The Palestinian territories
consist of two physically separate entities, the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip
, in the Middle East
. Their political status is controversial, and they have been under varying degrees of Israeli governance since 1967. While parts of the territories aren't safe for ordinary travellers, other areas, especially ancient Holy Land
cities, are popular destinations and pilgrimage sites.
Bordering Israel to the west and Jordan to the east, including a significant coast line on the Dead Sea
. It is de facto under control of Israel and the PNA depending upon the region.
The Gaza Strip borders the south-western coast of Israel and Egypt
to the south-west. It is de facto under control of Hamas, a rival of the Fatah-controlled PNA.
- – an ancient city much like many others in the West Bank, Bethlehem is also the site of Christian holy places such as the Church of the Nativity; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- – the largest city in the Palestinian Territories, with 450,000 people, Gaza city is a coastal city and the administrative capital of the Gaza Governorate, but it has been heavily damaged in several wars between Israel and Hamas and, due to border closures by Israel and Egypt, you probably can't get in
- – highlights include a stunning old city and glass and pottery factories; divided into Palestinian-controlled H1 and Israeli-controlled H2
- – the West Bank's northernmost city, only 26km from Nazareth. Its name's meaning is The spring of gardens.
- – the "Oldest City in the World" and around 400m below sea level
- – considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, it is known for its old city, its furniture trade and the delicious kunafa/kenafeh
- – the administrative capital of the West Bank and temporary host to the PNA, Ramallah is a magnet for Palestinians seeking work as well as foreign activists
Much of the Palestinian territories are governed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA), a semi-autonomous state institution created in agreement with Israel
and the United Nations. However, certain areas remain under official or "de facto" control by Israel or Hamas, and travelers should keep their passports and documents with them at all times and be aware of borders or checkpoints when they cross them. It is not clear what the final outcome of negotiations and status talks will be, but most of the international community supports a two-state solution, creating a new, sovereign state - to be called simply Palestine
- and the authority has printed new stationery to reflect its upgraded status at the UN.
The Palestinian territories
, together with Israel
, are considered the Holy Land
for many of the world's major religions, including Judaism
, and the Baha'i Faith. The Holy Land has attracted tourists and religious visitors for centuries, and this industry remains important for the region. Many sites of religious and archaeological significance are to be found within the current boundaries of the Palestinian National Authority, most notably Bethlehem
. Archaeology, Palestinian culture, political significance, natural scenery, ecotourism, and volunteerism also attract tourists.
The current Palestinian Territories
are a sub-division of pre-1948, British Mandate Palestine. United Nations-projected Arab-held areas of the former Mandate were greatly reduced after the 1948-1949 Israel War of Independence, when the newly-created state of Israel was first attacked by its Arab neighbors, then successfully defeated their armies, leading to a re-drawing of the internationally-recognized borders of Israel. Of course, these hostilities were accompanied by much bloodshed and displacement on both sides, with much of the spotlight shining on the Palestinian refugees who ended up in neighboring Arab countries, Gaza and the West Bank. The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Prior to that, the West Bank was under Jordanian occupation. (Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950 but this annexation was recognized only by themselves and the United Kingdom. The Gaza Strip was under Egyptian occupation.)
Bus services operate on limited routes and times except for those around Jerusalem. You are almost always advised to use Shared Taxis which will be quicker although marginally more expensive. Buses, like shared taxis will also tend to wait until full before departing. You can hail a bus on any road.
As a foreigner, hitching through the West Bank
is considerably easy.
By shared taxi
Most Shared Taxis have fixed bus-stations, often car-parks near the centre of towns or cities. Larger minivans carry 7 passengers and inner-city shared taxis carry 4. Fares are fixed and overcharging on these services is extremely rare. Shared taxis are often distinguished with black stripes on front and back at the sides, particularly the normal-sized cars serving inner-city routes. You should pay the driver directly once the journey has begun, although you can wait until you reach your destination. Passengers will often work out the change between themselves. As you may be sharing with conservative or religious people, you may observe a certain etiquette, particularly when it comes to men and women sitting next to each other.
