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Planning a trip to Palestine: A Detailed Guide

March 26, 2023 3 Comments

Palestine is a magnificent country, despite the bad associations that people have with it due to the tyranny, war, and politics. Every traveler who is prepared to look past the headlines will find that it has much to offer when planning a trip to Palestine. It has a rich history, hospitable people, and breathtaking scenery. As I didn’t have a strong desire to see many religious places while I was in Palestine, my itinerary might not be the best choice for someone who does however, this can serve as a rough guide for people who want an idea for planning a trip to Palestine.


I really do think it’s important to visit Palestine to see what things are really like. The majority of Palestinians welcome foreign visitors because it indicates that tourists from other countries are going to the West Bank to experience it for themselves. When they return home, international visitors can and should use their experience to promote awareness of Palestine.

There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet about planning a trip to Palestine, mostly focused on the State of Israel but not much information about visiting the Palestinian territories. This blog post will help with that! You might also find that most blog posts about Palestine are published by men. We travelled to Palestine as a group of 3 women of colour. So planning a trip to Palestine as a group of women is possible and rewarding!

I also have to say that there isn’t really a ‘correct’ way to visit such a contentious country. When you visit the Palestinian parts, Zionists will be upset. When you visit Israeli parts, Arabs will be upset. While many don’t acknowledge the existence of either Israel or Palestine, both do exist and are functioning societies. However, one is an oppressor and one is the oppressed; it’s very important to compare and contrast both as you have the freedom to do so. At the end of the day, you can only do what feels right to you after doing your own research and making your own decisions when planning a trip to Palestine.


Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/discounted/gifted.


Is it Safe?


I felt quite safe in general but I did check with locals to see if areas I wanted to visit on any particular day were having any protests or demonstrations. I mean, you may want to be a part of this- might be an awesome experience- but I wanted a peaceful and quiet trip. I have to mention that it can be quite intimidating to see men and women with large weapons that have the capacity to kill when passing through checkpoints. You just have to grit your teeth and get through it. But I never felt unsafe.


I personally would not visit during Ramadan or Eid (check the calendar as the dates change with each year), as violence by soldiers tends to increase during this period.


Entering the country


Palestine is illegally occupied by the State of Israel. This means that the borders into the country are controlled by Israeli authorities. You will need to investigate whether you need a visa to visit Israel if you want to visit Palestine. You can use this link to check what your passport requires.


You can enter through the land borders (with Jordan/Egypt) or through Ben Gurion Airport. Either way, you will be subject to the Israeli authorities. This website has more information about entering Palestine. The interrogations and searches done at the entry points are notoriously intense and my experience was quite unpleasant. I think it’s important to be mentally prepared for it so it doesn’t knock you off your feet. I discuss it more in my video.

Please note that you have to keep your passport and blue card on you at all times while travelling in PALESTINE. there is no entry stamp into or out of israel and palestine.


What to do about money?


The official currency used in Palestine is the Israeli Shekel (NIS). You can easily withdraw or convert money anywhere in the country. Most places accept card payments.


How to travel around?


I found the public transportation to be quite extensive and pretty easy to use. The principal method of payment for public transportation is a smart card called the Rav-Kav. It can be used to board a bus or train- in all parts of the country including Palestinian buses. The only exception to this are the ‘servees’ buses which only accept cash.

I found it very useful to have an eSim for navigating public transport through Google Maps. I used Airalo for mine and recommend buying one through Annatel. An Israeli SIM card works in Palestine as well. Click here for my discount code.


I found private taxis to be quite expensive and if you’re on a budget, would avoid using them (we were quoted 40USD for a 20 minute ride on two occasions in two different areas). If you have to use a taxi, insist on the meter being on. It’s slightly cheaper than the fixed price.

Where to stay?

I chose to stay at The Seven Arches Hotel in East Jerusalem. Its a wonderful Palestinian business with excellent rooms and views. I would highly recommend a stay here for your time in Jerusalem. Its also simple to use public transportation as they have a bus stop in front of the hotel.

What to wear?

As you will see from my all my photos, I wore clothes that covered my knees and shoulders. I found this to be adequate and didn’t need to cover my hair. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. I would also carry a jacket as it can get cold and rainy if you visit in Spring.


FIRST IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!


Please note that this is a very condensed version of decades of conflict.

