Updated: Sep 11, 2020
I just read an article on CNN about a tourist being fined $1200 for trying to take sand from Sardinia's beaches and it got me thinking.... which things should you NOT take from Israel? I made a short list of those things - as well as a more extensive list of things which are frowned upon here but which unsuspecting tourists do all the time (or just not wise things to do while here).
The first set of don'ts relates to that great quote "take only pictures, leave only footprints:"
1. Do not take salt from the Dead Sea.
2. Do not take coral from the coral reef/beach in Eilat.
3. Do not pick wildflowers; a number of them are protected, notably the red anemone, our national flower. And some of them - like the oleander - are poisonous (don't touch the pink flowers).
4. Do not take back any archaeological finds you may come across whether on an actual dig or anywhere else (if you find one in a random place call the Antiquities Authority).
5. Do not try to pick up any stones or anything else from the Temple Mount.
6. Do not pick up any ammunition you see on the ground if you visit an army base.
Yet there are also places and times not to take photos either:
7. Do not take photos at the Western Wall from sundown on Friday night until there are 3 stars visible in the night sky on Saturday night. No smoking there either while we are at it. And if you go to a religious Jewish home during that time period known as Shabbat (Sabbath), do not use electricity - so no phones, no doorbells and do NOT touch the lights, especially the ones in the bathroom.
8. Do not take photos of any religious Jewish person on Shabbat.
9. Generally ask before you take photos of any particular human being but especially those who are religious, whether it is Shabbat or any other time.
10. Do not take photos at the small chapel attached to the back of the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
11. Do not take photos in places where it is clearly marked not to do so - such as the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum and inside the museum at Yad Vashem as well as the Children's Memorial there.
Things not to do - in Jerusalem:
12. Never use your credit card in the Arab Market in Jerusalem. There have been way too many instances of people getting ripped off, like the infamous $2000 shwarma story.
13. Never take the first offer when in the Arab Market in Jerusalem - you absolutely need to bargain and your goal should be about 30% of the original offer.
14. Do not take your wallet out on the Mount of Olives, by the Garden of Gethsemane or along the Via Dolorosa. Put a few one dollar bills or one euro coins in your pocket to get things along the way. Hawkers there are aggressive and a number o them sadly are quite unscrupulous.
15. If you plan to visit the Temple Mount, do not bring any alcohol, non-Muslim religious reading material/objects or a laptop.
16. If going to a religious site or religiously-observant area (such as the Temple Mount, Western Wall, churches or the Mea Shearim neighborhood), do not go inappropriately dressed. Make sure your shoulders and knees are clearly covered and you are not wearing anything low-cut. Also do not partake in any public displays of affection including holding hands or putting your arms around each other, even for photos. These are definitely not the places to make a statement about the human form (we have had a few scandals the past few years).
17. Do not treat the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews as if they are an exhibit in a zoo. Like anyone else in the world, many of them do not appreciate people pointing and whispering about them, and they definitely do not appreciate when people come to their neighborhoods to gawk. If you are going, make sure you are incredibly respecful.
18. Do not wait for the last minute to make restaurant reservations in Jerusalem for Friday night if you don't plan to eat at your hotel. Almost all of the Jewish places will be closed on the Jewish Sabbath and the top places which are open (by default non-kosher) get filled up quickly.
Things not to do - in national parks or when hiking:
19. Do not go on a hike without the proper shoes. Make sure you have good ankle support for any kind of hiking and water shoes where appropriate. And seriously, do not wear anything black in the desert in the summer.
20. Do not go off the marked trails if you are hiking. Israel has more marked trails per square mile/km than any other country in the world. We also have firing zones for the military and minefields from conflicts with our neighbors. You don't want to walk into them.
21. Do not go hiking in the Judean desert - or even plan a trip to Masada - on a rainy day or the day afterwards. Flash floods from runoff from the central mountain range are incredibly dangerous. They can also happen in the Negev Desert and Jordan Valley. Make sure to check the situation before you go anywhere.
22. Do not leave your car unattended in the desert at any off-the-beaten path area.
23. Do not smoke in a national park. We do not get rain for 6 months a year and being so dry, we have major issues with wildfires (a tourist burned down much of the Ein Gedi nature reserve a decade ago).
24. Other things not to do in a national park: both eating and climbing on antiquities (especially at Masada).
25. Do not show up in the last hour before closing time at a national park; they won't let you in. Some hiking trails in the parks will already be closed.
Things not to do when it comes security:
26. Do not make any jokes or mess around when being approached by security in the airport or anywhere else. We take security seriously here - which is why you will feel incredibly safe when you visit.
27. Do not bring any kind of knife or pocketknife to Israel. They are illegal and you will have it confiscated at a security check at some point.
28. Do not leave your bags and belongings unattended anywhere. The area will be cordoned off and the bomb squad brought in.
29. If you purchase a bullet necklace for some reason as a souvenir, do not put it in your carry-on bag or leave it around your neck when you fly. Make sure it goes in your checked luggage.
30. Do not worry if you see a police car's lights flashing. For some strange reason they are always on. It's when they put their siren on that they are actually in pursuit.