By private taxi
Private taxis are very common and can be hailed down at any point. Fares should be negotiated in advance although there are fixed rates for common journeys and it is worth checking with a local in advance. Some taxis will operate on the meter if requested although this is rare. Rates between cities vary widely and some taxis are not permitted to operate inter-city.
For the West Bank, driving a private car is a very convenient way to see more. You can hire cars in Ramallah with green (Palestinian) plates although it is not clear whether foreigners are allowed to drive in Palestinian registered cars. You can also hire cars with yellow plates in Jerusalem which can be driven in Israel and the West Bank. Try Good Luck Cars, opposite the American Colony Hotel on +972 2 627-7033.
Constantly disputed and at the heart of conflict in the Middle East, Palestine is home to some of the most important religious places in history and a number of fabulous, humbling sights. Here, you follow the footsteps of millions of pilgrims, you stand on grounds that saw some of the most influential fights of all time and visit some of the most important biblical and historic sites in the world.
Famous as the birth place of Jesus, the small town of Bethlehem
is a must-see for most visitors of the Palestinian territories. The Church of Nativity
, built over the cave where – according to tradition – Jesus of Nazareth was born, is a sacred destination for Christians and Muslims alike. From here, it's a short walk to the Shepherd's Field
, where the birth of the holy child is believed to be announced to a group of shepherds when they saw the Star of Nativity. Or head to Solomon's Pools
, just a few kilometres out of town. Bethlehem is also famous for its Banksy Art
, four graffiti can be found here. Around the city visit the stunning Monastery of Mar Saba
Where Bethlehem is known as a place of birth, Hebron
is famous as the burial place for the great patriarchs and matriarchs. A holy destination for both the Islamic and Jewish people, this city is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs
and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. Hebron has a delightful old town, full of winding alleys and bustling bazaars and is locally known for its pottery workshops and glass blowers, making it a fine place to see some of the excellent Palestinian craftsmanship
. But it is also distinctly and politically interesting for its separation into a Jewish and a Palestinian side
The ancient city of Jericho
, said to be among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world as well as the lowest (at 260m below sea level), has several sights of interest. Admire the mosaic floors in the remnants of the Hisham's Palace
, an extensive 7th century royal complex and don't miss the Monastery of Gerasimus of the Jordan
. Inside lies a cave where – according to tales – Jesus stayed during his 40 day fasting period.
The north of the Palestinian territories is dominated by scenic, hilly landscapes and green valleys, dotted with olive trees and villages. The old city of Nablus
is well worth a visit, especially for its delicious kunafa/kenafeh
. Going north from Nablus close-by is the village of Sebastia Archaeological Park
, which boasts some impressive Roman ruins. And further towards Jenin you will find the St. George Church
, one of the oldest churches in the world. And finally take a relaxing stop in the Cinema Jenin Guesthouse
with its distinct and interesting history, like Jenin
The Nativity TrailTrek along the path that took Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Abraham's PathWalk along the settings that the Patriarch Abraham wandered through during his journey across the Levant region. The Abraham trail is a joint project with branches in Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
It is possible to study Arabic and other subjects in the West Bank. Specifically at Birzeit University near Ramallah.
If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural aspects of Palestinian life, there are several programs and organizations offering courses, workshops or learning tours, such as: The All Nations Cafe
in the Bethlehem - Jerusalem area, or Green Olive Tours
, that offers organized informative and political tours throughout the whole of the West Bank.
The Palestinian territories use the Israeli currency, the New Israeli shekel
, denoted by the symbol "₪
" or "NIS
" (ISO code: ILS
). Colloquially, it is called a shekel
) or Sha-ch
. Each shekel is divided into 100 agorot
Israel is gradually rolling out a new design for the bills; old bills are still accepted. Newer notes are made of polypropylene and are harder to rip or tear. Specifically the new ₪50 bill has colors similar to the previous ₪20 bill.