From the seventh to the twentieth centuries, Palestine was ruled by Muslims, either Arab or Turkish, with the exception of a century of Christian rule during the Crusades. From 1517 to 1917–18, when British forces assumed control of the area during World War I, it was a part of the Ottoman Empire, which was based in Istanbul. During the war, Britain was given the authority to rule Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, and as part of that mission, Britain was tasked with training the Palestinian people for eventual self-rule.

However, since the Zionist movement started urging Jews to build a homeland in Palestine in the late 19th century, the region has been the subject of conflicting Jewish and Arab claims. The majority of the population in the area at the start of the Zionist movement was Arab. Many Jews who were escaping persecution in Europe emigrated to the area with the help of the British, who ruled Palestine following World War I. Many believe that Israel exists because of the Holocaust. However, Zionism predates it. The Balfour Declaration promising Palestinian land to Jewish people was in 1917, nearly 40 years before Hitler and the Holocaust.

In order to construct the new state of Israel, the United Nations partitioned Palestine in 1948, giving roughly equal portions of land to Jews and Palestinian Arabs. As soon as the new nation was established, the neighboring Arab countries launched an attack. Israel gained almost 50% additional territory as a result of the battle, while Jordan and Egypt took control of the remaining territory. Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank (the area west of the Jordan River), the Gaza Strip (the area along the Mediterranean coast northeast of the Sinai Peninsula), and the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War in 1967. (in the upper Jordan River valley). The current map looks like this with the majority of the country under illegal Israeli Occupation:

For more detailed information you can try these resources:

These articles by the United Nations and Al Jazeera.
Trevor Noah’s video on Palestine.
Holding Palestinian Ground: Lessons from Gaza to Sheikh Jarrah,” a panel discussion hosted by Jadaliyyah with Palestinian activists and scholars from across Palestine and abroad.

Itinerary for planning a trip to Palestine

Day1:

From Tel-Aviv to the Jerusalem


It was pretty easy to get the train from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem. The train ride lasts around 20 minutes. You can check the train schedules here.


Once you’ve arrived and freshened up, use this time to wander around the different quarters and to get a feel for how diverse the city is. Jerusalem is divided into 4 quarters- the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Christian Quarter. Each section is very different and it’s worth seeing the clear divisions in what should be a united city. You will notice that the Muslim quarter has a lot less land mass allocated for the number of people living there than the other quarters that are more spacious and quiet.


Restaurant recommendation: I had never tried Jewish food before so I wanted to try something new. My Jewish friend took me to a kosher restaurant called Tmol Shilshom so I could try traditional foods like Sabich and Challah bread. It was interesting to learn about the concepts of keeping kosher.

As a tourist I recommend interacting with both Israelis and Palestinians to hear all the different experiences of living on the same land.


Day 2:


Stop 1: Temple Mount (also known as Haram-i-Sharif)


Visiting Dome of the Rock is probably everyone’s first stop when arriving in Jerusalem. However, unless you want to run the risk of it being closed when you go or being knocked over by hordes of tourists, you need to be strategic about when you visit.
Temple Mount can be visited by non-Muslims on Sunday through Thursday.


I would aim to be there at 8am in summer (or 7am in winter) to give yourself enough time before the tour buses arrive at 9am. Non-muslims cannot enter the mosque but they can see the outside. If you try to enter, you may be quizzed by the guardians of the mosque.


The area is extremely beautiful and scenic- even if you can’t enter the mosques- but just remember to follow the rules (dress modestly and don’t take photos touching a member of the opposite sex outside the mosque). Covering the hair is not necessary for visiting outside the mosque.


Stop 2: Al Mufti Cafe


If you visit Dome of the Rock early, you will find that there aren’t many places open to eat or shop at immediately after. Not far from Damascus Gate and near Hashmi Hotel, is a family owned cafe serving fresh lemon mint juice. Stop by to hear the stories from someone who has lived through the many wars and conflicts the country has experienced. Bonus, you might even meet the guest of honour- a fluffy cat named Sukkar (Sugar).


Stop 3: Lina’s


Lina’s is the earliest place I could find that opens at 9:30am for breakfast. Join the locals in eating the best hummus and falafel in Jerusalem! This isn’t a fancy establishment but it’s one of those hole-in-the-wall places that are just so good.


Stop 4: Shopping and more sightseeing


Use this time to visit other religious sites that might be of importance to you or alternatively you can do some shopping in the old city. I found the best prices for things in Jerusalem (surprisingly) as opposed to other Palestinian cities.


