Israel's Holy Sites - How to Avoid Offense

The Jewish faith alone has over 4000 years of history here. Christians believe Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. And, for 1400 years, Muslims have held sites in Israel to be sacred.

Needless to say it is important when travelling in this region to be attentive to local customs as some are important religious traditions.

The importation of religious materials for the purpose of preaching is not permitted in Israel. Such items are likely to be confiscated.

If you choose to enter ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods, be aware that local residents can react strongly to anyone (particularly women) whom they deem to be dressed in an inappropriate manner. For women this would include wearing trousers.

On Shabbat or Sabbath (from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday) these neighbourhoods are blocked off and you should not attempt to drive into them.

Equally during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan eating, drinking, and smoking between sunrise and sunset are forbidden for Muslims (though not for children under the age of eight).

As a courtesy, you may wish to avoid drinking, eating, and smoking in public places in the Occupied Territories like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank during Ramadan.

Although alcohol will be available in some hotels and restaurants, drinking alcohol elsewhere may cause offense.

Visitors to some synagogues, most churches, and all mosques should be aware that entry will normally not be permitted to those with exposed legs (i.e. wearing shorts or short skirts) or women with exposed upper arms.

Women may be denied entry or ordered to wear a robe before entering mosques or synagogues.

Carry a wrap or bring a change of clothes.

Mosques will also require you to take off your shoes before entry. Men should cover their heads in a synagogue.

Public displays of affection are frowned on at religious sites in Israel.

You should also take care to observe appropriate standards of behaviour if you are visiting Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods.

In the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, public displays of affection may also cause offense.

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  • Kristina said

    Emphasize that "On the Sabbath even using electricity is restricted. As is using mobile phones and digital cameras should you fail to not respect this you will likely cause offence." is also only true for the Jewish ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods (but you generally shouldn't be photographing there anyway... btw also don't photograph military areas and train stations; photographing everything else I can think of should be ok) and maaaybe Jewish holy sites - in most places in Israel people normally walk around on Shabbath (with sh if you are in Israel) using mobile phones etc. And there isn't anything like power outages scheduled for Shabbath, electricity is always supplied. (I am a non-Israeli student in Israel.)

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