A License to Drive

Missions , Palestine , Transition Oct 29, 2017 4 Comments

Forgive the British spelling of License.

By Ben Gray

Driving in Palestine and Israel offers a whole host of unique challenges… drivers make their own lanes, one-way streets are only suggestions, sidewalks are fair game for cars and roads are fair game for pedestrians, horns start blaring BEFORE the light turns green and streets can be so narrow that you have to fold in your side-view mirrors.

Despite all this, the biggest challenge turned out to be getting a legal Israeli driver’s license.

I knew from colleagues that we could use our US driver’s license for the first year, so I was in no rush to start the process. About six months into our deployment, I began researching the long and involved process of converting our driver’s license and was more than a bit intimidated. From what I could find on the Ministry of Transportation website (translated from Hebrew by Google, of course), it went something like this:

  1. Go to an eye doctor, get an exam and receive a “green sheet”
  2. Go to the Post Office and pay a fee
  3. Go to a doctor, get an exam and have the doctor sign off on your fitness to drive
  4. Go to the Post Office and pay a fee
  5. Complete a driving lesson with a private instructor
  6. Go to the Ministry of Transportation and have them approve your form
  7. Have your private instructor arrange a driving exam for you
  8. Pass the driving exam
  9. Go to the Post Office and pay a fee
  10. Return your form to the Ministry of Transportation
  11. Receive your license in the mail

Keep in mind that with the level of Customer No Service in Israel at government offices, each step of this process could take a full day or more. Needless to say, we weren’t really excited about working through all these steps, but about nine months into our deployment we decided we needed to get started.

On the walk to work one morning, I stopped into our eye doctor to get the process rolling, only to be told that only certain doctors could provide the “green sheet.” He pointed me to another doctor across town that could do it, but I had work to do and couldn’t make it that day.

A few days later, Adrainne and I walked to the appointed eye doctor. They were happy to help us, but when they saw our US passports, they said that we first had to go to the Ministry of Transportation and get a “white sheet,” which would allow them to issue the “green sheet.” Luckily it was next door, so we headed over.

The Ministry of Transportation office was a small office with about 10 windows, only about four of them actually staffed by workers. After a bag search and metal detector sweep, we were given a number and entered the loud, hot, aromatic crush of humanity that was the open waiting area. Numbers were being called out in Hebrew (which we don’t speak) but we were keeping an eye on the people who came in front of us and knew we had a long wait ahead. After a while, a lady at one of the windows made an announcement in English that we partially heard, and it was something about foreign licenses.

We rushed up to the window and the woman took our passports and driver’s licenses. YES! We were now on our way to being legal drivers!

Not so fast… After a minute of flipping through our passports, she handed them back. She pointed at our visas and said, “No good!”

Through broken English and our astute powers of deduction, we figured out that we had less than three months left on our visas, so we couldn’t start the process until we renewed them.

We fell back into a waiting pattern because the renewal of our visas required arrangements by the ELCJHL administrator, a letter from Bishop, help from some government contacts and an appointment at the Ministry of the Interior with an escort by Bishop’s driver.

For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that it took a while to pull all the necessary strings, so our visas weren’t renewed until after the previous ones had expired.

The same week we were granted our new visas, a colleague told us that she had heard that the process for converting a driver’s license had just been simplified, but we didn’t really know what that meant… we could only hope, since we were now driving illegally.

Off to the Ministry of Transportation we marched, new visas and US driver’s licenses in hand. We get to the building with the MOT office—a half-abandon, post-apocalyptic shopping mall complete with stray cats, dirty floors and dingy fluorescent lights—only to find that the office is shuttered. After asking around and a lot of pantomiming, we were told that the office had relocated to a different part of the building.

The “new” temporary office was even smaller and more congested than the original, but we were committed, so we waded in. The security guard who swept us spoke some English, so he gave us a number and explained which worker we needed to talk to. When we were finally called, the woman told us we needed to go over to a different line to convert our license. We went there and were told to go back to the first woman. We waited, got back to her and she told us to go to the woman next to her.

We waited again and seemed to be getting skipped over, so Adrainne decided to pull what we would call “an Israeli.” As a person was finishing up at the woman’s desk, she slipped in and sat down and refused to move… sometimes you have to be assertive to the point of being obnoxious.

Now that we had the woman’s full attention, we were told to go back to the first woman. We said no and the two women began arguing (loudly) about what to do with us. Finally, the woman behind the desk issued us two “white sheets,” and said, “they changed the process yesterday. I don’t know what you do with the paper.”

Well, that was something.

We walked next door to the eye doctor, and she quickly and happily took our photos and gave us an official looking “green sheet” and told us in perfect English to take it to the MOT and we were done.

What? No eye exam? No doctor visit? No fee? Correct, all we had to do was turn it back in.

We decided to go to the main MOT office instead of the one we had visited, thinking they might be better informed.

The next day we went to the main office and after a short wait turned in our paperwork and were issued our paper driver’s license. All we had to do was pay a small fee at the Post Office and our official license would be mailed to us!

Sure enough, our licenses arrived in the mail and we are now legal drivers!

Unfortunately, the license expires in six months, so time to start the process again!



  1. Totally enjoyed this…I love cross-cultural experiences. Just think what a boring story it could have been 🙂

    • adrainne

      Yes, cross cultural. That’s one way to frame it! Sometimes a little boring is not so bad.

  2. Valerie Webdell

    Wow! I have to go to the BMV this week, and I feel much better about it now. 🙂 Great perseverence!

    • adrainne

      Ha! Glad we can help!

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