Stop 5: Lunch or Dinner


It was really challenging to find real Palestinian food in Jerusalem (weirdly enough) because all restaurants seem to offer international cuisine to entice tourists. The exception to this was Al Liwan in Sheikh Jarrah. We loved this place so much that we ate here twice in a row. I strongly recommend visiting at least once and saying hello to the owner and head chef, Jack (tell him Expat Panda sent you).

Day 3:

Bethlehem

On this day you can take a 30 minute bus ride from HaNevi’im Terminal in Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The bus to take is bus 234 which drops you outside the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. Just follow the locals through the side of the Wall and don’t be alarmed by the turnstiles and potentially- soldiers.


Stop 1: The Separation Wall


Put The Walled Off Hotel on Google Maps and start walking. Many of the Palestinian taxi drivers will tell you that it’s 30 minutes away to walk to the Wall but it isn’t. It’s around a 7 minute walk before you start seeing The Wall. The taxi drivers in Bethlehem can be a bit aggressive so just be aware.

There is something surreal about walking along the Separation Wall. Nothing can prepare you for the experience of being in front of the wall’s towering presence, no matter how much I’ve read about it and this war. It is overwhelming to see how the wall expresses both so much suffering and so much ingenuity. This is the perfect place to see the effect that Israeli occupation has had on the lives of ordinary Palestinians; the wall restricts their movements, cuts them off from the world and ruins their livelihoods.

Stop 2: The Walled Off Hotel


Also known as the Banksy Hotel (because it’s owned by the famous anonymous artist, Banksy). The hotel serves as an art piece, a political protest, and a luxurious hotel, all while being situated just a few feet from the very contentious (and unlawful) wall separating Israel from the West Bank. The name ‘Walled Off’ Hotel is a hint to the prestigious Waldorf Hotel and fits perfectly with its location next to the eight meters high concrete segregation wall.


As a result, it ranks as one of the most distinctive places to visit in the entire globe.


If you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s still worth a visit to see the unique art and artifacts on display. You can view Banksy paintings in the lobby. Together with the artwork created by Banksy, you can also find paintings and other works of art made by Palestinian artists. The artwork in the first-floor art gallery is for sale. Their art gallery is accessible to the public for no entrance fee. We stopped to have a drink here, witness the self-playing piano and wander around the art gallery.


Stop 3: Optional Extras
When planning a trip to Palestine, we really wanted to visit The Palestinian Heritage Center and do a cooking class by Qandeel but I couldn’t get a hold of the cooking class company and The Heritage Center wasn’t open both times I went to Bethlehem. You might have more luck!


Day 4:

Day Trip to Hebron


If you stay in Bethlehem (and I wish I had done this for 2 nights), this will be an easy trip for you. If you’re coming from Jerusalem, you will first catch bus 234 to Bethlehem and then catch a yellow minibus called a ‘servees’ to Hebron. You can catch the bus from the bus stop near Bayt Jallah. If this means nothing to you, do not worry. Ask anyone in the town where to find the servees to Hebron and they will point you in the right direction.


A servees is like a shared cab; they operate in regions of Palestine where there are no long distance buses or trains. They stop wherever you need to go, the key is to just talk to the driver. It takes about an hour to get to Hebron.


Hebron is a very tense place. When you arrive there, you can feel this undertone of conflict in the air. As an outsider, it’s an interesting feeling. One oddity about Hebron is that it is the only Palestinian city with Jewish settlements right in the heart of the city. It’s a very significant scenario.


For more than 50 years, Israel has been expanding its settlements to the point where the city is now entirely divided. H1 is the region that the Palestinians (80%) control, and H2 is the region that the Israelis (20%) control. I’m providing this basic information because it’s crucial to know this before visiting.


Stop 1: Ibrahimi Mosque


According to religious traditions, the remains of God’s prophet Abraham and several of his descendants, including his wife Sara, their sons Isaac and Jacob and their wives Rebecca and Leah, as well as Jacob’s son Joseph, are believed to be interred in the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, also referred to as the “Tomb of the Patriarchs” (Gen. 23: 17-20).


Through a metal grating in the mosque’s corner, you can see into the cave. Take note of the tiny niche next to the door where you can see a footprint as you enter the room where you can observe Abraham’s cenotaph. While Jews think Adam made it, Muslims think this is Muhammad’s footprint.


Your journey into this mosque begins with a checkpoint where you enter via a turnstile and show your passport and blue card. This mosque has been the site for many violent attacks over the years so security is tight.


Abraham’s Tomb, which is a structure shared by both Jews and Muslims, is separated by a bulletproof window. Half synagogue- half mosque, this place is just insane. Jews cannot enter the mosque, and neither can Muslims enter the synagogue due to the intense security checks.


