Location – Israel is located in the Middle East, nestled between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Mediterranean Sea is on its western shore, Jordan to the east, Syria and Lebanon to the north, and Egypt to the south.
Geography – Israel is a small country; it is around 470 km (290 miles) long and its width is 135km (85 miles) at the widest point. The farthest drive from the north to the south takes around 6 hours. The average ride between the two major cities – Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – takes around an hour. There are stark differences between the regions – in the south there is a vast desert, in the north snowy mountains, and in the coastal plain you’ll find the Mediterranean Sea.
Population – Israel has a total population of 7 million people; 76.2 percent are Jews, 19.5 percent are Arabs (mostly Muslim), and the remaining 4.3 percent comprise Druze and other citizens.
Main Cities – The capital of Israel is Jerusalem located in the center of the country with a population of 675,000, Tel Aviv, on the coastal plain, has a population of 360,000, Haifa is the next largest city in the North with 272,000 residents, and Beer Sheva in the South with a population of 180,000.
Languages – The official languages of the country are Hebrew and Arabic. Most people have basic English skills. Because Israel is a country of many immigrants other languages are spoken (Russian is the most common).
Type of Government – Parliamentary democracy, 120 member parliament (called the Knesset), the Prime Minister is the head of the Knesset and the President is a ceremonial position.
Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert
Politics – There are three major parties in Israel – Kadima (center), Labor (left of center), and Likud (right of center). Along with these three parties there are various small parties representing different facets of Israeli society like Arabs, pensioners, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The Cinema Law – The government, through the Ministry of Culture, allocates 55,000,000 shekels for the film and television industry to invest in feature films, drama television series, and documentaries.
Religion – Israel is considered to be a holy place by Jews, Christians, and Moslems. The main religion is Judaism, with prominent Islamic and Christian communities, as well as other small religions like Druze and Ba’hai.
Weather – In general, you can film in Israel 365 days of the year due to the overall pleasant weather conditions. The light is best for filming from October to December, and from March to June.
Cuisine – In Israel you can find everything from expensive fancy restaurants to local vegetarian diners. Overall you will find good tasting food – where you choose to eat just depends on your per diem.
News papers – You could say that Israelis are obsessed with news and current events; therefore newspapers are quite important in Israel. There are seven daily newspapers in Hebrew, a few in Russian and French, and two in English. The English papers are The Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz, which is a translation of the most scholarly Hebrew paper in conjunction with the International Herald Tribune.
Radio – There are around 8 main radio stations in the country, and many local stations. For popular music stations (without much talk) in any part of the country your options are Galgalatz (93.9fm in Jerusalem, 91.8fm in Tel Aviv), which is run by the army and broadcasts classics and pop music, and 88fm, which is an alternative channel that plays a lot of jazz and rock. In Tel Aviv other music stations include 99fm, 100fm, and 102fm. There are also occasional English news broadcasts.
Television Channels – There are five major broadcasting organizations – channel 1 (public TV), channel 2 and 10 (commercial stations), channel 23 (educational TV), and cable and satellite TV providing various Israeli and foreign channels.
Highest Rated TV Shows – The shows that regularly bring in the highest ratings are the nightly news and local reality programs, especially in competition formats, like A Star is Born (Israeli form of American Idol).
Popular Foreign TV Channels – To catch up on the show biz gossip Israelis like to watch the E channel, and for the nature loving historians National Geographic is a hit.
Hospitals and health insurance – By law every citizen in Israel is eligible for free health care through one of the four medical insurance providers. Israel is a leader in certain areas of medical research, and there are major hospitals in all of the population centers. There are several options for comprehensive health insurance for non-citizens and tourists.
Money – Depending on the state of the economy, the shekel usually fluctuates between 4.2- 4.6 to the American dollar.
Where to change money – You can change money in the airport upon arrival, at official change centers in the major cities (best option), and in post offices (banks and hotels charge a commission).
GDP – $103.7 billion ($15,800 per capita)
Export – $38.4 billion
Import – $47.5 billion
Greatest Financial Feat of 2006 – American businessman Warren Buffet buys an 80% stake of Israeli company Iscar Metalworking Cos. for $4 billion.
Hotel Prices – expensive rooms $250-$350, medium $110-$150.
Transportation – You can rent a car for a reasonable price and it is suggested to hire a driver if you are working on a production. Public transportation can get you all over the country but can be a hassle. The bus system is the most extensive form of public transportation with intra and inter city lines.
Press card – granted to TV crews and journalists covering the region. For details see the government press office website – www.pmo.gov.il.
Docs produced in Israel – approximately 120 hours of documentaries made in Israel annually.
Music Channel – Israel has one cable TV music channel called Channel 24.
Web – Many coffee shops offer free wireless internet to customers.
Feature films – between 12-18 full-length feature films produced in Israel per year.
TV shows – Around 350 hours of television drama series made a year.
Commercials – Israel churns out 300 new commercials a year.
Film and TV union rolls – In Israel it is routine practice to hire crews for 12 hours with an hour lunch break.
Film Foundations – The Israel Film Fund, The New Foundation for Cinema and TV, Cinema Project (Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts), Makor Foundation for Israel, and The Israel Multicultural Film Fund.
Guilds – Film and Television Producers Association, The Israeli Screen Actors Guild, the Israeli Union of Performing Artists, The Directors and Screenwriters Guild of Israel, Cinema Industry Association, Israeli Association of Cinema and Television Professionals, and the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum.
The Oscars – Israeli films have been nominated 6 times in the foreign language category and once for documentary film, but have yet to walk home with the golden statue.