The Palestinian territories consist of two physically separate entities, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and are currently universally considered part of any sovereign nation, although this varies by country. The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli occupation since 1967 (Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 although it retains de-facto control of the region's borders). The final status of these territories remains the subject of ongoing and future negotiations. The stated outcome of negotiations and final status talks is currently regarded as the eventual creation of a new, sovereign state - to be called simply Palestine. Therefore, it is commonplace to refer to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip collectively as Palestine.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) is a semi-autonomous state institution (created in agreement with Israel and the United Nations) that officially is in charge of much of the Palestinian Territories not still under direct Israeli control. As of 2013, this autonomous government body officially refers to itself as the State of Palestine. The PNA, is dominated by the political faction Fatah, and de facto only has control of certain areas of the West Bank depending upon the region; other areas are under Israeli control. Hamas, a rival group of Fatah, is de facto in control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas claims to be the only sole legitimate Palestinian government, but it is not internationally recognized.
The Palestinian territory, in a wider sense and together with Israel, are considered the Holy Land for three of the world's major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Many sites of religious and archaeological significance from the so-called Biblical periods are to be found within the current boundaries of the Palestinian National Authority, most notably Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho and of course, East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is under complete Israeli control and considered by Israel to be part of its state although the annexation of land is considered illegal by the United Nations.
The current Palestinian Territories are a sub-division of pre-1948, British Mandate Palestine. United Nations-projected Arab-held areas of the former Mandate were greatly reduced after the 1948-1949 Israel War of Independence, when the embryonic state of Israel was first attacked by its Arab neighbours, then successfully defeated their armies, leading to a re-drawing of the internationally-recognised borders of Israel. Of course, these hostilities were accompanied by much bloodshed and displacement on both sides, much of the focus being on Palestinian refugees who fled in large numbers to neighbouring Arab countries, or to Gaza and the West Bank. The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Prior to that, the West Bank was under Jordanian occupation (Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950 but this was only recognized by themselves and the United Kingdom) and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian control.
Bordering Israel and East Jerusalem 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.
- East Jerusalem - Illegally annexed to Israel and West Jerusalem in 1980. East Jerusalem is predominately Palestinian demographically and therefore it is internationally recognised as part of the West Bank (though not by Israel).
- Bethlehem - A city much like any other in the West Bank, Bethlehem is also the site of Christian holy-places such as the Church of the Nativity.
- Gaza - A coastal city all but cut off to tourists and the world due to the Egyption and Israeli borders being effectively closed to travellers. Under the control of Hamas it has seen both violent civil conflict as well as conflict with Israel.
- Hebron - A city whose highlights include a stunning old city and glass and pottery factories tinged by its division into Israeli controlled H1 and Palestinian controlled H2.
- Jenin - the West Bank's northern-most city, only 26 km from Nazareth.
- Tulkarm - Located on the border of the Samarian mountains, Tulkarem was settled by the Canaanites in 3000 B.C.
- Qalqilyah - The town's area has been populated from prehistoric times, and prehistoric flint tools were found in the modern town's area.
- Jericho - the so-called 'Oldest City in the World', Jericho is also around 400 m below sea level.
- Nablus - Nablus is 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
See also West Bank.
Bus services operate on limited routes and times except for those around Jerusalem. You are almost always advised to use Shared Taxis which will be quicker although marginally more expensive. Buses, like shared taxis will also tend to wait until full before departing. You can hail a bus on any road.
Most Shared Taxis have fixed bus-stations, often car-parks near the center of towns or cities. Larger minivans carry 7 passengers and inner-city shared taxis carry 4. Fares are fixed and overcharging on these services is extremely rare. Shared taxis are often distinguished with black stripes on front and back at the sides, particularly the normal-sized cars serving inner-city routes. You should pay the driver directly once the journey has begun, although you can wait until you reach your destination. Passengers will often work out the change between themselves. As you may be sharing with conservative or religious people, you may observe a certain etiquette, particularly when it comes to men and women sitting next to each other.
Private taxis are very common and can be hailed down at any point. Fares should be negotiated in advance although there are fixed rates for common journeys and it is worth checking with a local in advance. Some taxis will operate on the meter if requested although this is rare. Rates between cities vary widely and some taxis are not permitted to operate inter-city.
For the West Bank, driving a private car is a very convenient way to see more. You can hire cars in Ramallah with green (Palestinian) plates although it is not clear whether foreigners are allowed to drive in Palestinian registered cars. You can also hire cars with yellow plates in Jerusalem which can be driven in Israel and the West Bank. Try Good Luck Cars +972 2 627 7033 opposite the American Colony Hotel.
- The Nativity Trail, . Trek along the path that took Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. edit
- Abraham's Path, . Walk along the settings that the Patriarch Abraham wandered through during his journey across the Levant region. The Abraham trail is a joint project with branches in Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. edit
Currency: Shekels, though US dollars and euros are widely accepted at major tourist destinations (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example). Additionally, the Jordanian dinar is widely accepted across the West Bank.
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.
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)
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 organisations offering courses, workshops or learning tours, such as: the All Nations Café in the Bethlehem - Jerusalem area, or Green Olive Tours, that offers organised informative and political tours throughout the whole of the West Bank.
Because of ongoing conflict in this area of the world, travellers 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. Travellers should ensure that their travel documentation is entirely in order and should monitor local news channels in case the security situation changes suddenly.
A few hints for a successful trip:
- Contrary to recent years, most Palestinian cities are at present relatively safe. Regardless, in some areas or at particular times (such as weddings), gunfire can be heard. This appears to be becoming less and less common, however. Also, bear in mind that fireworks are popular in the cities, and it is possible that what you are hearing is not gunfire at all. Unfortunately however, Gaza remains to be relatively unsafe because of Israel attacks but travel is recommended to support innocent people.
- Always bring a COPY of your passport along with your original and hide the copy in your hotel room.
- Both Israeli and Palestinian security services may ask for ID, so carry your passport at all times.
- Show respect at places of worship - take off your shoes. Women shouldn't come into a mosque without covering their heads. It is not usually necessary to cover your face.
- As a foreigner you are likely to be noticed and many people will call to you as you walk around. This is almost always friendly and well-intentioned although you should be cautious at night, as in any city.
- Consider hiring a local tour guide/translator who will also keep you out of trouble.
- Beware of local water, including ice cubes - bottled is the way to go.
- Common sense goes a long way.
- Use caution around political rallies. You might get hurt from stones, tear gas etc. Unless you are traveling specifically for this reason, keep your distance from political demonstrations.
Because of the association of Jewish symbols with the Israeli occupation (Israeli military equipment often features prominently a menorah or the Star of David on them) wearing or displaying such symbols which the Palestinians see as hostile is not going to win you any friends. Women should dress conservatively and men should also avoid shorts.
Delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events, and especially if you are Arab or Arab-looking.
Sometimes it may be quicker to walk through a checkpoint on foot rather than on 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.
Be sure to carry shekels with you when departing, as there is a departure tax. If you are leaving through one of the ground crossings, such as the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge to Jordan, it's a good idea to try to get to the border as early as possible, especially in the busy summer season. If you are using the Allenby Bridge to exit Palestine, you are required to have a Jordanian entry visa (preferably a multi-entry visa) before coming to the bridge. You will not be allowed to use the Allenby crossing to enter Jordan without having an entry-stamp for Jordan before hand. Preferably, get a 6 month multi-entry visa, this saves you a lot of effort. You can do this either in Jordan, or at the Jordanian Embassy in Ramallah or Tel Aviv.