The exact meaning of the name Gaza has been obscured through time. The ancient Egyptians called it Ghazzat (‘the prized city’) and, as one of the oldest functioning cities in the world, Gaza has always been considered a treasure for invaders and emperors. Gaza City is based around the long Omar al-Mukhtar St, which runs north to south from the sea to the main Salah ad-Din St.
The Gaza Strip
Gaza has been off the to-do list for travellers for some time – and for good reason. Israel has blockaded the tiny strip from land, air and sea since just after Islamist party Hamas took control in 2006, keeping Gaza's 1.8 million residents in and, with the exception of a handful of journalists, politicians and aid workers, the world out.
Ramallah & Al-Bireh
Ramallah (the name means God’s Mountain) and Al-Bireh were once separate villages, but now make up one urban conglomerate, a mere 10km north of Jerusalem. Though Al-Bireh’s history can be traced back to the Canaanites, Ramallah was only settled in by Christians in the 1500s, and these days is a bustling, cosmopolitan city, with a thriving art scene and vibrant nightlife.
North of Ein Gedi
Highlights along the Dead Sea’s northwestern coast include the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and some wild, unspoilt nature sites. Captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, this almost uninhabited corner of the West Bank is just a short drive from Jericho.
For Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic) is considered the cradle of organised religion. For thousands of years the major holy site has been the Tomb of the Patriarchs – the collective tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with their wives (except Rachel).
The Samaritans (members of an ancient religion closely related to Judaism) believe that Mt Gerizim, which overlooks Nablus from the south, was not only the first piece of land ever created, but is also the land out of which Adam was made, the only place spared in the great flood, the place Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac (Judaism holds that this event took place on Je.
Aida Refugee Camp
This camp is located in the shadow of Israel’s separation wall, near Rachel’s Tomb. A cornerstone of the community is the Al Rowwad Centre, which offers drama, music, computer and arts training, as well as arranging special classes and workshops for women, the blind and residents with disabilities. A taxi from the city centre should cost 20NIS.
One of the more difficult hikes in the area, this steep canyon descent (five to six hours not including stops), known in Hebrew as Nahal Darga, requires you to climb down about two dozen waterfalls (30m climbing rope required) and swim across year-round pools up to 4m deep – all your kit will get wet so leave those mobile phones and cameras somewhere safe.
Run by Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, this is one of the nicest of the Dead Sea beaches. After having a float and glopping black mud onto your skin, you can soak in naturally sulphurous spring water (39°C) or indulge in a Tibetan or Swedish massage. Lockers and towels each cost 10NIS (plus a 10NIS deposit). Has a cafeteria and transport down to the receding water line.