Yes You Can (and Should!) Travel to Palestine

If you’re anything like me, perhaps the only time you’ve really heard about Palestine and the West Bank internationally or via the media is when there has been a report of something negative – the latest clash between Israelis and Palestinians maybe, or a raid on the home of a suspected terrorist. With that considered, this region isn’t exactly appearing in a good light now is it? I’m sure that these stories do not have you fumbling around for your iPad in a desperate bid to book a trip to travel to Palestine, most likely quite the contrary – you wouldn’t go near it with a barge pole.

Travel to Palestine
Travel to Palestine

As I sit at a ramshackle Bethlehem eatery surrounded by the haze of sheesha, I am among new found Palestinian friends who are eager to tell me their story. We sit together and enjoy a delightful spread of the very best Middle Eastern foods that the region has to offer, at the hospitality of the establishment’s owner who has insisted that he will not accept my money. This is the real Palestine.

While I take in the scene around me, I feel very reflective about how much the media sensationalises negativity around the globe, failing completely to reflect the true situation on the ground and it almost has us feeling too afraid to do anything. Let me tell you about how I got here.

As I boarded the bus bound for the Palestinian border crossing from Jerusalem that morning I felt a surge of panic. I was the only non Palestinian person on it. I sat debating with myself as to whether I should actually remain on the bus, or whether I should get off. I was still going back and forth in my mind, unable to commit to a decision when the bus started pulling out of Sultan Sulliman station at which point it was too late. I was going to Palestine. No backing out now.

Travel to Palestine
Graffiti on the Palestinian side of the separation wall in the West Bank.

I sat on the bus taking in the scenery, watching as the old city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives disappeared behind us. Suddenly the bus jolted to a halt – we had reached the Israeli military checkpoint. The 25 foot concrete wall which encapsulates Palestine was directly ahead and as myself and the other passengers disembarked we were ushered through metal turnstiles, our passports and identity cards checked by the armed Israeli soldiers on site. Crossing this border was surprisingly straightforward, and for me as a western “tourist”, I was mostly ignored.

Once through the final turnstile, the modern infrastructure of Israeli civilisation had been replaced with the dusty roads leading to Bethlehem.

“As-salamu Alaykum!” The local taxi drivers smile and yell out the names of various local places that they can take me to in unison. After I tell them that I’d like to spend some time exploring the area on foot, they point me in the direction that I need to go.

The separation wall is filled with anti-war graffiti, much of which is beautiful in its own right. You can also find many of the elusive artist Banksy’s most famous pieces here such as the masked “thug” throwing flowers, the young girl frisking a soldier, and the armored dove, highlighting his support to the struggles of the Palestinian people.

Travel to Palestine
Travel to Palestine

Satisfied with the extent of my graffiti exploration. I started walking to the main attraction of the town – Manger square, home to the church of the nativity and the spot where Jesus was supposedly born. I’m sure I was quite an unfamiliar site to the locals wandering around alone, as many were coming out from their homes and places of work to give me advice and directions.

Hebron road and Manger street are large main roads which extend from the edge of the separation wall at the border (and Jerusalem beyond) to the northern Palestinian towns and cities. The empty shells of buildings which had once hoped for tourism  (boarded up hotels and gift shops) now lay derelict along these roads.

Travel to Palestine
Travel to Palestine

I reach central Bethlehem.  The streets here are surprisingly stunning. The quaint little twisty alleyways are exactly how I would have pictured Bethlehem to be and, minus the absence of tea rooms and gelato parlours, wouldn’t look out of place in Europe. I stop at the Palestinian tourist information centre (yes there is one!)and go inside partially because I want a map, and partially to escape the harsh desert sun beneath the air con for a few minutes.

Solo female travel in Palestine
Solo female travel in Palestine

The centre is filled with shelves displaying glossy brochures about travel in Palestine, the walls lined with pictures of stunning monasteries and picturesque villages. Nizar, the owner, looks startled when I burst through the door and explains to me that barely anyone stops by here. He isn’t sure how much longer it will be open. Though Palestine isn’t exactly the destination at the top of people’s bucket lists, Bethlehem gets an amount of tourism every year.

(Side Note: Nizar and I are still in contact and he kindly agreed to help me write a Q&A style article for those interested in travelling to Palestine on things to do in the West Bank)

The problem for the locals being that they don’t really see any of the benefits of this in their economy since tourists opt to choose the “safe” route and hire an Israeli guide who is permitted to cross into Palestine rather than to “risk” taking a Palestinian guide.

