NIS= New Israeli Shekels
New because they were stabilized in 1985. Israel's currency has a kind of crazy (and to me, rather amusing) history of its own.Here is the webpage with the current exchange rates.
I went looking for current statistics on how many Israelis are living in the settlements. Mideastweb
has data from 2002: they say that 210,00 Jews are living in the West Bank and another roughly 200K are living in annexed E. Jerusalem (which includes Mt. Scopus, original home of Hebrew University, etc.)
Why the money for settlements is a scandal: the US made its loan guarantees to Israel contingent on Israel dismantling a good part of its infrastructure. Israel was founded by socialists and the current Israeli and US governments are not into social safety networks, entitlements, unions, etc. (The sick part is that the Bushies aren't content to dismantle OUR safety network in the US, they have to dismantle Israel's, too!) At the moment, the country's largest labor union, the Histadrut, is on strike.
(Not that a strike is such a big deal in Israel, at least I can't remember a time when someone in Israel wasn't on strike...) Over the summer, an Israeli mom made international headlines through her protest of these cuts.
So anyway, you should also know that Ha'aretz is sort of the NY Times of Israel: Lefty, but not soooo lefty, intellectual--you have to have a pretty good education to read the Hebrew paper. They don't like Sharon. I like reading Ha'aretz because of that. (The other papers : Ma'ariv and Yediot Achoronot, don't have English websites. They might present other opinions, but anyway I would probably trust Ha'aretz on most things, except maybe their reporting on religious Jews...too much bias. FWIW)