Palestine

Photo © lyzell

Travel Guide Middle East Palestine

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Introduction

Jerusalem - man in black

Jerusalem - man in black

© All Rights Reserved lyzell

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

Besides the attractions of Jerusalem, Jericho, Nablus, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, the following sights are worth mentioning and are located in the West Bank (north to south):

  • Umm Al Rihan forest (located at the far north-west of Jenin). It consists of a series of dense forests which are estimated to be ca. 60,000 dunums. The forest areas around Jenin are considered to be the largest woodlands in the West Bank; forming approximately 86% of the forests.
  • Burqin (just 5 km west of Jenin). This small town holds the St. George Church with the cave where Jesus is said to have cured the 10 lepers. It's considered the 3rd oldest church in the world (400-500 AD), and it's one of 5 of the oldest churches found in Israel. The interior is rather beautiful and worth a visit but simple. It still contains an old part of the original cave-like Byzantine building where the 10 lepers were "kept" and handed food through a hole in the ceiling. Furthermore, on the site of the church, there is a hole in the ground with a ladder down into a cave which was used for prayers and contains numerous white on black writings – an interesting must-see. The local priest also has a guest house available (not inside of the church) which he can offer, in case you want to stay in Burqin over night.

Also in Burqin, the Jarrar Historical Palace (Al Khoukha) can be found.

  • Tel Dothan. Tel Dothan was a Canaanite city lying in a fertile plain west of Jenin. According to tradition, Tell Dothan is the place where Joseph was sold by his brothers to Ishmaelite traders whom took him to Egypt. Having said that, there is not much left to see on top of the hill except for some piles of rocks.
  • Arraba village (Araba) (13 km south-west of Jenin). It is about 350 meters above sea level and lies near Sahl Arrabah, a 30-sqm plain that lies between the two groups of heights of Mount Carmel and Nablus. The Palaces of Abdel Qader Abdel Hadi and Hussein Abdel Hadi in the village were restored and converted into a Cultural Center and Children’s Center (including a rather ironical "Samsung Innovation Lab") respectively. Furthermore, a bath/hamam is built as part of the sites but unfinished due to the lack of funding. These centres are very active and attract lots of people from neighbouring villages. If you are unlucky and the sites are closed, there will probably an older guy there, having the keys and showing you around.
  • Zababdeh village (Zababida) (15 km southeast from Jenin). A Christian Palestinian village built on-top of a former Byzantine village. The mosaic of a 6th century can be found in one of the four churches here. Zababdeh is the only village of the northern West Bank with a Christian majority (2/3). Many of the former Christian inhabitant of Burqin have moved here over the years.
  • Aqabah (25 km northeast of Nablus, not Akaba north of Tubas). A little town founded by a famous man now, who also built the mosque with the special twin minaret. The town changed possession several times between Israel and Palestine and was last declared Palestinian ground. There is also a 1 Guesthouse in Aqabah.
  • Sebastia Archaeological Park (12 km northwest of Nablus, hitchhiking there is possible). Sebastia is home to a number of impressive archaeological ruins. The ancient ruins of Samaria-Sebaste is located just above the built up area of the modern day village on the eastern slope of the hill. The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine. Also in the beautifully preserved village of Sebastia is the alleged tomb of John the Baptist ("Maqam an Nabi Yahya" in Arabic). Also in St. John's tomb are the tombs of the Biblical figures Elisha and Obadiah.
  • Awarta village (8 km from Nablus). Present in the town is the burial ground for the family of the Biblical character of Aaron (notably the tombs of: Ithamar, Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, and Seventy Elders [Sanhedrin]). There is also a Muslim monument that is claimed to be the Tomb of Ezra the Scribe. edit
  • Kifl Hares (18 km from Nablus). Kifl Hares contains the traditional tombs of the Biblical figures Joshua, Caleb, and Nun.
  • Kelt Oasis / Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt) (with the car enter 1 near Mitzpe Yeriho or hike 2 directly from the highway). This is a beautiful valley/stream between Jerusalem and Jericho, from where it runs into the Jordan River. It is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna, St. George's Monastery (9-13:00) and the
  • Wadi Qelt Synagogue (part of the "Jericho Royal Winter Palace" complex constructed in the Second Temple Period) can be found here. The latter is thought to be the biblical Perath mentioned in Jeremiah 13:5.

For the hike, get to the view point just north from the highway and from there down into the valley with the (old) housings. From there follow the artificial channel down Wadi Qelt, by St. George and into Jericho. 3-4 hr.