These banknotes are in circulation:
₪200 (blue or red), ₪100 (brown), ₪50 (violet or green), ₪20 (green or red).
Coins in use:
₪10 (bi-metallic; copper core, nickel rim), ₪5 (nickel), ₪2 (nickel), ₪1 (nickel), 50 agorot (copper), 10 agorot (copper).
US dollars seem to be widely accepted, especially at tourist shops (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example).
Common prices and costs are:
- Shared taxi – ₪10 per 20 km
- Falafel sandwich – ₪5-8
- Falafel, hummus & salad – ₪10-15 (₪3-5 separately)
- Oranges, shaddock, grape fruit – ₪10 / 3–kg
- Hostel – ₪50-70
Bargaining is accepted, especially on markets, but some prices might already be final, e.g. shared taxis or museums. Since also wealthy locals will get inexpensive local prices, there is no reasoning why tourists should pay more. Though, as a tourist it might be hard to find out whether the price you got is fair or inflated because you are considered a tourist. It is best to ask at several different locations to get a feeling for what the price should be. Remember to always thank the merchant for stating the price, even if not buying anything.
A working approach for ho(s)tels is to look up the price on one of the big hotel reservation sites and to walk straight into the chosen hotel stating that seen price. You might get some discount, if not, just trying the next one might convince the guy at the reception to give you a better price.
Touting & guides
Do not rely on taxi drivers or self-proclaimed guides too much for advice or help, otherwise they will cash in on you twice, once for their service and once taking commission from the place they take you. This means, either a restaurant will be touristic with very inflated prices, or a hotel or hotel will add a surcharge when you ask them for the price, especially if the guide or taxi driver stands right next to you. Instead, choose the restaurant and hotel by yourself without them following you, and just use taxi drivers for transport, not as a guide.
Also, do not believe in the common "my cousin (or friend) offers/has got it (something that you are looking for) and I can get it cheaper for you" – the opposite will mostly be the truth, neither will it be his cousin nor will it be cheaper. Always get several independent quotes for things or tours you are interested in, and never get convinced that there is only one option available.
Shawarma and falafel sandwiches are really popular foods for Palestinians, as well as olives and hummus. It is traditional to eat with bread and not a spoon or fork. It is unusual to eat a meal without bread.
Try kunafa/kenafeh in Nablus, and fresh fruits from the market in the bigger cities.
In cities such as Ramallah
, alcohol is often available at restaurants. Be aware that most residents of the West Bank are Muslims who do not drink alcohol. As such, public intoxication can be seen as rude.
Taybeh Beer is the only Palestinian national beer with 5 and 6 percent of alcohol. It has a mild taste. The Taybeh Beer Brewery is located in Taybeh village and is accessible by taking a shared taxi/private taxi from Ramallah's bus station Taybeh village (inquire for the price of the trip before taking the taxi).
Home stays with Palestinian host families are possible, and can be arranged through a number of organisations.
Many new and inexpensive hostels have opened recently is the bigger cities like Jericho, Nablus and Ramallah.
The main language of communication is the Palestinian variety of Arabic. Many people will also be familiar with standard Arabic and/or the Egyptian variety of Arabic as both are widely used in media throughout the Middle East.
Perhaps because of the association of Jewish symbols with the Israeli occupation (Israeli military equipment often features prominently a menorah or the Star of David on them) wearing or displaying such symbols, which the Palestinians see as hostile, is not going to win you any friends. Women should dress conservatively and men should also avoid shorts.
That said, most Palestinians are religiously tolerant, and the Christian minority for the most part lives peacefully with their Muslim neighbours, and it is common for Christians to have Muslim friends and vice versa. Like other Middle Eastern people, Palestinians have a tradition of hospitality, and will do their best to make you feel welcome as a visitor.
