Those who are planning to visit Palestine often ask: How do I get to Palestine? What airport do I fly to? How do I get a visa? In the following lines we will answer with these questions and put your fears to rest.
To even the most seasoned traveler, the idea of passing through Israeli checkpoints to enter occupied Palestine (the West Bank) is intimidating. Most international travelers, however, are able to enter easily, and, once you are inside the West Bank, you can make your own way to the all Palestinian cities you might visit during your stay in Palestine, with relative ease.
The first decision to be made is the choice of first point of entry. We recommend two options for entering Palestine:
A) Via Ben Gurion Airport – highly recommended as it saves time and money.
Flying to Ben Gurion (Tel Aviv) is the easiest point of arrival in our opinion. Most Americans and Europeans are issued a 3 month visa upon arrival and clearing customs.
Once you are in the airport, you have two options to enter Palestine (the West Bank):
Option 1: By Shared Taxi
– Heading to Jerusalem (Around 45 minutes)
If you desire to visit Jerusalem you need to ride the shared taxi one which drives straight into Jerusalem. Sheruts (or Services in the West Bank) do not leave for their destinations until they are full, but this generally does not take long! These depart from outside the Ben Gurion Airport arrivals hall. They deliver you directly to your destination in Jerusalem, and should cost about 60-70 shekels (NIS – New Israeli Shekels) (approximately $20).
Internationals traveling to Hebron or other cities in the West Bank should ask to be let off at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, which is near the old Arab bus station (there are 2 bus stations: the old Arab bus station, and the new Arab Bus station). With the Damascus Gate behind you, the old Arab bus station will be to your right. Walk to the intersection straight ahead of you from the Damascus Gate, cross the intersection, then turn right and walk about 2-3 blocks. The bus station is next to the café with the green neon lights.
– Heading to Bethlehem (Around 45 minutes)
If you are visiting Bethlehem, you may take a bus which is found at the old Arab bus station, Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem. You should look for Bus Number 231 to Bethlehem. These buses depart frequently, and the trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem should take about 45 minutes and cost about seven shekels.
You should stay on the bus until the last stop which is Bethlehem. Although unlikely, there is the possibility that you might have to get off the bus, and walk through the checkpoint into Bethlehem. If this is the case, there should be services (shared taxis in Arabic) traveling directly to Hebron. From just inside this checkpoint, Bethlehem’s city center, there are taxis that will go to the Hebron Road/Beit Jala junction (in Arabic, ‘’Bab Azqaq’’).
– Heading to Hebron (Two options)
If you want to visit Hebron there are two options. Option 1 to Hebron from Bethlehem will take about 40 minutes. Upon arrival in Bethlehem you will likely be greeted by numerous taxi drivers. You may take a private taxi for about $25 (not more than 100 NIS) the rest of the way to Hebron, OR, as we highly recommend, you should walk straight ahead to the main intersection of Beit Jala and Hebron Roads. Here the Services, shared taxis, depart from the right side of the street.
The bus station in Bethlehem is usually filled with many yellow Services – they look like minivans. Just ask for the Service to Hebron. The bus to Hebron generally costs about nine shekels (9 NIS). Tell the bus driver where you are headed in Hebron, and he may well drop you off at that specific place if it is along the main route. Otherwise, stay on the bus or Service until it stops at the city center to let everyone off; from there take a private taxi for no more than 10 shekels to the place you want to visit.
Option 2 from Jerusalem allows you to take a Service. The Services are yellow minivans and are usually parked in the busy market area across from the Damascus Gate. The drivers can be heard shouting: “Al Khalil! Al Khalil! (Arabic for Hebron). The cost for one of these will be about 25-35 NIS and the trip should take about 50 minutes. Board the Service, and wait for it to fill up and leave.
Option 2: Private Taxi
If you want to get to your destination by using a private taxi, we can organize a taxi to pick you up at Ben-Gurion Airport. It will take you straight to any destination you desire. This is the easiest and fastest way to get to any of the Palestinian cities; however, this option is quite costly. Please contact us if you are interested in this option.
