The West Bank is an area located between in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. It forms the larger half of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories, the smaller being the Gaza Strip. De facto control on the ground tends to be Israeli, Palestinian (Fatah since the Hamas takeover of Gaza) or some degree of joint sovereignty. Be prepared for that to affect your travels and to come upon checkpoints and signs barring Israeli citizens from entering certain areas.
- (الخليل/חברון) In the southern West Bank, a holy city due to the presence of the Cave of the Patriarchs. There is a large Palestinian majority, with a few hundred Jews living in the city center, and a few thousand more in the suburb/settlement of Kiryat Arba.
- (جنين /ג'נין) – the West Bank's northernmost city, only 26km from Nazareth. Its name's meaning is The spring of gardens.
- (نابلس/ שׁכם) – considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, and known for its old city, its furniture trade and the delicious kunafa/kenafeh
- (رام الله/רמאללה) – 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
- (أريحا/יריחו) – the "Oldest City in the World", around 400m below sea level and great starting point for the Dead Sea
- (بيت لحم/בית לחם) – 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 and a Jewish holy site as the City of David; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Major Israeli settlementsThe following settlements are of interest for tourists:
- (معاليه أدوميم/מעלה אדומים)
- (جوش عتصيون/גוש עציון) including Efrat
- – the lowest place on earth, with natural and historic sites as well as beaches and resorts.
- – great for hiking and nature
About 2.5 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). As far as the traveller is concerned, Jewish and Arab sites in the West Bank are essentially separate travel destinations, since Jews and Arabs have separate bus networks, and rental cars can generally be used in either Arab cities or Jewish settlements but not both.
The West Bank did not exist as a concept before 1949. Its border is the cease-fire line between Israeli and Jordanian troops in 1949. Even though both sides specified at the time that it was not a permanent border, nevertheless, nowadays much of the world assumes that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state will be based on this line.
In 1967, due to the Six-Day War, the West Bank came under Israeli control. Israel did not annex the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem) due to its large Palestinian population, but Israelis did establish civilian settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are considered to be illegal by most of the international community, the sole exception being the United States. West Bank Palestinians have often resisted the Israeli occupation, most notably in the First Intifada of the late 1980s, which however also had aspects of a civil war, targeting Palestinians seen as too pro-Israel almost as much as Israelis. The Oslo Accords in 1993 began the "peace process" and established Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank. This autonomy was extended in several steps in the 1990s, but in 2000 the Second Intifada broke out and negotiations halted. Since then, there have been some attempts at negotiations, but no more concrete progress towards an agreement. Around 2002, Israel reentered the autonomous West Bank cities in order to wipe out terror cells that were carrying out bombings in Israel. In 2005 Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, but they remain in the West Bank. A year after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas won the Palestinian elections and subsequently took de facto control of the Gaza strip, while Fatah continues to control the west bank. In Israeli political discourse the example of the Gaza withdrawal is often brought up as an argument against concessions or withdrawal, especially if done unilaterally.
The West Bank is divided into three noncontiguous areas based on the Oslo Accords:
- Area A (18% of land) - Full Palestinian military and civil control, but Israel sometimes launches raids here to capture suspected terrorists. This includes most Palestinian cities.
- Area B (21% of land) - Israeli military control, Palestinian civil control. This includes most Palestinian villages and the farmland between them.
- Area C (61% of land) - Full Israeli control. This includes uninhabited areas, all Israeli settlements, and most major roads. Just 4% of West Bank Palestinians live in Area C.
There are no fences or other physical boundaries between areas A, B, and C. However, the Israeli military has put checkpoints on many roads, generally at crossings between Area C and areas A or B. Because areas A and B are noncontiguous, Palestinians going from place to place often have to transverse these checkpoints. Israel's West Bank barrier (physically a wall and a fence depending on where you are, and labeled by either term depending on political sympathies) is entirely within Area C.
ClimateTemperate; temperature and precipitation vary with altitude, warm to hot summers, cool to mild winters.
TerrainMostly rugged dissected upland, very hilly and mountainous, heavy vegetation is common in many places.
- lowest point: Dead Sea -408 m
- highest point: Tall Asur 1,022 m
for details on the travel between the West Bank and Jordan.
By planeThere are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the nearest major airport is Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport (TLV). From Ben Gurion Airport, it is possible to take a 50-minute taxi or shuttle ride to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to continue on to the major West Bank cities of Bethlehem or Ramallah.
