ABOUT ISRAEL

Riding

Israel has a large variety of landscapes through which to travel and, being a relatively small country, they are all accessible. With high quality asphalt and plenty of twisties, this is a great place to enjoy a winter riding getaway. Our tour seeks out the best riding roads in the country, whether through verdant pastural areas, or slicing though the yellow dessert. From mountains to the lowest place on Earth, via warm and sparkling seas, it’s all waiting to be enjoyed.

On the whole, riding in Israel is similar to riding in Europe, with roads being well-maintained and similar speed limits. Although rules are, on-the-whole, being followed, there are exceptions. Driving habits are more of Mediterranean mood and aggression than Northern European and we are riding on the right, making it very difficult to draw a sword when facing an opponent. 

So, while some extra vigilance is called for, the challenges presented by other road-users are not on a par with the roads of Asia.

We will be avoiding highways, sticking to less busy routes wherever possible. There is no true ‘off-roading’ on these adventures and no requirement for any advanced dirt-bike skills. 

Helmets are compulsory, both by law and during all riding on our tours. There is a zero-tolerance policy to drink-driving and road rules are enforced. As usual, there will be a tour leader at the front and participants will navigate using a ‘drop-off’ system. 

Money

The ‘New Shekel’ is the local currency. ATMs are widespread and will accept the usual cards, as will most retailers. Meals, fuel and booze are similar in price to the UK.

Fuel is (Feb 2021) around £1.30 per litre.

There are currently 4.6 New Shekels to the UK Pound.

Geography

Israel is a country in the Middle East, located on the south-eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the west and Egypt to the southwest. Israel’s economic centre is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem.

With an area of about 21,000 km(the size of Wales) and a population of just over nine million, this is a small democratic country, with the mass of the population in the major cities of northern Israel. It is also a very young country, having been proclaimed a state in 1948, following the horrors of the Second World War. Israel’s history and borders are complicated, riddled with conflict, angst and controversy, but it is also a beautiful and fascinating country.

Within relatively short distances, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea (the lowest place on our planet at 435m below sea-level) can be reached in an ideal winter riding climate. These seascapes, mountains, desert and pasture land form an ever-changing backdrop to some glorious motorcycling on excellent roads. 

The northern part of the country contains the lush Galilee Mountains and Sea of Galilee; the west borders the Mediterranean Sea. To the south is the Negev desert, which is contiguous to the vast Arabian Desert and home to the Bedouin people.

We will get to see most of it…

Climate

As Israel extends in a north-south direction and contains a wide range of topographies, there are wide varieties of climatic conditions. 

Temperatures vary widely during the winter. Coastal areas, such as those of Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool-ish winters and long, hot summers. The area of Beersheba and the Northern Negev have a semi-arid climate with hot summers, cool winters, and fewer rainy days than the Mediterranean climate. The Southern Negev has a desert climate with very hot, dry summers and mild winters with little rain. The highest temperature in Asia (54.0 °C) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi in the northern Jordan River Valley.

Over the whole country, there are around 40 days of rain per year, with the southern city of Eilat being sunny for 51 weeks of the year! 

When setting the timings for our tours, we are looking at all the factors across the various regions through which we travel to bring you the best overall riding conditions, subject to omnipotent beings. The seas around Israel are swimming-warm all year round. 

Cities, demographics and ethnicity

Israel has around nine million inhabitants, about three-quarters of whom are Jewish. Just over 20 per cent are Muslim or Christian Arabs and five per cent are either Christians from other areas, or follow no religion. These designations can in turn be broken down into many sub-categories. 

The Jewish people are divided into many traditions; some secular, some fundamentalist with most folks somewhere in the middle. There is likewise a large diversity within other religious populations, Muslim and Christian, orthodox and layman. While there are Sunni and Shia Muslims, there are myriad forms of Christianity: Greek Orthodox and other Catholics, Protestants, Maroons, Orthodox Syrians and Copts.

The official language of Israel is Hebrew and Arabic is also widely spoken. Due to the massive waves of mainly diasporic immigration over the years, the origins of Israelis are incredibly diverse, as is the range of languages spoken.

Over 90% of Israelis live in an urban setting, the largest city being Jerusalem, with a population of 936,500. Next is Tel Aviv, with half that number. At the other end of the scale are tribal Bedouins, mainly in the south part of the country, some of whom follow their nomadic ancestors, moving around the deserts of south Israel to this day.

Economy

Israel has grown rapidly in the past 70 years, from a tiny state formed largely by post-war immigrants and refugees, to an advanced industrial economy. High quality higher education has led to a highly-skilled workforce able to contribute the 21st Century technology boom and the country has seen massive investment from tech-giants over recent decades. The country has the highest per-head proportion of technicians, scientists and engineers in the world.

Leading exports include industrial machinery, software, agricultural products and cut diamonds. Leading imports include raw materials, rough diamonds, fuel, grain, everyday consumer goods and military equipment. Israel is also at the forefront of renewable technology development. The economy is largely balanced, with the value of imports and exports being well-matched. This has led to a low level of external debt and Israel has a lending surplus of some 70 billion U.S. dollars.