31. Do not freak out if you hear a siren on Friday night at sundown - it is the siren announcing the beginning of Shabbat. If you hear a siren at 8PM, 10AM or 11AM on a day in April or May, it is the Memorial Day and/or Holocaust Memorial Day siren. Do not ignore it. Stop and stand quietly at attention until it is over in 1-2 minutes.
32. Do not freak out if you see security everywhere. The truth is you probably won't see many soldiers with guns at all but if you do, don't worry. A number of our soldiers take their guns on leave with them from the army. If they don't have two locks to lock them behind, they can't leave them at home, so they may even be walking around in civilian clothes with a machine gun. Private gun ownership in Israel is incredibly low and regulated, including mandatory recurrent mental health checks and gun safety classes. We have almost no regular violent crime here and definitely not mass shootings. So if you see someone with a gun here 99.9999% of the time they are totally safe. You will also see metal detectors when you enter malls, bus stations, major holy sites and other major public buildings. It's a fact of life here; don't worry about it - again, it means you are safe.
Things not to do - drugs and smoking:
33. Do not buy drugs here. While marijuana laws have been relaxed here [which has led to an uptick in local production] a decent percentage of marijuana - as well as a high percentage of the harder drugs - is imported into the country (obviously illegally) from Lebanon and Gaza and supports terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Let's just say that Israelis don't look upon that very fondly.
34. Do not smoke in hotel rooms and especially not a hookah/water pipe. Besides being illegal, a new carpet will set you back hundreds of dollars.
35. Do not smoke anywhere indoors, in stadiums and bus stops and anywhere else people might crowd [and again, not in national parks or out in nature in general].
Things not to do - getting around:
36. Do not expect to find a parking spot easily in Tel Aviv or many other places - and if you do find one, it may not have a pay station. If you are driving in Israel, download the app Cellopark and of course, Waze. Red and white curbs means no parking, blue and white is pay parking and gray is free parking.
37. Do not expect there to be public transportation on the Sabbath or on a number of Jewish holidays. Plan ahead.
38. Do not expect to find food on Yom Kippur outside of your hotel. And NOBODY drives on Yom Kippur unless you are in an area that is solely Arab. Virtually nothing is open. Again, plan accordingly.
39. Do not expect to quickly be able to get a taxi from the street - and there are no Ubers. Download the Gett Taxi app - it's like Uber but for taxis.
Things not to do - in order to stay safe and healthy:
40. Do not shave for several days before you go to the Dead Sea. And while you are there, do not enter with silver jewelry, do not dunk your head, do not splash around, do not engage in horseplay - you do NOT want that water in your eyes. If you get it in your eyes, do NOT rub them - go outside and wash them out in the emergency showers. And please, do not float over to the other side. It's a different country over there (and yes that happened - in the opposite direction - a few summers ago). And if you are driving there make sure you have gas in your car - there are no gas stations down there for miles and miles.
41. Do not go outdoors in summer without a hat and lots of water. Adults need to drink at least 3 liters of water a day - 4 if you are going to the desert. There are always people who don't take our warnings seriously and I have lost count the amount of times I have seen ambulances evacuate people (and not always alive). Hats prevent heat stroke; water prevents dehydration. We actually have more people, however, dehydrate in winter-time as without the heat and sweating they forget to drink - and we are in a desert climate.
42. Do not make the mistake of thinking the desert is warm at night. It cools down and in winter, it can get incredibly cold (especially our elevated desert areas - i.e. not Eilat and the Arava).
43. Do not go swimming in the sea at night. The Mediterranean Sea especially has a very strong undertow and people drown there every summer. Do not go into the water when there is no lifeguard on duty. Black flags mean the water is off limits. Red flags means you can go in but exercise caution.
Things not to do in general:
44. Do not graffiti your name (or anything else) on our walls and in our sacred spaces. I cannot tell you how embarrassing it is for me as as guide to take people into the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer or the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher when I know there is graffiti everywhere there. I can only imagine the affront a person of faith (and decency) would think of it. And that goes for the Western Wall as well (you won't see it today but there are old photos of the wall with people's names written on it).
45. Do not eat at a restaurant without tipping - but don't overtip either. A regular tip is 10% but at a nice fancy restaurant you will want to tip 15%. For taxis, just round up a bit (37 shekels to 40 for example).
46. Do not touch an observant Jewish person of the opposite gender. It's probably a good call - for Muslims as well - to only offer your hand to someone if they put their hand out first.
47. Do not try to fit a bunch of extra people into a hotel room. In Israel you pay by the person, not the room (i.e. adding a 3rd person into a double would increase the price).
Things not to do, in order to have a great trip:
48. Do not try to pack so much in that you wear yourselves out and need a vacation from the vacation. Israel is so full of things to do that even I, an Israel tour guide since 2007, have not seen or done everything. Make sure to enjoy it and don't forget to plan your next trip back to Israel soon.
49. Do not think that you have to come on the same Dead Sea/Holy Sites tour every time you come to Israel. There are so many ways to experience this country. For some great ideas check out my tours page here: https://www.tourguideofisrael.com/tours
50. Never go around with anyone who claims to be a licensed tour guide but does not have a license (especially those hanging out by Jaffa Gate at the Old City of Jerusalem). In Israel, becoming a licensed guide is like getting a Master's Degree. If you want a real tour guide of Israel, of course, you know where to find me :). Check out more about me here: https://www.tourguideofisrael.com/about
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