Alternatively, one may fly to Amman Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), and enter the West Bank at the Allenby crossing near Jericho. When using the Allenby crossing, you won't get a Jordanian exit stamp because of Jordan's role as a care-taker of the West Bank, so there is no "proof" of exiting Jordan (and therefore entering Israeli-controlled territory) on your passport. For more on this issue see our coverage on Visa trouble.
Palestinian ID card-holders must fly through Amman because the Israeli government prohibits them from entering Israel at Ben Gurion Airport. It is best for people who may be listed under the Israeli census as having a Palestinian ID card (by birth to a card-holder, etc.), or who once had a Palestinian ID card, to just use the airport in Amman rather than risk being sent back home on a flight from Tel Aviv for using the wrong airport.
By carYou can rent a car in Israel and travel with it in the West Bank. However, this is only a good idea if you are not entering Arab cities. Israeli car insurance usually does not cover travel in Palestinian areas of the West Bank (Areas A and B). Check with your car rental company to see exactly where you can drive. Also, Palestinians often attack cars with yellow Israeli licence plates traveling in the West Bank, believing that there are Jews inside.
To rent a Palestinian car, first get to Ramallah or other cities, by public transportation or taxi. Then you can rent a car and take it to any Arab area in the West Bank. However, you will not be allowed to enter most Israeli settlements with it.
Palestinian car-hire companies located in East Jerusalem will rent you Israeli cars which can travel in most parts of the West Bank and throughout Israel. The aptly named Good Luck Cars have great service.
By bus or shared taxiBus service to Jewish settlements in the West Bank can generally be found in the major Israeli city which is closest to each settlement. Egged (אגד) bus company runs buses from Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Netanya, and Beit Shean. Egged Ta'avura runs buses from Jerusalem. Afikim bus company runs buses from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva. Due to ongoing terror attacks, the Israeli government has installed enhanced security on buses such as bullet proof windows (on certain routes) and crash barriers at bus stops.
There are also Arab bus companies going into the West Bank from the bus depot in East Jerusalem, for prices comparable to service taxis, theoretically running on schedules. The main bus station is across the street from the Damascus gate. These buses reach Bethlehem and Ramallah, and from there you can connect to other locations.
For reaching other Palestinian cities, service taxis (shared taxis, pronounced servees) are preferable over Egged buses. They are extremely cheap, and travel quite fast on the road. The service taxi is a great place to mingle with the locals.
By carRoads used by Israelis (in Area C) are generally in very good shape. However, within Arab areas the quality of roads varies.
Numerous Israeli roadblocks greatly impede and slow the movement of Palestinians between Palestinian cities in the West Bank and also between the West Bank and both East Jerusalem and Jordan. Visitors who travel to Arab areas of the West Bank should also expect to encounter Israeli checkpoints, and those of Palestinian origin may be subjected to strip searches or other intrusive procedures. Meanwhile, Israeli Jews are barred entirely from entering certain areas under Palestinian administration.
Taxis are often your best bet, but they can be expensive. If you're part of a tour, your tour bus is even better.
You can rent 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 rent 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.
Driving in the West Bank is relatively safe and has some wonderful scenery, particularly along route 90. Just remember, if you have a yellow Israeli license plate, to stay away from populated Arab areas.
Jewish and Arab communities are served by separate bus networks; and – with the exception of Jerusalem, where it is possible to take Israeli buses in the west and Arab buses/sheruts in the east – it can be very difficult to interchange between Jewish and Arab networks.
The Jewish bus network is comprehensive and reaches every Israeli settlement. It is often very infrequent though. In addition, it can be problematic to gain admittance into a settlement to take a bus from the stops inside.
Arab 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.
By shared taxi
Shared taxis (servees) are common between Palestinian cities, and often the best means of travel. 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.
There are no Jewish-run shared taxis in the West Bank.
By thumbHitching through the West Bank is easy and enjoyable — local Palestinians are happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly pro-Israel. Similarly, Israelis are generally happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly Arab, though they are more wary these days, as in recent years some Jewish hitchhikers have been kidnapped and killed, and one Jewish driver killed by a hitchhiker with a bomb. Foreign tourists can try hitchhiking with either group, though of course, the only destinations available will be destinations of that group.
