Palestinian taxis do not have meters, and you will need to haggle for every journey. As a rule, short hops around cities such as Jericho, Ramallah and Bethlehem should be 10-15NIS and certainly no more than 20NIS. In Jenin and Nablus, taxis are generally cheaper.
You will also need to bargain in souqs, particularly in Hebron and Bethlehem, where prices will be massively inflated for foreign visitors.
Dangers & Annoyances
The Gaza Strip is off-limits to travellers, but travel in the West Bank is generally very safe, and Palestinians are welcoming to tourists. Like other regions that are not widely visited, foreigners are often the object of curiosity, and hostility towards visitors to the West Bank is almost unheard of.
That said, the West Bank is under military occupation, and clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinian youths at checkpoints and in some of the more restive cities are common, particularly on Fridays and after major events, such as Palestinian funerals.
Steer clear of protests and, as much as possible, areas where protests are common – these include a number of villages next to Israeli settlements in the Hebron Hills and, at times, Qalandia Checkpoint. Ask ahead at your hotel or hostel before travelling.
Be aware that while organised tours are a great way to see the West Bank, offers of trips to the weekly protests at Bilin (or any demonstration, for that matter) should be declined.
Here are a few tips for safe travel in the West Bank:
- Always carry your passport. You will not need it when entering the West Bank, but you will need it, as well as your loose-leaf Israeli visa, to leave.
- Don’t wander into the refugee camps on your own. Go with a local guide.
- If you wear any outward signs of Judaism, you may be mistaken for an Israeli settler (settlers are deeply resented by most Palestinians).
- Always avoid areas where demonstrations are being staged. Do not under any circumstances photograph Palestinian protestors (or, indeed, Israeli soldiers) without their express consent.
- Travel during daylight hours. Poor road signage, roadblocks and checkpoints make the West Bank disorienting enough in the daytime; travelling after dark will only add to the confusion.
- Use caution when approaching road blocks and checkpoints – Israeli soldiers are on high alert at all times, and causing unnecessary anxiety could lead to all sorts of problems and confrontations. Remember: they have no idea that you’re just a curious visitor.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Country Code||970, 972|
Entry & Exit Formalities
On entering the West Bank, you will not have to show your passport and Israeli visa, but when leaving you usually will, either at the checkpoint on foot (Qalandia, Jalameh and Checkpoint 300) or to Israeli soldiers who board the bus (when leaving Bethlehem on bus 234 via Beit Jala).
Despite what you may be told on arrival in Israel, there is no law against tourists visiting the West Bank. However, Israeli citizens are forbidden from doing so under Israeli law.
There are no separate customs procedures when leaving the West Bank, although if you are in your own car, it may be searched and swabbed for explosives. Carrying bulky items through the checkpoints at Qalandia and Checkpoint 300 can be problematic, and if you don't think it will fit through an airport-style security scanner, it's probably best not to buy it.
There are no separate visa requirements for the West Bank.
Palestinians are used to visitors and are usually easygoing with foreign tourists, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of a few points of etiquette while travelling in the West Bank.
- Alcohol Even in Ramallah and Bethlehem where alcohol is widely available, visitors should avoid drinking in public places that are not bars or restaurants. Try not to leave cans or bottles lying around in shared areas of hotels and hostels that have Muslim staff.
- Talking politics Lots of Palestinians will want to know how you feel about their situation, and politics will come up frequently during any trip to the West Bank. Bear in mind that pro-Israel standpoints will be unpopular and are best kept to yourself.
- Haggling Bargaining for every taxi ride or item in the souq can be draining, but try not to lose your cool. It will rarely result in a lower price.
Outside of Ramallah, the West Bank is conservative, and homosexuality and gay culture are very much taboo. Even in Ramallah and Bethlehem, there is no LGBT nightlife scene as such, and just as elsewhere in the Arab world, open displays of affection would certainly be frowned upon – and could be quite dangerous.
Israeli and Palestinian SIM cards can be used in the West Bank, although the former will only work in areas close to Israeli settlements or the border. SIM cards can be bought cheaply in the major cities (you'll need your passport), and data costs are relatively low compared to Europe.
Wi-fi is widely available in cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels throughout the West Bank.
Palestinian police are not permitted to arrest tourists, but they can detain a tourist before turning them over to the Israeli security forces.
ATMs are widely available and mostly dispense new Israeli shekels (NIS). Occasionally banks also give the option of Jordanian dinars or US dollars, but these are rarely used, and you will get a far better price with NIS.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping in restaurants is not the norm except in touristy places, so waiters will be grateful for any gratuity. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.
The day of rest in the West Bank is Friday, and in Bethlehem some shops and sights will also be closed on Sundays. For sights, opening hours vary throughout the year. We've provided high-season opening hours; between October and March, many sights will close an hour earlier than advertised.