(B) Entering Palestine from Jordan – costly and takes much time.
From Jordan the journey into Palestine is significantly longer, and it may well involve lengthy delays, several hours possibly, at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge. Once you are through the checkpoint, however, you find a shared or private taxi that will take you the rest of the way directly to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, or any other towns.
Traveling to Palestine through the Allenby Bridge (Israeli)/King Hussein Bridge (Jordanian) is something you should try to equip yourself for before your arrival in Jordan. Be prepared to not have anyone communicate with you in English at each of the three borders you have to travel through in order to get into Palestine.
Journeying direct from Amman International Airport (Queen Alia) in Jordan takes roughly an hour. It will cost about 30 JDs (Jordanian Dinars). At the border, the procedure is fairly forthright, but if you carry a foreign passport make sure you ask for directions to the foreign passport checkpoint, and, out of the two buses that take you to the Israeli border, make sure you board the one for foreign passengers.
If you don’t know where the bus for foreign passengers is located, you can ask any person around you. Once on the bus, it can take up to 40 minutes to get from the Jordanian checkpoint to the Israeli checkpoint. It all depends on how long it takes to fill the bus up and the drive over the bridge.
Once you arrive at the Israeli border, collect your baggage and follow the crowd or ask for directions to where you can get your bag tagged, ready for it to be taken away and checked. You will again have to go through basic border control procedures and passport checking, where you may or may not be asked to wait for your details to be verified.
Your passport might be held for a number of reasons, and the staff at the Israeli border control are not too keen on explaining why, so it is best not to ask and instead wait it out.
After you leave the Israeli border, you will find shared taxis waiting for you. These Services will take you to Jerusalem. If you are going to other West Bank cities besides Jerusalem, you need to ride another bus to the Palestinian border. Once you are at the border you will find many shared taxis that go to all Palestinian cities. A shared taxi from there will cost you about 35 shekels to Nablus, and about 50 to Hebron or Ramallah.
Although these detailed directions might seem overwhelming, you should remember that the people you will meet on this journey are, overall, extremely welcoming and eager to help! Most of these people will speak English, and they are very eager to enjoy the company of an international visitor and to impart a positive impression of their homeland upon an international. You will very quickly become comfortable with the transportation modes between the cities in Palestine. Our advice? Embrace the journey’s adventure and all the friends you will meet along the way!
– There are ATMs at Ben Gurion to receive NIS/shekels. Don’t worry if you see only the Hebrew language on the ATM – as soon as you insert your ATM card, a menu will appear asking you what language you desire.
– The visa that you receive at Ben Gurion is a 3-month visa and it is valid for Israel and Palestine (West Bank).
– Being stopped at Israeli checkpoints is a fairly routine affair. You will be asked for your passport and visa stamped on the passport and then sent on your way.
– We recommend that you always use a shared taxi/Service (pronounced sair-vees), especially in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Not only will you pay less, but you will have the company of other passengers. Private taxis can cost 10 or even 15 times more than a Service. In Palestinian cities a private taxi fare is an appropriate 2 to 15 shekels, not more than 15.
– Many people speak English in Palestine so that you do not have to speak Arabic to get around. Of course, if you try in Arabic, people will be so pleased!
– A former teacher also advises: get yourself a good guidebook, such as Lonely Planet’s Guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories before you come to Hebron. Not only will the guidebook provide much useful information, but it comes with a map in your native language. Remember: once here the maps will be in Arabic or Hebrew!
– Do NOT be shy about asking for help. Palestinians are super friendly and are eager to help out!
– Do NOT be shy if you need to use someone’s cell phone. Ask anyone around you for the use of their cell and don’t be surprised if they make the call for you! People will not tell you no. If you appear confused, it is quite possible that a cell will be offered to you and/or the call made for you!