Umm Al Rihan forestIt consists of a series of dense forests which are estimated to be ca. 60,000 dunums. The forest areas around Jenin are considered to be the largest woodlands in the West Bank; forming approximately 86% of the forests.
BurqinThis small town holds the with the cave where Jesus is said to have cured the 10 lepers. It's considered the 3rd oldest church in the world (400-500 AD), and it's one of 5 of the oldest churches found in Israel. The interior is rather beautiful and worth a visit but simple. It still contains an old part of the original cave-like Byzantine building where the 10 lepers were "kept" and handed food through a hole in the ceiling. Furthermore, on the site of the church, there is a hole in the ground with a ladder down into a cave which was used for prayers and contains numerous white on black writings – an interesting must-see. The local priest also has a guest house available (not inside of the church) which he can offer, in case you want to stay in Burqin over night.
Also in Burqin, the Jarrar Historical Palace (Al Khoukha) can be found.
Tel DothanTel Dothan was a Canaanite city lying in a fertile plain west of Jenin. According to tradition, Tell Dothan is the place where Joseph was sold by his brothers to Ishmaelite traders whom took him to Egypt. Having said that, there is not much left to see on top of the hill except for some piles of rocks.
Arraba villageIt is about 350 meters above sea level and lies near Sahl Arrabah, a 30-sqm plain that lies between the two groups of heights of Mount Carmel and Nablus. The Palaces of in the village were restored and converted into a Cultural Center and Children’s Center (including a rather ironical "Samsung Innovation Lab") respectively. Furthermore, a bath/hamam is built as part of the sites but unfinished due to the lack of funding. These centres are very active and attract lots of people from neighbouring villages. If you are unlucky and the sites are closed, there will probably an older guy there, having the keys and showing you around.
Zababdeh villageA Christian Palestinian village built on-top of a former Byzantine village. The mosaic of a 6th century can be found in one of the four churches here. Zababdeh is the only village of the northern West Bank with a Christian majority (2/3). Many of the former Christian inhabitant of Burqin have moved here over the years.
AqabahA little town founded by a famous man now, who also built the mosque with the special twin minaret. The town changed possession several times between Israel and Palestine and was last declared Palestinian ground. There is also a .
Sebastia Archaeological ParkSebastia is home to a number of impressive archaeological ruins. The ancient ruins of Samaria-Sebaste is located just above the built up area of the modern day village on the eastern slope of the hill. The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine. Also in the beautifully preserved village of Sebastia is the alleged tomb of John the Baptist ("Maqam an Nabi Yahya" in Arabic). Also in St. John's tomb are the tombs of the Biblical figures Elisha and Obadiah.
Awarta villagePresent in the town is the burial ground for the family of the Biblical character of Aaron (notably the tombs of: Ithamar, Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, and Seventy Elders ). There is also a Muslim monument that is claimed to be the Tomb of Ezra the Scribe.
Kifl HaresKifl Hares contains the traditional tombs of the Biblical figures Joshua, Caleb, and Nun.
Kelt Oasis / Nahal PratThis is a beautiful valley/stream between Jerusalem and Jericho, from where it runs into the Jordan River. It is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna, (9-13:00) and the
(part of the "Jericho Royal Winter Palace" complex constructed in the Second Temple Period) can be found here. The latter is thought to be the biblical Perath mentioned in Jeremiah 13:5.
For the hike, get to the view point just north from the highway and from there down into the valley with the (old) housings. From there follow the artificial channel down Wadi Qelt, by St. George and into Jericho. 3-4 hr.
Convent of the Good Samaritanphone: +972 2-6338230A travelers' inn from the Ottoman period. The ancient church, mosaics, the story of the Samaritan community and various archaeological finds are on display.
(Maqam an) Nabi MusaThis Muslim monument to Moses is originally thought to have been built as a site to view the traditional burial spot of Moses on Mount Nebo from Jericho. However, according to local Palestinian Muslim folklore, it was later recounted that the site in Jericho was the actual resting place of Moses, whose remains were said to have been brought across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo by Salahaddin during the Crusades. The complex is open to the public and contains a coffin decorated in colourful carpets that is said to hold the remains of Moses. Local Bedouins call the rocks surrounding the complex Moses rocks (Arabic: احجار موسى, ihjar Mousa) and make them into protective amulets to sell to visitors.