As a tourist you can visit both but I opted for just the mosque. I was overwhelmed with everything to be honest.


Stop 2: Old City (Shuhada Street)


What was once a bustling market in the old city of Hebron, filled with joy and happiness, is now just a partially abandoned region, whose residents can’t help but express their anger at the settlers whenever they encounter a foreigner.


To prevent settlers from throwing trash at the people and the street from their homes, a metal fence surrounds the majority of the Old City. The settlers began tossing eggs, bleach, and excrement once the barrier was put up.


Due to the fact that the Arab buildings in front of the Jewish structures are also targets for the settlers, their balconies and windows are fortified with sturdy metal bars.


If you’re looking to see more in Hebron, I recommend checking out this link. What I saw was enough for me and I hightailed it back to Bethlehem. The easiest way to find transportation is to ask someone where to find the servees bus back to Bethlehem (spoiler: it’s in a parking garage).


Day 5:

Day Trip to Ramallah


Getting to Ramallah from Jerusalem is very simple. You need to head to Derekh Schem Terminal and catch the 218 bus (green and white bus). The bus should drop you off right in the middle of the city.


Stop 1: Yasser Arafat’s Tomb


Include this on your list because it is Ramallah’s top attraction. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who spent a career attempting to establish and defend his Palestinian state, is buried in Ramallah. While Arafat passed away in France in November 2004, his fellow Palestinians will always remember him as he based himself in Ramallah.


I believe it was a 5 or 15 shekel entrance fee. It is quite an extensive museum located at Al Muquata’a, the Palestinian government’s administrative center. You will see Palestinian soldiers but they’re quite friendly so nothing to be alarmed about.


While I am not a huge museum person, it helps to visit this place so you can better understand the many struggles that the Palestinians have been through and how it has led to the situation the country finds itself in today. Most importantly it emphasizes how the formation of Israel was a colonial move orchestrated by the British (who had no right to give away a country that wasn’t theirs) and not a response to the Holocaust as many people wrongly believe. The museum information is purely factual, not inciting hatred for any groups so it’s a very educational place to visit and is well worth the entry fee!


Stop 2: Nelson Mandela Square


After the museum, we met with my local friend Khaled and he took us to something I never even knew existed- a statue of Nelson Mandela all the way in Ramallah! He told us that Palestinians are inspired by the ending of the Apartheid regime in South Africa by the courage of Nelson Mandela.


Mandela was a fierce advocate for Middle East peace and the Palestinian cause. His most well-known saying was: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

The statue is believed to “symbolize the mutual suffering” of the South African and Palestinian people.


Stop 3: Vanilla Cafe


Khaled took us to this local chain of cafes- offering more interesting drinks than your local Starbucks- strongly recommend the Alfajores hot chocolate with dulce de leche. What was great about being here was just seeing young Palestinians out and about, enjoying a coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon. Too often we associate Palestine with conflict, guns, explosions, terror and so it felt surreal to just be doing something so normal in a place that is often sensationalized unfairly.


If you’re looking for something to eat, the spicy artichoke chicken sandwich is my recommendation but it is actually spicy so beware!


Stop 4: Sunset Point at Bayara Park


Ramallah surprisingly offers an excellent viewpoint for sunsets as it is set high up and offers uninterrupted views all the way to Tel Aviv. You can see planes taking off and landing at the airport as well!

Day 6:

Day Trip to Nablus


Now that you’re used to the public transportation in Palestine, you will be fine navigating to Nablus. If you start your trip in Ramallah, this will be a simple matter of getting the servees to Nablus at the Ramallah bus terminal. If you leave from Jerusalem, you will first need to go to Ramallah and then catch the servees from there. If you can spend a night or two in Ramallah, I would advise it.


Stop 1: The Old City (al Manara Square)


There are many things to do in Nablus, but for me, a day trip was enough time to explore the city. The main tourist draw is the old city, which has a sizable souq (Arabic for market) where you can buy anything from fresh bread and vegetables to furniture and apparel. Take your time exploring the area (and stock up on supplies if you can!) Next to Al-Nasr Mosque in the ancient city lies the renowned Manara Clocktower. In this vicinity you might see buildings with bullet holes and political posters. Don’t be alarmed.


