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Travel Guide Middle East Palestine

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Introduction

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

© All Rights Reserved CP LEE

Palestine is a violently contested concept. The simple question, "Where is Palestine?", is loaded with political volatility. Exact boundaries do not exist, at present, but it is generally agreed upon that the West Bank and Gaza Strip fall into the land of Palestine.

A quick survey of the names on a map of the West Bank highlights the immense religious and historical significance of the area. The city of Jerusalem is a prime example, with its supreme importance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Further south lies Bethlehem, the town of Christ's birth; to the east lies Jericho, the first town in history. It is an area with an incredibly rich history, which is what draws people to it. Yet this very same history is what makes Palestine such a violent and dangerous land.

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Brief History

As a geographic area, the definition of Palestine has varied throughout history, but currently covers what is the modern state of Israel, the West Bank up to the Jordan River and the section of the Sinai, known as the Gaza Strip. Ruled by the Ottoman Empire (1518-1917), this area became part of Mandate Palestine after the end of World War I. The boundaries of two new states were laid down within the territory of the Mandate, Palestine and Transjordan. The partition of Palestine into an Arab state, Jewish state, and a Corpus Separatum was proposed as part of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine; only the Jewish state materialized, adopting the name Israel. Accordingly, Palestine is a country that does not appear on contemporary political maps, but which is very much alive for its people. Many of its people are refugees who comprise a significant segment of the Palestinian diaspora, accounting for why some Palestinians describe Palestine as, "a country in exile." The Palestinian people's struggle for recognition of their political rights, including statehood, has made this country-without-a-country, a continuing flashpoint for tensions in the Middle East since the late 1920s.

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Geography

The West Bank is located to the east of Israel and the west of Jordan. The Gaza Strip is located between Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The term Palestine is usually used when referring to the geographic region in Western Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands. Boundaries of the region have changed throughout history, and were last defined in modern times by the Franco-British boundary agreement (1920) and the Transjordan memorandum of 16 September 1922, during the mandate period.

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Regions

  • West Bank - Bordering Israel to the west, 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.
  • Gaza Strip - 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 group of the Fatah-controlled PNA.

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Cities

  • Gaza City - 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 heavily been damaged in several wars between Israel and Hamas and, due to border closures by Israel and Egypt, you probably couldn't get in
  • Jerusalem
  • Bethlehem - 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.
  • Jericho - the "Oldest City in the World," Jericho is also around 400 metres below sea level.
  • Nablus - considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, it is known for its old city and its furniture trade.
  • Ramallah - 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.
  • Tulkarem
  • Qalqilya
  • Jenin - the West Bank's northernmost city, only 26 kilometres from Nazareth.
  • Hebron - highlights include a stunning old city and glass and pottery factories; divided into Israeli-controlled H1 and Palestinian-controlled H2.

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Sights and Activities

Bethlehem

Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and home of several sites of particular importance to followers of Christianity and of Judaism, including:

  • The Church of the Nativity - built over the cave where it is claimed that Jesus was born.
  • The Milk Grotto where Jerome translated Hebrew scriptures to Latin.
  • Rachel's Tomb

Bethlehem is also a significant centre of Palestinian culture, housing a number of museums and institutions aimed at preserving and promoting Palestinian heritage.

Nablus

A historic city with a number of important sites, including five mosques, Nablus is also a window into the Palestinian crisis with 3 refugee camps in the surrounding area. It is possible to visit a camp by pre-arranged tour.

Ramallah

Generally acknowledged to be the most permissive and progressive city in the State of Palestine, Ramallah is the current seat of the Palestinian government.

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Weather

Palestine contains two seperate areas, both of which have generally warm summers and mild and wet winters. Though there are some differences. The area where Jerusalem is located generally has lower temperatures compared to areas at lower altitude and along the coast, like Gaza, especially during winter. Temperatures from May to September average between 27 °C and 31 °C during the day, between 16 °C and 18 °C at night. December to February has highs of 13 °C to 16 °C and nights are rather chilly, 5 °C to 7 °C. May to October is almost completely dry while January and February have around 130 mm of rain (or, though rare, sometimes snow). Most of this also applies to Gaza, but with milder winters and higher humidity throughout the year.

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Getting There

By Plane

Currently, there are no international flights to and from the State of Palestina, although Jerusalem does have its own airport: Atarot Airport (JRS) which has domestic flights only, despite its official name Jerusalem International Airport.

By Car

It's fairly straightforward with your own car or a rental car to get to the Palestinian Territory from Israel. Roads between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are good and although there are checkpoints along the route, you won't face any problems if documentation of you and the car are in order.

By Bus

Buses go to Palestine from Israel and Jordan, including places like Haifa and Amman.
The Gaza strip is currently off limites for travellers.

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Getting Around

By Car

International and local firms have offices at the Jerusalem airport and in most major cities and towns. Roads are in a good condition but you will have to deal with checkpoints a lot. Be sure to have all your documentation in order. Traffic drives on the right and you will need your national driver's licence to rent a car.

By Bus

Sheruts are small minibuses and the best way of getting around the Palestinian Territories. Sometimes, sheruts only travel between road checkpoints so you have to switch a few times. Shared taxis are also a possibility and they are faster, albeit a bit more expensive.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Israeli new shekels (₪), although US dollars seem to be widely accepted, especially at tourist shops (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example).

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Study

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.

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Language

Arabic is the most common language spoken in Palestine.

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Eat

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.

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Sleep

There is a wide range of mainly hotel options in the Palestinian more touristic cities and towns. Some more midrange options include guesthouses and B&B's.

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Drink

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).

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Palestine. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Palestine. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended. Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Western governments have issued a severe and strict travel warning against travelling to Palestine, due to violent incidents and armed conflict that can occur at any time.

Because of ongoing conflict in this area of the world, travelers should take notice of travel advisories issued by various embassies before undertaking travel here. 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.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

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Capital
Jerusalem (disputed)
Population
3,700,000
Government
Religions
Judaism, Islam, Christianity
Languages
Arabic, Hebrew
Calling Code
+970
Nationality
Palestinian
Local name
Dawlat Filastin

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This is version 30. Last edited at 13:33 on Jul 1, 15 by Utrecht. 16 articles link to this page.

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