Travel to Palestine
Travel to Palestine

Stomach rumbling, I find a local restaurant which is praised for its excellent falafel, and that takes us back to where I began this article. It was really humbling for me to speak to the local people, and their kindness and openness to me, a complete stranger has touched me so much that I feel inspired to go back and spend more time in Palestine. I met the occasional adventurous soul on the road in Israel and Jordan who had traveled further afield than Bethlehem, and they only sang the country’s praises.

There are many problems in this part of the world, and those faced by these people really put things into perspective for me. Too often we take for granted how lucky we are to have been born into a particular country, or for the lives we lead.

Travel to Palestine
Bethlehem, Palestine

 

With the last bus back to Jerusalem departing at 8.30, I bid my dinner companions farewell and returned back to Israel with no problems. After the day I had and he kind people I was able to meet, it feels strange now to look back at how afraid and nervous I had felt earlier that day while boarding the first bus.

For practical advice on visiting Palestine click here

Considering heading to Palestine? If you need any help, feel free to drop me a comment below or email me! (Melissa@highheelsandabackpack.com)

Notes: I fully believe that you are generally safe travelling here, subject to the specifics of the Israel-Palestine situation at the time of your visit. Tensions are still high in this region so you should remain vigilant at all times and if you start noticing a gathering or a protest of sorts, head into a hotel or take a cab back to the border. 

 

17 Comments
  1. Dear Melissa I agree one must visit the West Bank when in Israel for me it had a homey hillbilly vibe.Also after I saw you a highlight was swimming in the sea of galalee at sunrise. Happy travels Rick

    1. Hi Rick, it’s nice to hear from you! Haha I know what you mean RE Palestine and your adventures there definitely sounded comical!
      That sounds wonderful! In the end, I actually decided not to get up at 2am to watch the Masada sunrise. I couldn’t bear to be up at that hour and go hiking after just getting back from Petra… at least that leaves something to see next time I am there I suppose! Safe travels and keep in touch! Melissa

  2. I would be hesitant to visit here too but you’re so right, we only see the negative on the media and the people who love there day to day usually have so much to share. My friend lives in Israel and I’m very saddened that the region is experiencing so much turmoil because it takes away from all it has to offer.

  3. Hi Melissa, it’s really great that you visited this place that so many westerners would be afraid to. While we all need to stay safe while traveling, it’s a fine line between staying safe and letting fear drive our actions (or inactions). The only thing I wanted to hear more about was the food. ;- )

  4. One of my good friends is from Palestine, and has told me a lot about the region. I love that you went and visited a place that gets such negative media attention. I can’t say it’s a place I’d want to personally visit, but looks like Palestine has a lot to offer!

  5. You are right. I would not consider traveling to Palestine. The media damages my country of Haiti as well. Was there a language barrier? Interesting personal account. nice pics too. The street art tell a story as well

  6. I enjoyed reading about your travels in Palestine. The people sound so friendly and generous! It’s understandable that you were nervous at first, but I’m glad your new friends helped make it less so.

  7. I have always wanted to visit, which may be partially due to the years of Catholic school teachings but as you’ve mentioned, it’s definitely a place where many are skeptical to travel to. But I really enjoyed reading about your experience; the more posts I read about visits to Palestine, the more traveling there seems like a more viable option. Love the street art; such meaning.

  8. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person account of someone who’s ventured into Palestine! The post has me captivated from the first line. Thanks for this, the world needs more posts like this <3

  9. Really loved this article. I ventured into Palestine just this year also, though it was with a Palestinian, and two israeli friends of mine. Was an experience that inwont soon forget, and you described a lot of the setting just how I remembered it. I can’t pick sides either and don’t want to, the situation is so difficult, so complex, but still needs a resolution m. That’s what I hope for with all my heart, some resolution. Beautiful experience you had and thanks for sharing!

  10. It’s always great to get the real perspective from a visitor on the ground rather than the news from the media. I’m really impressed with how friendly you describe everyone. The graffiti tell a powerful story. Very interesting read!

  11. I always heard war news about this country. But your writing has changed my opinion about this country. Palestine is beautiful and I hope someday I can visit this country. Thank you for writing this for us.

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