Introducing West Bank
Travel Alert: The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends against all travel to parts of this area, please check with your relevant national government.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, predominantly Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War, have been neither annexed by Israel (as were East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), nor granted outright autonomy. Security around both territories is extraordinarily tight, with hundreds of checkpoints, fences, walls and road blocks built around them to monitor the movement of Palestinians.
IDF control over Palestinian cities, and their surrounding roads, has waxed and waned with the political tide. The 1993 Oslo Accords brought Palestinians limited self rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but the IDF took back most urban areas during the second intifada. Under the 2005 ceasefire agreement, Israel promised to pull back from five West Bank towns - Ramallah, Qalqiyla, Bethlehem, Jericho and Tulkarem. At the time of writing it had only pulled back from the latter two.
The biggest disengagement plan yet occurred in August 2005 when some 9000 Israeli settlers were pulled out of their homes in Gush Katif and forced to relocate in Israel proper. They left behind a US$200 million a year hothouse industry and 1500 homes, which were demolished to make way for low-cost housing.
The IDF pullout includes Rafah, the scene of some of the most appalling atrocities committed by the IDF against ordinary Palestinians. In May 2004, a six-day siege on Rafah left 42 dead, 180 homes destroyed and a swathe of urban destruction that prompted international outrage and a strong rebuke from inside Sharon's own cabinet. Rafah is a hotbed of violence largely because of the secret tunnels that connect to Egypt, allowing the trafficking of weapons, drugs and people.
West Bank destination guides
Built along ancient footpaths, the little town where Mary and Joseph went for the census and returned with a son is one of the most continuously inhabited places in the world, with residents as far back as the Palaeolithic era.
Christmas Eve in Israel: Jerusalem Sightseeing Tour from Tel Aviv with Dinner and Midnight Mass Viewing in Bethlehem
Spend Christmas Eve in the Holy Land on this full-day tour of sacred Christian sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Tel Aviv. See religious sanctuaries such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity with a knowledgeable guide.
Christmas Eve in Israel: Jerusalem Sightseeing Tour with Dinner and Midnight Mass Viewing in Bethlehem
See popular sites of the Holy Land on this full-day Christmas Eve tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem! Visit revered Christian basilicas like the Church of the Nativity and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with commentary from an expert guide.