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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.
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.
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.
Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and home of several sites of particular importance to followers of Christianity and of Judaism, including:
Bethlehem is also a significant centre of Palestinian culture, housing a number of museums and institutions aimed at preserving and promoting Palestinian heritage.
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.
Generally acknowledged to be the most permissive and progressive city in the State of Palestine, Ramallah is the current seat of the Palestinian government.
One of the most adorable festivals in the region is the Artas Lettuce Festival. Even though it doesn’t sound too enticing, this event brings thousands of locals and international tourists to the Artas region of the PNA. The event, which celebrates the life of peasants, is usually held in April.
During the summer month of July, Birzeit opens its arms to the surrounding Palestinian community for the Birzeit Heritage Week. Thousands flock to the settlement each year as a celebration of the area’s unique music, dance, cuisine, film, and theatrical heritage takes place. This is also a very stunning Old City, so touring the town is recommended.
The West Bank festival with the farthest global reach is the Palestine International Festival. It is held in many towns across the PNA, including Bethlehem, Nazareth, Ramallah, and other smaller villages during the month of July. It hosts more than just Palestinian cultural displays though, as dance and music groups from all over the Mediterranean come to the party too.
During the months of August and September (the ninth month of the lunar calendar), Ramadan is celebrated by the Islamic communities in the PNA. Tourists should experience this magnificent event. During the day, the cities and towns are relatively quiet. However, after the sun goes down, tourists can find plenty of places hosting feasts. After Ramadan finishes, the Eid al Fitr festival celebrates the end of Ramadan fast for several days.
On every other day of the year, the village of Taybeh is a sleepy little place that rarely gets any attention from the outside world. However, On October 6 and October 7, the village becomes a bustling bastion of beer-swilling tourists, who come for the Taybeh Oktoberfest. Taybeh brews the only local beer in Palestine, which is actually quite a good beverage. Book accommodations early, as the village is always brimming with travelers.
The Jerusalem Music Festival, held in the month of October, portrays the best that local culture PNA to offer. Tourists will need to book accommodation in advance for this event, as many thousands come for this celebration. Arts, folklore, dance, theatre, and cuisine from the region are also celebrated.
The Christian community in the West Bank flocks to central Bethlehem around Christmas time each year to experience the Christmas Bazaar. Held in December, the bazaar is awash in activity, with dozens of different booths selling products and food from around the globe. The takes place in Manger Square in the heart of Bethlehem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See also: Money Matters
Israeli new shekels (₪), although US dollars seem to be widely accepted, especially at tourist shops (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example).
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.
Arabic is the most common language spoken in Palestine.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
See also International Telephone Calls
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