Tips for Visiting Palestine by Melissa: I crossed the border into Palestine’s West Bank from Jerusalem last week and despite being initially nervous about this adventure, I actually had a wonderful time. If you’re interested in seeing Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, seeing some authentic Banksy artwork or simply wandering the bazaars and alleyways and uncovering a completely different culture, don’t let a fear of the unknown deter you. Stepping into Palestine feels like entering a completely different country to Israel and it is definitely worthwhile if you are going to be in Israel anyway.
The Palestinian Territories
The occupied Palestinian Territories consist of the West Bank in the east, and Gaza in the West. Travelling in the West Bank is affordable and easy. The region is filled with plenty of interesting things to see whether you like to see local culture, history, or food markets when you travel.
Travel to Gaza is not permitted at this time and you should not attempt to access this region. Gaza is under the control of Hamas and is heavily occupied by the Israeli military. If you are found trespassing here, you will be deported and banned from re-entering Israel. Not to mention, to attempt this would be at a risk to your life.
Is it Safe?
Generally, yes. If you start to see signs of a protest or gathering, try to remove yourself from the situation and take a cab to the border. You are advised to take a local guide with you if you are exploring beyond Bethlehem – the predominant reason being that the country isn’t so accustomed to tourism so it will help you if you happen to get lost or so.
Incidents of assault are rare but as female travellers you should exercise caution if considering hiking or exploring remote regions.
Do I Need a Visa?
No. The “occupied Palestinian Territories” are classified as being part of Israel so you do not need anything further to access the West Bank though it is likely that Israeli soldiers will check your passport when crossing the wall. You should carry your blue Israeli travel card with you at all times (will be provided to you upon arrival in Israel)
Is an Israeli Passport Stamp a Problem?
Palestine is not one of the nations which you cannot access if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. Since you actually have to arrive in Israel as a means of getting to Palestine anyway, this isn’t an issue. Palestine do not control their own borders so when you are crossing into the West Bank, it will be Israeli forces who check your documents.
How Much is a Tour Guide?
There are plenty of reputable Palestinian tour guides who can tailor make a fabulous personalised trip for you in Bethlehem and beyond at an affordable rate. Palestinians are excited to show you there country and your guide can propose a schedule that fits your interests perfectly. You can expect to pay around 150 shekels for a day’s guiding. Many tour guides have their own transportation and are able to also act as your driver if you wish to visit some of the more “off the beaten track” cities.
You can take an organized tour through an Israeli travel company to see the major sites, or you can use a local Palestinian guide. It’s all about personal preference but I would ask you to consider supporting the Palestinians and their economy by hiring a local guide. I also know a few friendly locals who offer such services so if you require any assistance, don’t hesitate to email me for help and advice. (Melissa@)
If you decide to travel independently (i.e without an organised Israeli tour group), you may be surprised to hear that crossing into Palestine is fairly straightforward. From Damascus gate, you can take the Arab Bus 21, 321 or 324. All of these go straight into Bethlehem and cost just 7 shekels each way. You can either hop off the bus in Bethlehem (a short walk from Manger square and the church of the nativity) or at the wall crossing. (close to the Banksy hotel and the separation wall graffiti) Taxis run from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (you can find many of the drivers by the Jaffa and Damascus gates) but will charge you upwards of 50 shekels. Personally, I wouldn’t feel any nervousness about taking the bus.
How Much Do Things Cost?
Palestine is a welcome change from the eye watering prices of Israel with food, souvenirs and activities weighing in substantially cheaper. A falafel pitta in Palestine for example, is 4 shekels with all the sides compared to 17 shekels and upwards in Israel. Prices in Palestine are more what you would expect to encounter in the Middle East.
What to Wear
Palestine is a mild Arabic country. It’s not incredibly conservative but equally the people aren’t as accustomed to seeing Western tourists as other countries are within the region. So, for example, a woman in short shorts is quite a startling sight for many Palestinians. You should dress modestly and respectfully – particularly as a female. This means opting for t-shirts and long sleeved shirts over tank tops, and loose fitting trousers over shorts. You do not need to wear a hijab or cover your hair. For men, knee length shorts and t-shirts are fine. I would recommend carrying a scarf in your backpack just in case you need additional coverage at certain sites.
It can feel as though Palestine is an area which we rarely hear anything positive about. Indeed, most of the times we receive media coverage on it seems to be when there is a report of the latest clash between Israel and Palestine, however this is a culturally rich country filled with kind hearted people who are eager to welcome tourists to their land. Do not take everything you see in Western media as an accurate representation, go to Palestine and discover it for yourself.
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