Monastery of St. Theodosiusphone: +972 50 282 447The Monastery of St. Theodosius (also known in Arabic as Deir Dosi) is located about 12 Km east of Bethlehem. Founded by St. Theodosius in the late 5th to early 6th century stands on the site where the three wise men rested on their way back from visiting the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. The original monastery was destroyed during the Persian invasion. St. Theodosius died in 529 CE and at that time there was said to be some 400 monks living in the Monastery who were massacred by the Persians during the invasion of 614 CE. The Monastery was restored in 1893 by the Greek Orthodox Church and it encompasses the remains of an old Crusader building. Today the Monastery is inhabited by a dozen Greek Orthodox monks. A white-walled cave marks the place where the founder, St. Theodosius is buried.
Monastery of Mar Sabaphone: +972 2-277-3135A Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley located in the West Bank east of Bethlehem. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Entrance apparently only for men. Few of the Byzantine desert monasteries can match the serenity and beauty this monastery. Clinging to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, this immense and spectacular Greek Orthodox Monastery evokes a thrilling shock when its first comes into view in the midst of a desert landscape. The Monastery is named after Saint Saba (439-532 CE) who settled in a cave opposite the actual site in complete seclusion that lasted some 5 years. Built into the rock, Mar Saba represents a way of life unchanged since the time of Constantine. The body of Saint Saba can be seen in the principle church while his tomb is paved in the courtyard outside. The first church founded by Saint Saba is marked by the Chapel of St Nicholas. Although Mar Saba is reputed for its hospitality to strangers, women have never been allowed to enter. Hence women can enjoy a glimpse of the chapel and building from a nearby two story tower known as the Women’s Tower.
Don't spend much or any money going to or at Mar Saba. This is exactly the opposite of what the monks at Mar Saba are interested in, converting Mar Saba into a place with souvenir shops and restaurants – talk to them about it.
Herodium (Herodion) ParkA fortress built by Herod the Great. The site of King Herod's man made mountain and his recently discovered tomb. Herodium is administered by the Israel Nature & National Parks Protection Authority.
Tor-Safa CaveThis is the largest cave in the western slopes of the Judaean Mountains, right next to the Al-Safa park, with small tunnels and bigger rooms afterwards.
Taffuh Underground Churchaddress: Taffuh/TapuahThe is an old church lying underground.
Tomb of Prophet Lotaddress: Bani Na'imHere lies the tomb of the Biblical figure Lot and his two daughters. Also explore the surrounding close-by area with many old and falling apart houses and even a cave – makes you wonder why people always built new houses instead of keeping the solid old ones.
There is another Muslim monument in the town, called "al Maqam an Nabi Yateen" in Arabic, which is associated with Lot's settlement and prayers.
Birkat al-Karmiladdress: Al KarmilA interesting natural and holy pool, which lies in the southern Hebron hills. Great for a swim in this dry land. Renovated in 2011, by the Yatta Municipality, it is now a park with the ancient pool at its centre. Controversial sometimes due to Israelis coming in, forcing out the Palestinians, so the Jewish settlers can bathe – but this only happens rarely.
Ancient Susyaphone: +972 1-599-500037An ancient city which was populated by Jews and Muslims from the 3rd to 14th centuries. The most impressive relic is a synagogue from the Byzantine era which contains some beautiful mosaics. There are explanatory signs, pamphlets, and an education video on the site, and you can also order an organized tour. The site is located near the Jewish settlement of Susya, at the very southern edge of the West Bank. There is no public transportation to the site - and only a few buses to the road junction outside Susya settlement, which is a possibly-dangerous 30-minute walk to the ruins. So best to drive there.
Genesis LandAn interactive experience for tourists, where you can dress in Biblical clothes, ride a camel, have a meal in a tent with an actor playing the Biblical Abraham, and cook pita bread. Must reserve in advance.
The West Bank has a controversial political history and present. There are a number of NGOs and movements on the ground that monitor the situation and advocate for human rights. These organizations are largely run by volunteers with tourist visas.
Christian Peacemaking TeamCPT has been in Al-Khalil (Hebron) since 1995, when they were invited by the Mayor
Jordan Valley SolidarityJVS is based in the Jordan Valley
International Solidarity MovementISM has been working for Palestinian Human Rights since 2001, when the movement was co-founded by both Israelis and Palestinians
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and IsraelEAPPI has been peace keeping in Palestine since 2002
Operation DoveOperazione Colomba (Operation Dove) has been in Palestine since 2002
Falafel, Shawarma, Hummus, Musakhan, Tabouli, Kofta, Knafeh, Kibbeh, Maqluba, Baba Ghanoush, and other delicious cuisine is widely available.