Palestinians are not more hostile than other people. Even women are more openly (dressed). Just the closeness to Israel, especially Jerusalem, triggers a lot of trouble from time to time. The friendliness can sometimes even feel a little overdrawn, since they understand that it is not just an opener to your heart but also to your wallet. Palestine is a totally different feeling from Israel
and pretty much like Jordan.
Security concerns result in travel between Israel and the Palestinian Territories being tightly controlled on occasions. Travelers should ensure that their travel documentation is entirely in order and should monitor local news channels in case the security situation changes suddenly. Delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events, or if you are Arab or Arab-looking. It may be quicker to cross a checkpoint on foot rather than in a vehicle, and then take a taxi to your destination once you get through. It is highly advised to keep Palestinian flags, PA/PLO pamphlets, and similar articles out of plain sight when going through Israeli checkpoints. Many people send their souvenirs from the Palestinian territories home by Israeli-postal service parcels to avoid having to take the Palestinian-themed souvenirs through Ben Gurion Airport and risk being interrogated by Israeli security for long periods of time about their visits to Palestinian cities.
A few hints for a successful trip:
- Contrary to recent years, most Palestinian cities are at present relatively safe. Regardless, in some areas or at particular times (such as weddings), gunfire can be heard. This appears to be becoming less and less common, however. Also, bear in mind that fireworks are popular in the cities, and it is possible that what you are hearing is not gunfire at all.
- Always bring a COPY of your passport along with your original and hide the copy in your hotel room.
- Both Israeli and Palestinian security services may ask for ID, so carry your passport at all times.
- Show respect at places of worship - take off your shoes. Women shouldn't come into a mosque without covering their heads. It is not usually necessary to cover your face.
- As a foreigner you are likely to be noticed and many people will call to you as you walk around. This is almost always friendly and well-intentioned although you should be cautious at night in any city.
- Consider hiring a local tour guide/translator who will also keep you out of trouble.
- Common sense goes a long way.
- Use caution around political rallies. You might get hurt from stones, tear gas, etc., and the Israeli military often uses deadly force against the protesters. Unless you are travelling specifically for this reason, keep your distance from political demonstrations.
- While taking photographs and videos is generally fine, avoid filming anything that could make the Israeli military look bad. Phones and cameras are often inspected at Israeli military checkpoints, and at best, doing so will result in those images being deleted, and at worse could result in you being arrested over national security concerns.
Beware of local water
, including ice cubes - bottled is the way to go. Running water is only available for 3 days a week outside the Israeli settlements.
Although Gaza has great potential as a seaside resort as it once was, today it is closed for tourism due to the Israeli and Egyptian land, sea, and air blockade. The logical next destinations are the bordering countries of Israel
, though be aware of the political atmosphere when you are traveling and plan accordingly. This concerns Israel in times of higher tensions, when the border and checkpoints are guarded more heavily, and Egypt due to the fact that Sinai
has become a breeding ground for ISIL (Daesh) lately.King Hussein "Allenby" Bridge
– From the West Bank, one can travel to many other Middle Eastern countries, especially Jordan
. The Allenby Bridge is an Israeli-managed crossing mainly used by Palestinians to travel internationally because Palestinians are required by Israel to use the airport in Amman, Jordan rather than the airport in Tel Aviv. It's a good idea to try to get to the border as early as possible, especially in the busy summer season. There is no visa-on-arrival available here. If you are using the Allenby Bridge to exit Palestine, you are required
to already have either a Jordanian entry visa (preferably a multi-entry visa depending on your schedule) or an entry stamp to Jordan from before (e.g. when you came from Jordan in the first place through the Allenby Bridge, since crossing here from Jordan to Palestine/Israel you will not receive an exit stamp). You can obtain the visa at the Jordanian Embassies in Ramallah
or Tel Aviv
(JOD40/60/120 single, double, multi), or on-arrival when coming to Jordan in the first place, though the free one-month ASEZA (Aqaba) visa cannot be used for going forth and back through the Allenby Bridge. Also see Jordan#Get in
for even more details. The exit fee to leave Israel/Palestine is ₪176.