Should I visit Palestine (West bank)?
Yes, Palestine (West bank) genuinely has something for nearly every adventurous tourist. See my ten amazing things the media won’t show you about Palestine (West Bank). You will find amazing food, hospitable people, a rich history, stunning scenery and challenging mountain hikes for the exercise junkies. From Jericho to Bethlehem, it sometimes feels like you are on a walking tour of the Bible.
It is opportunity to see the real Palestine (West Bank) and see the beauty firsthand as well the challenges of this complicated place.
Is it safe?
Palestine (West Bank) is fairly safe. I actually felt safer and more secure in Palestine than other places I have visited. In terms of civil society – it is extremely safe. Robberies, muggings, drunken altercations etc. are practically a non issue. On a state security level of course things can be contentious and escalations can happen between the state of Israel and Palestine – keep an eye on the news and avoid areas under attack.
Some areas are more tense than others, such as Hebron and East Jerusalem where tensions run high. in these areas it advisable to avoid altercations with the Israeli soldiers, always carry photo ID and cooperate fully with soldiers’ instructions. This place can get very tense at a moments notice but take it also fairly easy to avoid trouble and take advice from locals or hotels/hostels you are staying.
My main advice is that don’t do anything stupid and if you feel the situation is getting tense or large crowds are gathering for no reason then quickly and quietly remove yourself from trouble.
We travelled around Palestine (West Bank) using public transport and felt generally safe throughout the trip.
How do I get in and can I avoid Israeli Border controls?
It is not possible to visit Palestine (West Bank) without going through Israeli border control. There are two main ways to enter Israel:
- Tel Aviv Airport is generally the easiest, cheapest and quickest way into Palestine. Once you have landed you can choose to spend a couple of days in the Tel Aviv area, I hear Jaffa is really nice, or head straight Jerusalem. Take a bus to Jerusalem, ideally to Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem (The Palestinian part). Once in Jerusalem it is very easy to take a bus into Bethlehem in the West Bank and then travel throughout the West Bank from there. Just ask anyone which bus you can take from the large bus station – buses are comfortable and cheap.
- Travel through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge. This is a land crossing and the only crossing Palestinians are allowed to use if they want to leave their country. Apparently this is the worst crossing and expect very long queues.
If you are not white then expect to be stopped and be asked further questions as to why you want to visit Israel and where you are going. If you are Muslim then be prepared for an Interview (especially if this is the first time visiting) and a wait of about 4 hours. Just be very patient and expect to wait for a long period for no apparent reason. Bring snacks, a book and a sense of humour – you’ll need it!
We have only travelled through the Allenby crossing and this took us 6 hours to cross the entire border door to door, including further questioning.
If they ask you why you are visiting Israel my advice would be to say Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem and stick to that even if you are visiting more places. I would advise against saying you want to visit contentious areas such as Hebron or Jenin.
What about the Israeli stamp on my passport?
We have only travelled through Allenby crossing but it seems to be Israeli policy not to stamp passports. They will give you a paper visa which you need to keep and not lose throughout your journey. They seem to now automatically give these paper visas and not stamp passports. However, nothing is guaranteed and this could change so check ahead of travelling if this is an issue for you.
Do I need a visa to enter Palestine (West Bank)?
Not that I am aware, we just entered Palestine freely without any border controls.
What about checkpoints?
You will encounter many checkpoints throughout your journey and this is unavoidable but make sure you always speak English at all times. If they speak to you in Arabic and you also speak the language my advice is to speak English at all times. Always show your passport at first asking. They then usually let you through without any problems if you have a western/European passport.
How do I travel around?
Our journey involved going to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho and we used buses or shared taxis to get to nearly all these places. Shared taxis are yellow painted transit vans that usually take up 12 people to a set destination for a set price. Every town/city will have a main bus station/shared taxis. Just go there and tell them where you want to go and they will point you to the right bus. It is surprisingly a very easy and cheap place to get around in.
Having said all that, leave some slack in your itinerary as Israel can close major roads at a moments notice and then nobody is going anywhere.
Should I go with a tour or independent travel?
Depends on what type of traveller you are. We went travelling independently and did a couple of day tours which I thought were excellent. I would recommend taking a day tour of Jerusalem and I would strongly advise you to visit Hebron but only though a tour and not independently. Though we are usually averse to tour groups, Palestine is a completely different ballgame and it would be naive/presumptuous to think you can do everything independently, especially in extremely contentious areas such as Hebron, and especially if you are not white.
I have also heard great things about breaking the silence.
What about accommodation?
We booked as we went along, sometimes online and other times just turning up to hotels/hostels. Trip advisor and booking are great places to book online. I would strongly advise against airbnb as you may end up in an Illegal Settlement. In places in the West bank, like Ramallah or bethlehem then hotels/hostels will almost always be Palestinian owned. If responsible tourism is important to you as it was to us visiting the West Bank then do some extra research.
Can I visit Gaza?
Honestly, I do not know. You can try and travel to the border and see if Israel will let you but be prepared for it to be a very long process and face some very hostile questioning from Israeli Soldiers. You need to come up with a very good reason why you want to go as something to tells me saying tourism won’t really cut it. I met medical professionals at the border who had a legitimate reason and paperwork to visit Gaza but still faced extensive challenges.
Hopefully this article has shown it is not actually that difficult to travel to Palestine and I urge everyone to go. It may take some extra effort but the end result is worth it. If you have any more questions then please do leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer them.
If you want to know about tourism in Palestine (West Bank) then please visit our Palestine (West Bank) section.