  • Convent of the Good Samaritan (Good Samaritan Museum) (just off the highway between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, west of Mitzpe Yeriho), ☏ +972 2-6338230. opens 8 am till 4/5 pm (winter/summer). A travelers' inn from the Ottoman period. The ancient church, mosaics, the story of the Samaritan community and various archaeological finds are on display. ₪22/10 adult/child.
  • (Maqam an) Nabi Musa (Tomb of Prophet Moses). This Muslim monument to Moses is originally thought to have been built as a site to view the traditional burial spot of Moses on Mount Nebo from Jericho. However, according to local Palestinian Muslim folklore, it was later recounted that the site in Jericho was the actual resting place of Moses, whose remains were said to have been brought across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo by Salahaddin during the Crusades. The complex is open to the public and contains a coffin decorated in colourful carpets that is said to hold the remains of Moses. Local Bedouins call the rocks surrounding the complex Moses rocks (Arabic: احجار موسى, ihjar Mousa) and make them into protective amulets to sell to visitors.
  • Monastery of St. Theodosius (Right next to Ubeidyia village, see Mar Saba on how to get there. The monastery is right before the entrance to the village coming from Bethlehem.), ☏ +972 50 282 447. The Monastery of St. Theodosius (also known in Arabic as Deir Dosi) is located about 12 Km east of Bethlehem. Founded by St. Theodosius in the late 5th to early 6th century stands on the site where the three wise men rested on their way back from visiting the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. The original monastery was destroyed during the Persian invasion. St. Theodosius died in 529 CE and at that time there was said to be some 400 monks living in the Monastery who were massacred by the Persians during the invasion of 614 CE. The Monastery was restored in 1893 by the Greek Orthodox Church and it encompasses the remains of an old Crusader building. Today the Monastery is inhabited by a dozen Greek Orthodox monks. A white-walled cave marks the place where the founder, St. Theodosius is buried. 8AM-3PM.
  • Monastery of Mar Saba (St. Saba) (The monastery of Mar Saba is located only 6 km from St. Theodosius and 15 km from Bethlehem. From the Bethlehem bus station take a minibus/servees to Ubeidiya (₪5) and walk/hitch-hike the rest. If you tell the driver Mar Saba, they will stop at the right point in Ubeidiya and point you the way. At the Bethlehem bus station, don't believe (that one guy trying to sell you a taxi ride), if they tell you there is no bus to Ubeidiya. There is one (!), just keep asking (the drivers in the minibuses/serveeses).), ☏ +972 2-277-3135. 8AM-5PM, closed Wednesday & Friday. A Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley located in the West Bank east of Bethlehem. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Entrance apparently only for men. Few of the Byzantine desert monasteries can match the serenity and beauty this monastery. Clinging to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, this immense and spectacular Greek Orthodox Monastery evokes a thrilling shock when its first comes into view in the midst of a desert landscape. The Monastery is named after Saint Saba (439-532 CE) who settled in a cave opposite the actual site in complete seclusion that lasted some 5 years. Built into the rock, Mar Saba represents a way of life unchanged since the time of Constantine. The body of Saint Saba can be seen in the principle church while his tomb is paved in the courtyard outside. The first church founded by Saint Saba is marked by the Chapel of St Nicholas. Although Mar Saba is reputed for its hospitality to strangers, women have never been allowed to enter. Hence women can enjoy a glimpse of the chapel and building from a nearby two story tower known as the Women’s Tower.

Don't spend much or any money going to or at Mar Saba. This is exactly the opposite of what the monks at Mar Saba are interested in, converting Mar Saba into a place with souvenir shops and restaurants – talk to them about it.

  • Herodium (Herodion) Park (7 southeast of Bethlehem. Taxi ₪70-150 return, but you can also hike there and hitchhike back.). A fortress built by Herod the Great. The site of King Herod's man made mountain and his recently discovered tomb. Herodium is administered by the Israel Nature & National Parks Protection Authority. ₪29/25/19 adult/student/child.
  • Tor-Safa Cave (טור-צפא) (8 km northwest of Hebron, inside the Wadi Al Qof). This is the largest cave in the western slopes of the Judaean Mountains, right next to the Al-Safa park, with small tunnels and bigger rooms afterwards.
  • Taffuh Underground Church (Tapuah), Taffuh/Tapuah (6 km west of Hebron, ask the local municipality for where to find the church). The is an old church lying underground.
  • Tomb of Prophet Lot (Maqam an Nabi Luut), Bani Na'im (in the town of Bani Na'im, 8 km east of Hebron city; not worth the trip (by bus) from Hebron, but if you are travelling in your own car and passing by). Here lies the tomb of the Biblical figure Lot and his two daughters. Also explore the surrounding close-by area with many old and falling apart houses and even a cave – makes you wonder why people always built new houses instead of keeping the solid old ones.

There is another Muslim monument in the town, called "al Maqam an Nabi Yateen" in Arabic, which is associated with Lot's settlement and prayers.

  • Birkat al-Karmil (Holy Pool), Al Karmil (south-east of Yatta, right next to Karmil). A interesting natural and holy pool, which lies in the southern Hebron hills. Great for a swim in this dry land. Renovated in 2011, by the Yatta Municipality, it is now a park with the ancient pool at its centre. Controversial sometimes due to Israelis coming in, forcing out the Palestinians, so the Jewish settlers can bathe – but this only happens rarely.
  • Ancient Susya, ☏ +972 1-599-500037, ✉ atarsusya@gmail.com. 9am-4pm Sun-Thu (9-5 summer time). An ancient city which was populated by Jews and Muslims from the 3rd to 14th centuries. The most impressive relic is a synagogue from the Byzantine era which contains some beautiful mosaics. There are explanatory signs, pamphlets, and an education video on the site, and you can also order an organized tour. The site is located near the Jewish settlement of Susya, at the very southern edge of the West Bank. There is no public transportation to the site - and only a few buses to the road junction outside Susya settlement, which is a possibly-dangerous 30-minute walk to the ruins. So best to drive there. ₪26 (₪17 for elders).

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Events and Festivals

Artas Lettuce Festival

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.

Birzeit Heritage Week

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.

Palestine International Festival

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.

Ramadan

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.

Taybeh Oktoberfest

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.

Jerusalem Music Festival

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.

Christmas Bazaar

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.

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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

Contributors

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This is version 32. Last edited at 15:25 on Jul 8, 19 by Utrecht. 17 articles link to this page.

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