Al-Aqsa Sweets is a well-known bakery located in the old souq. Don’t forget to sample the kunafa, which is reason enough to travel to Nablus. One of the most well-known sweets in the Arab world is kunafa, a hot cheese dish with nuts and sweet syrup on top. The best kunafa is said to be found in Nablus, at Al-Aqsa Sweets, according to Palestinians. Personally, this was the best kunafa I had ever had!


Palestine is known for its production of olives. The vast bulk of the olive groves in the West Bank are found close to Nablus. There are several historical soap factories in Nablus’ old city where soap was once made from locally grown olive oil, and in certain cases, is still created today. I really wanted to go on a tour of one of the city’s soap factories and even popped into Abualrous Soap Factory, which is near Al-Aqsa Sweets. Sadly they weren’t open so I had to purchase my soap from a nearby shop instead and miss out on the tour.


There’s more to see in Nablus but it was raining on the day I went and I was tired from shopping. Check out this link for more things to do and see in this city.


Day 7:

Ein Gedi


For our last day, we decided to see ‘how the other half lives’ and ventured into an area under Israeli control. We visited Ein Gedi Nature Reserve to do some hiking and spend time outdoors. Most of the weather during our time in Palestine was not great so a sunny day outdoors was very much appreciated.


About an hour away from Jerusalem this nature reserve was world’s away from the hustle and bustle of the Muslim Quarter. It offers various walking and hiking trails for people of all ages and fitness levels.


While the most popular trail is to David’s Falls (pictured below), I would skip this and head straight toward Wadi Arugot, aiming to find the Hidden Falls. The trail is extremely scenic if you walk along the blue path but I recommend hiking sandals and not boots or flip-flops.


If you go early enough (before 11am), you will have the place to yourself and cool off after an hour-long hike in the refreshing waters.


I wish we had more time here to discover the Upper Pools but we were on a tight schedule and the hordes of school children that appeared around 11am was enough to send us packing (hundreds and hundreds of kids just appeared).


It costs 29 Shekels to visit Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. We rented a car to reach here but you can visit via Bus 487.


If you have an extra day and good weather, you can visit Mar Saba Monastery and do your last minute shopping; otherwise it’s back to the airport you go to be violated by Israeli authorities (I am just being honest).

The history, religious customs, and human sacrifice of Palestine are deeply ingrained into the land. Palestine gives every visitor a glimpse of the remarkable breadth of human existence that has grown on these grounds, from Jerusalem, one of the holiest places in the world, to Hebron, one of the oldest cities in the world. The Israeli occupation is an awful part of the experience in Palestine, but it also promises a unique adventure and a trip to remember. Don’t let it deter you from going because Palestinians need your acknowledgment and support. Don’t let the mainstream media and its bias put you off planning a trip to Palestine either; the best way to learn about things is to see them for yourself. Every trip is a gift because of the warmth of the Palestinian people, their culture and traditions, and their intrinsic friendliness.


Lastly, I have a wealth of information on my Instagram especially in the Palestine highlight and my reels. Do have a look. If you enjoyed this post about planning a trip to Palestine, please pin it using the pin below:

If you’re interested in other destinations in the region, you can browse my other trips here or through the destinations tab in the menu on top of this screen.

Have you visited Palestine before? Or have I inspired you to start planning a trip to Palestine? Let me know in the comments below!

expatpanda

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3 Comments

  • Summer March 27, 2023 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I just watched your video and it looks like we had similar experiences entering Israel, though mine wasn’t as intense.

    I flew into Tel Aviv a few years ago as a solo traveller, US passport, POC. I had a layover at Zurich airport, and when I got to the gate, an Israeli officer pulled me into a private room, opened up my suitcase and went through every piece of my belongings. They even took samples to be tested. There was a lot of questioning about my intentions and itinerary, though the tone definitely came across as very polite, pleasant, professional, etc. There was another American (white guy) who also got pulled into the same room for luggage inspection and questioning. I think we were targeted for being solo travellers, which must have been perceived as suspicious somehow.

    When I tried to visit the Dome of the Rock, they wouldn’t even let me access the outside portion – not sure why. There was a security guard who told me in English “Japanese, no!” (I’m not even Japanese…) Very sad to have missed out on it.

    • expatpanda March 31, 2023 at 3:05 pm

      I am really sorry that this happened to you and that you weren’t allowed to visit Dome of the Rock. I think there is no rhyme or reason regarding any of the things Israeli authorities do which makes it an incredibly anxious adventure overall.

  • Pree April 6, 2023 at 11:33 pm

    Awesome post and beautiful pictures! This is such a valuable resource and your perspective of traveling to Palestine (the why) is so spot on

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