Bear in mind that opening hours in the Palestinian Territories are erratic and everything from churches and museums to banks and restaurants may shut their doors for little discernible reason. Wherever possible, call ahead, and if you find something closed when it should be open, ask around.
Banks 8am–5pm (closed Fridays)
Bars and clubs 6pm–midnight
There are post offices in most of the main cities in the West Bank, but your safest bet is to ask your hotel or hostel.
The main Islamic holidays have variable dates and depend on sightings of the moon.
Islamic New Year First Day of Muharram.
Prophet’s Birthday Celebrated on 12 Rabi’ Al Awal.
Lailat Al Miraj Commemorates the Prophet Muhammad's ‘Night Journey’ from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there to heaven. One of Islam's holiest days; thousands flock to the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem.
Ramadan Holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting by Muslims. Many shops and restaurants in East Jerusalem (including the Old City), the West Bank and Arab towns in Israel close during daylight hours, but sunset ushers in a lively atmosphere as Muslims head out to eat.
Eid Al Fitr Marks the end of Ramadan with one to three days of celebrations with family and friends. Most shops and services will be closed in Arab areas.
Eid Al Adha Commemoration of Allah sparing Ibrahim (Abraham in the Bible) from sacrificing his son, Isaac. It also marks the end of the hajj.
- Smoking Extremely common. Nonsmoking areas in bars and restaurants are very much the exception rather than the rule. That said, an increasing number of hotels and hostels have banned smoking in rooms and even in common areas.
Taxes & Refunds
Like Israel, the Palestinain Authority imposes 16% value-added tax (VAT) on most purchases, included in the price. By law, tourists are entitled to a VAT refund on all products over 400NIS on leaving Israel (every border crossing has a tax refund desk). In reality, getting a refund for products bought in the Palestinian Territories (as opposed to Israel) could be problematic.
The Palestinian Territories use both 972 and 970 country codes.
Local SIM cards can be easily bought from either Jawwal and Wataniya – the two Palestinian networks – and used in unlocked phones.
Data is relatively cheap by European standards, but you will need a passport to buy a SIM card. When roaming, be aware that while Israeli data and calls may be included in your price plan, Palestinian networks may incur charges.
Like Israel, the Palestinian Territories operates on GMT+2, and GMT+3 in summer.
Most toilets in the West Bank are Western style, although squat toilets are common in the countryside. It is worth keeping toilet paper with you when out and about. Note that even restaurants and hotels will instruct you not to flush paper (or anything else) down the toilet or risk blocking it. Public toilets are occasionally paid for, so keep a few shekels just in case.
Most cities now have tourism offices, some of which are very high quality, including in Jenin, Jericho and Bethlehem. Hotels and hostels are a wealth of information on what to do and where to go.
Travel with Children
Children receive a warm welcome in the West Bank and will often be whisked away to meet local children or treated to cakes and cookies. But travelling in the area has its own special challenges. Pushing a stroller around West Bank cities such as Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem can be laborious, and then there’s the matter of getting through checkpoints.
Remember to bring your kids' passports as well as your own.
The Palestinian Territories are less well equipped than Israel, and getting around is made more difficult by Israel Defense Forces checkpoints, which often have to be crossed on foot and sometimes require moving over and around barriers.
Volunteer opportunities often involve helping the many NGOs working to improve everyday life for Palestinians, such as Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map-uk.org). Groups that welcome volunteers include:
- Al Rowwad Centre (www.alrowwad.org)
- Freedom Theatre (www.thefreedomtheatre.org)
- Hope Flowers School (www.hopeflowersschool.org)
- Ibdaa Cultural Centre (http://en.ibdaa1948.org)
- Palestinian Circus School (www.palcircus.ps)
- Tent of Nations (www.tentofnations.org)
Doing due diligence before travelling to the West Bank as a volunteer is essential, as some outfits are more reputable than others.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Most foreigners working in the West Bank and Gaza are employed by international organisations, NGOs or foreign governments or as journalists. The Palestinian Territories are under military occupation by Israel, and as a result those finding work in the West Bank need both Israeli work permits and permission from the Palestinian Authority (PA), as well as permission from Hamas if working in Gaza.
Israel has been known to reject work permits for foreigners who plan to work for Palestinian NGOs and, as a result, some workers choose to enter the country on a tourist visa, cross into the West Bank and leave Israel every three months in order to renew their visas. There have been cases of individuals being barred entry by Israel if they suspect they are working without a visa, and in extreme cases banning them from re-entry.
Be aware that anyone Israel suspects is a pro-Palestinian activist or is planning to join demonstrations or carry out any form of political work will be refused entry to Israel, and therefore the West Bank.