is no question (in our view) that the MAP Israel The New Road Atlas, the A4 size edition is the best. There is also quite a good road map of Israel published by Lonely Planet. After the overall map, street plans of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are essential, assuming that you are including both in your itinerary. Local street plans to smaller towns are included in some of the guidebooks, and you can also contact the local tourist office who will almost certainly have something.

One of the snags with the road maps is that most do not mark the new bypass roads in the West Bank areas. These are new roads which link the various Israeli settlements, bypassing Palestinian towns. On these new roads the signs are almost exclusively to Israeli settlements whose names may be known to local Jewish settlers, but not to foreign visitors, and so they can cause some considerable confusion.

Medicalert

The Medicalert Foundation provides an indispensable service for those with medical problems which could be compounded by treatment after an accident when the patient is unable to make known his or her particular condition. It is of special importance to those suffering from epilepsy, haemophilia, diabetes, allergies and many other conditions, or to those who need regular dosage of a particular drug. Life membership is available to anyone, for a nominal fee. Members wear a metal emblem engraved on one side with the name Medicalert, and bearing the phone number of the Emergency Service on the reverse side, where the immediate medical problems of the wearer are also noted, for example, “Allergic to Penicillin”, “Taking Anti?coagulants”, “Wearing Contact Lenses”, “Under Steroid Treatment”, “Diabetes”. Additional medical information is filed at the Emergency Headquarters, where the telephone is manned 24 hours a day. There are further details on their www.medicalert.co.uk website.

Medicalert operate in a number of countries, and their main contact addresses are:

12 Bridge Wharf, 156 Caledonian Road, London N1 9UU, UK email:info@medicalert.co.uk Tel: 020 7833-3034.

2323 Colarado Avenue, Turlock, CA 95382-2018, USA email:glazebrook_tanya@medicalert.org Tel: (209) 668-3333

Medical requirements

Obviously the first thing to do is to check with your doctor and ask whether there are any special precautions you should take, either in connection with travelling or with staying in Israel. There is good advice in the guidebooks, and we have borrowed here, some of the points made in the Rough Guide and in How to stay healthy abroad by Dr Richard Dawood (OUP) where the write-ups are particularly good.

There is a difference between jabs and inoculations that may be required for entry into a country and those that may be advised, and the regulations and advice changes from time to time. It is wise to check that you’re up-to-date with polio and tetanus boosters, and protection against Hepatitis A is no bad thing, even if it is not an entry requirement.

If you have a longstanding medical condition such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, hay fever, or asthma, then get advice from your doctor before travelling. Even if you have been stable for a long time, it is almost certainly worth getting a doctor’s note saying that you are fit to travel – principally for insurance purposes. Doctors these days are much less restrictive than they once were, and usually give good advice about the possible risk/benefit involved in travelling. If you need anything, carry enough medication to last the full duration of your trip, and a little to spare as well. If you split that, and carry it in two different places, then your chance of losing all of it is halved. Make sure that you know the pharmacological names of any medicines and the reason for taking them, and, if it might be useful, carry your doctor’s phone number. If you have an occasional problem, such as asthma or hay fever, remember that you might just bump into the conditions that sparks it off, so take the necessary antidotes with you.

For minor complaints, if you feel you need help, it’s probably best to go first to a pharmacy (mirkahat in Hebrew, and saydaliya in Arabic). For more serious complaints, it may be easiest to go to the hospital. Most larger towns have one and the standard of care and advice is generally good, although it is probably better in Israel than in the PNA areas. Your hotel/hostel desk will be able to advise, or will know of a local doctor if that is your preferred option, particularly if you cannot easily get to a hospital.

The most common holiday problem is stomach upsets and diarrhoea, and if you are only on a short holiday, this can be a particular nuisance. Mild diarrhoea usually lasts only for a day or two, and the general advice is broadly to ‘do nothing’ except to drink plenty and use rehydration solutions such as Dioralyte after an attack. These contain a mixture of salts and glucose.

If there is any sign of blood with the diarrhoea, then seek immediate medical advice, and if it lasts more than two or three days, the same applies. The various anti-diarrhoea medicines such as Lomotil, Imodium and Arret, should only be used if, for example, you have to go on a long journey where reaching the toilet may be difficult, or to permit attendance at important meetings. These medicines may bring a measure of relief, but they can also prolong any infection causing the problem. This is because they hold back the body’s natural and appropriate response – which is, literally, to flush out any infection.

The best general advice we can give is the same as that for visiting all hot countries, and includes:

  • don’t eat unwashed fruit;
  • don’t eat food from roadside stalls;
  • where the water is doubtful drink bottled drinks only, and don’t use ice;
  • in the summer, drink a lot (not alcohol);
  • cover up in the sun and, especially, wear a hat.

A first-aid kit is invaluable for dealing with travel sickness, stomach upsets, sore throats, cuts, bruises, headaches and stings, and it’s much better to take brands of drugs and medicines that you’re used to, rather than have to experiment with local ones. You may want to take some insect repellant.

If you don’t normally use a wheelchair, but tire because you can’t walk too far, consider bringing a chair with you. You can rent or borrow one at home, and the airline will carry it free of charge. It’s much easier to take one with you than it is to find and rent one in Israel.

Newspapers, radio and TV

There are two paper printed in English, the Jerusalem Post, long-standing Jewish newspaper published daily, and the Jerusalem Times, which has a Palestinian viewpoint, published weekly. It is really interesting to see the different perspectives of the two communities. The International Herald Tribune is also widely available. Papers from abroad may he bought in the big cities and at Ben Gurion airport. There are English language broadcasts on the Voice of Israel five or six times a day. Reception of the Voice of America on 1260 kHz (medium wave) and of BBC World Service broadcasts on 1323 kHz medium wave, and on short wave, is reasonably good. On TV there’s a mixture of Hebrew, Arabic and English programmes. Multi-channel cable TV is increasingly available in hotels, hostels and in many homes, with BBC World, CNN and Sky.