The settlement of Beitar Ilit has a great bar that serves Kosher Chicken soup with harif. The settlement of Ariel has many fast food restaurants and other tasty kosher treats.
Ariel University is the largest Israeli-run educational institute in the West Bank. For religious education, many Yeshivot are located in various Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural facets of life in the West Bank, there is a first hand experience tour, run by the All Nations Cafe from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where you can get to know Palestinians and Jews who promote coexistence in the Holy Land.
It is important to carry your passport (including Israeli entry card, if applicable) with you while travelling in the West Bank, especially if taking buses. Israeli checkpoints can be just about anywhere and may require you to show identification.
In general the security situation in the West Bank tends to be much better than in the Gaza Strip, but that does not necessarily mean much.
While non-Israeli Jews are generally left alone, symbols associated with the State of Israel or Zionism, such as the Star of David, are best left at home. Espousing blatantly pro-Israeli views will highly offend many Palestinians and is not recommended. On the other hand, people living in Jewish settlements usually don't take kindly to blanket statements about their presence being the only problem on the road towards a peaceful solution.
Dogs can be a problem in remote areas of the West Bank, e.g. when hiking in Wadi Qelt, although they are far less numerous than in some other parts of Asia. If they get too close to you, pick up a stone or pretend to do so. They will remember this gesture from the last painful experience. Also, picking up or carrying a large stick might help.
ToutsDue to more and more tourists visiting the West Bank, there is a constant growth of unofficial guides (mostly taxi drivers) waiting at bus stops or checkpoints offering their service to the unsuspecting tourist. Be wary of such people, who just try to make as much money off you as they can without offering much added value.
Mostly they will try to take you from one place to the other where you will likely buy something, so they can make their share from the shop owner (~40%). They will even ruthlessly tell you that something is closed or might take too long - this is mostly not true, they just want to make sure you spend more time somewhere else, potentially spending money there.
Don't believe anyone if the solution to your question is going by taxi or requiring a guide. These are just lies made up for the tourists to make them pay unnecessarily for services which are easily explorable one one's own. Alternatively, if you require help, ask several locals first before you make a decision. If you really need to use a regular guide, agree on a fixed schedule and do not allow deviations from it.
One distinct exception seem to be servees (orange shared taxi/minibus) drivers – they are probably the most honest people you will meet as a tourist. They will always give you exactly the price locals pay, too.
Be very wary of bringing up politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for obvious reasons.
Many retailers in the West Bank offer cell-phones to rent. Popular companies to go with are: Jawwal (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), Wataniyya (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), and Cellcom (an Israeli company that is able to be used in both Israel and the Palestinian territories).
Phone numbers in the Palestinian territories use one of two country codes: +970 and +972, which correspond respectively to the Palestinean Authority and Israel proper. If one of the codes won't work for a number, try again using the other.
- Jerusalem – Besides the Dead Sea, a central focus for most people coming to this region. Multiple buses throughout the day available from Ramallah.
- Tel Aviv – A big and the most cosmopolitan city in Israel, well known for its club culture. Buses available directly from Jerusalem.
- Nazareth – The largest Arab city in Israel and best known as the home of Joseph and Mary.
- Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee – Gateways to the Western Galilee, the Upper Galilee, the Sea of Galilee region and the Golan Heights.
- Dead Sea – One of the most famous things to see/do in Israel and Jordan. Check out Ein Gedi, a Nature Reserve and oasis along the Dead Sea.
- Negev – Desert south of the Dead Sea, featuring amazing sites and desert landscapes, including the Ramon Crater, the Small Crater and Ein Avdat.
When exiting Palestinian areas, delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events. Sometimes it may be quicker to walk through a checkpoint on foot rather than on a vehicle, and then take a taxi to your destination once you get through. By most accounts, you can not get a Jordanian visa at the King Hussein crossing. This means you will have to apply for one at the embassy in Ramallah, or online. The exception would be if you got a Jordanian visa before coming to Palestine, and you can use this same visa coming back in.
for leaving into Jordan.