Despite a low level of easily available natural resources, Israel has achieved a high degree of self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector thanks to a pioneering spirit and the development of new agricultural technologies.

Tourism is a fast-growing and important revenue-earner, annually boosting the economy by some six billion dollars. Much of this is religious tourism, but warm beaches with water sports and endless historical interest are also major attractions.

There are 19,250km of paved roads in Israel, plied by just three million vehicles. This very low number of vehicles per head is in part due to crushing import duties. A motorcycle in Israel attracts an import tax of 80% of value!

Politics & History

The birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, the written history of Israel (or Palestine, or The Holy Land) and its peoples goes back to pre-Old Testament times and, some would say, the dawn of Creation. But if you want a Bible, Torah, or Qur’an class, please consult an appropriate religious scholar. The area comprising today’s Israel has been invaded by Greeks, Romans, Arabs of many empires, European Crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans and Napoleonic forces. 

While these ancient influences are profoundly interwoven with the country we see today, the story of the modern Israel is inextricably linked to the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Europe.

Prejudicial treatment of European Jews in the late 19th Century – and a history of Jewish persecution and expulsion going back to 1290 in Europe – reinforced the goals of a growing Jewish national movement (Zionism) and led many to return to their religious roots in Palestine. During the course of World War One, the then influential British committed to the creation of a Jewish National Homeland and with this aim in mind, were given a mandate by the League of Nations (the precursor to the UN) to ‘rule’ Palestine. A rival Arab nationalist movement was formed in opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland and so began the wheel of conflict that turns to this day.

In the late-19th Century and first half of the 20th, huge waves of Jews fled to Palestine. Many fled the pogroms of Imperial Russia and later the same state’s communist atrocities. Estimates of Jews killed under various Russian regimes run into the millions, but the defining catalyst for an independent Jewish state was, of course, the inhuman, industrialised state-sponsored murder of the Nazi regime. The Holocaust.

Post-war, intentions by the British to establish a Jewish state within Palestine were shelved due to concerns that such action would destabilise the area, on which Britain was dependent for oil. Despite British efforts to limit immigration and the further promotion of such a state, effectively stateless Jews from Europe and neighbouring Arab countries ‘illegally’ entered Palestine, boosting the Jewish population to a third of residents. In the face of these factors, the Zionist independence movement gained momentum and a low-level guerilla war ensued, culminating in the bombing of the King David hotel in 1946, used as a British military headquarters, which led to the deaths of 91. 

All the while further waves of Jews fleeing Eastern-European oppression increased the number of returning diaspora by 250,00. The situation overall was poorly managed by the British, who used the repressive tactics of colonial subjugation. With limited resources due to the costs of the war, and facing the cancelling of loans by a critical U.S. Congress, the British were increasingly finding the situation unmanageable. In 1947, the newly-formed U.N. was asked to find a solution. Although the U.N. made a recommendation for partition of Palestine along Arab/Jewish lines, no action to implement these plans was taken. 

Despite this, or perhaps due to this, tensions in the area skyrocketed, both Arabs and Jews rapidly mobilising armed forces and soon there was a state of war between the two factions. In 1948 the formation of the State of Israel was announced by the Jewish People’s Council, the state being rapidly recognised by the world’s major powers. However, bordering Arab states did not acknowledge Israel, or the plans to partition Palestine, and so the first of many regional wars ensued. 

Between 1948 and 1958 the population of Israel grew from 800,000 to two million, as people took advantage of the Law of Return (1950), which guaranteed all Jews and their families a home in Israel. As population grew, so did economic and military strength. 

Despite various ceasefires and political resolutions, conflict was never far from the surface in the Middle-Eastern arena. The Six-Day War of 1967, a reaction to Egypt’s President Nasser’s threat to ‘destroy Israel,’ saw Israel launch pre-emptive strikes, destroying the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The war was fierce and brief, Israel capturing the neighbouring territories of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem. The ramifications of these manoeuvres have fuelled further controversy and conflict to this day.

While the outcome of these territorial shifts bore significant fruit for the Israelis, gaining access to religious sites and the oil of the Sinai Desert, the outcome for the dispossessed Palestinians was less favourable. Subsequently, Israel and its Arab neighbours have existed in states of low-level war, flare-ups, uneasy periods of peace and always international controversy. 

Today Israel’s continued ‘occupation’ of the assets gained in the Six-Day War is a huge bone of political contention and repeated international attempts at peace agreements and reconciliation between neighbours have yielded little significant progress. While treaties now exist with Egypt and Jordan, Israel remains the epicentre of the clash between Arab and Israeli nationalistic interests, with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupting from time-to-time in border areas and the occupied territories.

More present to the visitor of today are links to the ancient past and Biblical times. There is a deep sense of this history in the Holy Land and it is never far from the mind. 

Crime & Annoyances

Crime is not of particular concern to tourists, with generally low levels of offences like theft and credit card fraud. The usual diligence (keeping essential documents and money/cards in a safe place) when on holiday will suffice. There can be political protests in some cities, but these rarely have a violent aspect outside the occupied territories. On our tours we will be avoiding areas with a potential for problems. Current travel advice can be found here.