Package tours

Organised tours of one kind or another offer an economical combination of travel and accommodation. There’s an enormous variety available and it’s a market which is changing due to alterations in the fare structure and the competition from new companies operating charters.

The best thing to do is get a list of tour operators from your nearest IGTO and look at the adverts in the major national papers and the Jewish Chronicle.

You can also consult local travel agents. These will be only too willing to take your business, and it can be a considerable advantage to be able to talk directly to someone who is willing to help and find out all kinds of details. They will have all sorts of discount arrangements with suppliers (hotel chains, car hire firms, insurance companies etc) but remember that they will generally only offer services involving their particular suppliers. For the disabled customer, whose requirements are more specific than others, this can be a disadvantage and you may need to make enquiries of more than one agent. On the other hand, the assistance of one concerned and understanding agent who takes the trouble to get hold of the necessary detail to make things possible is worth losing one or two minor discounts.

We mention here a few of the largest agents in the UK, but we have no grounds for saying that one is better than another, since we’ve only used a tiny number ourselves. What we can do is indicate the range of packages available an then leave you to decide what sort of deal you want and to make your own inquiries.

One possibility of key interest to disabled visitors is the kibbutz fly/drive package. We list below the UK operators who were offering this, together with a range of other options such as tailor-made tours, Eilat wintersun packages, standard hotel-based tours etc.

  • Abacus Travel 003531 670-9070
  • All Abroad 020 8458-2666
  • AMG Travel 020 8958-3188
  • Israel Travel Service 0161 839-1111
  • Longwood Travel 020 8551-4494
  • Peltours 020 8343-0590
  • Project 020 7831-7626
  • Pullman Holidays 020 7630-5111
  • Superstar Holidays 020 7957-4300
  • West End Travel 020 7409-0630
  • WST Holidays 020 8202-0800

The IGTO office in London produces a full list of companies operating in the UK which contains some forty to fifty names. There’s a similar list available from the New York, Los Angeles and other US and Canadian offices.

Organised tours for groups are run by very big companies for whom Israel is one place among a couple of hundred others included in their brochure. There are also large companies whose main market is Israel and who will have a considerable number of local couriers and representatives, who can more easily check out necessary details for you. There are medium size firms, and then small ones where the owner may even travel with the tour parties and will have plenty of local knowledge. Some firms specialise in pilgrimages, visiting all the religious sites; some specialise in coach tours, where you stay in a different place each night; and some organise ‘centre’ holidays in which you are based in only one or two places and are left to arrange your own programme and transport from those bases. Individual companies will have block bookings or special discount arrangements with particular hotels, and you may have to shop around until you find one using a particular hotel you know to be accessible. If you want more freedom, we would particularly recommend some of the fly-drive packages using kibbutz inns.

There are some specialist operators who are clued up and knowledgeable about the needs of disabled travellers. The level of service you can expect is high, but their charges may be somewhat higher. Because of their special local knowledge they may enable a disabled visitor to see a great deal more in a shorter time, thus, effectively, reducing the overall cost of a visit. They can put together itineraries for small groups. They could also offer day trips or a three/four day package which is tailor made to supplement your own independent plans. There may be some visits where you would appreciate avoiding the hassle of organisation and providing transport.

There are numerous local travel agents who can organise particular trips (for example to see the sunrise at Masada, or to go to Petra in Jordan). Almost wherever you stay the front desk can give advice about what is available locally, but nearly all these tours will use a conventional coach for transportation.

Passports and documentation

Citizens from most countries automatically get an entry visa valid for three months on arrival. What you need is a passport which is itself valid for more than six months from your arrival date. The main problem over passports is the question of stamping. Once you’ve an Israel stamp on your passport you can’t use it to visit some Arab countries, so you have to get a second one, which can be quite complicated. You can ask not to have your passport stamped, but this becomes slightly more complicated if, for any reason, you part with your passport at the airport, for example if you’re in a wheelchair or part of a group. When you give your passport to a courier or official make sure they know if you don’t want to have it stamped.

Part of the procedure is that you get am immigration permit with duplicate sections. One part they keep at the check point. The second part is a small piece of paper which you have to keep with your passport. This is easy to lose at hotels or when cashing travellers cheques. If you do lose it, it may delay you going through the exit procedures when leaving.

The regulations over visas and passports from various places are always subject to change, so make appropriate enquiries before leaving. It will be interesting to see what happens when a Palestinian state is established, and this may bring about some new requirements and red tape.

Place names and street names

When reading different guides, and certainly when in the country, you’ll find different names in use for the same towns and places as well as for streets, people and everything else. This is because both the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets are different from the English one, and translations can be somewhat variable. Generally, if it sounds the same it’s probably the same place. By way of example:

  • Safed, Zefat and Tsefat are all the same place, as are
  • Eilat, Elat or Elath,
  • Jaffa and Yafo
  • Caesarea and Qesariyya;
  • Herzlia and Herzlliyya, and note that
  • Mitzpe and Mezuqe are the same.

It’s all a bit hairy and takes a bit of getting used to, but you get the hang of it after a while! Where it can become a real hassle and confusion is with street names. When you are trying to look them up in an A/Z listing you may not find the spelling that you have been given which makes using street maps considerably more difficult.There may be letters missing, or even more difficult, different letters used – so if you try the alphabetical listing you may simply not find it. Also, when you arrive at or near the street you want, the street name on the sign may be spelled differently both from the map and possibly from the original spelling you were given.

It’s a recipe for difficulty and confusion, and sometimes that is what results. If you have to find a particular address, allow some extra time!