- For other places with the same name, see West Bank (disambiguation).
The West Bank is an area located between in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. It forms the larger half of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories, the smaller half being the Gaza Strip. De facto control on the ground tends to be Israeli, Palestinian (Fatah since the Hamas takeover of Gaza) or some degree of joint sovereignty. Be prepared for that to affect your travels and to come upon checkpoints and signs barring Israeli citizens from entering certain areas.
In each group, cities are listed from north to south:
- 1 Hebron (الخليل/חברון) In the southern West Bank, a holy city due to the presence of the Cave of the Patriarchs. There is a large Palestinian majority, with a few hundred Jews living in the city center, and a few thousand more in the suburb/settlement of Kiryat Arba.
- 2 Jenin (جنين /ג'נין) – the West Bank's northernmost city, only 26 km from Nazareth. Its name's meaning is The spring of gardens.
- 3 Tulkarm (طولكرم/טולכרם)
- 4 Nablus (نابلس/ שׁכם) – considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, and known for its old city, its furniture trade and the delicious kunafa/kenafeh
- 5 Qalqilyah (قلقيلية/קלקיליה)
- 6 Ramallah (رام الله/רמאללה) – the administrative capital of the West Bank and temporary host to the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah is a magnet for Palestinians seeking work as well as foreign activists
- 7 Jericho (أريحا/יריחו) – the "Oldest City in the World", around 400 m below sea level and great starting point for the Dead Sea
- 8 Bethlehem (بيت لحم/בית לחם) – an ancient city much like many others in the West Bank, Bethlehem is also the site of Christian holy places such as the Church of the Nativity and a Jewish holy site as the City of David; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Major Israeli settlementsEdit
The following settlements are of interest for tourists:
- 9 Ariel (اريئيل/אריאל)
- 10 Shiloh- (שִׁלֹה) An important Biblical city.
- 11 Ma'ale Adumim (معاليه أدوميم/מעלה אדומים)
- 12 Gush Etzion (جوش عتصيون/גוש עציון) including Efrat
Large settlements of little interest to tourists include Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.
This area is known as the West Bank because it lies on the western bank of the Jordan River. This part of the world is steeped in biblical history and contains many sites of religious and archaeological significance. It has been under Israeli administration since 1967 with future status uncertain and still to be resolved, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Historically and among some parts of Israeli society, especially among right-wingers the area has also been known as Judea/Samaria.
About 2.5 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). As far as travelling is concerned, Israeli and Palestinian sites in the West Bank are essentially separate travel destinations, since Israelis and Palestinians have separate bus networks, license plates and rental cars can generally be used in either Arab cities or Jewish settlements but not both.
The West Bank did not exist as a concept before 1949. Its border is the cease-fire line between Israeli and Jordanian troops in 1949. Even though both sides specified at the time that it was not a permanent border, nevertheless, nowadays much of the world assumes that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state will be based on this line.
Jordan annexed the West Bank after the 1948/49 war and nominally treated it as an integral part of its territory although there were tensions between "Palestinians" and "Hashemites" as the two ethnic groups in Jordan came to be known. The annexation of the West Bank by Jordan was only ever recognized by a handful of countries, although few countries made any statement whatsoever as to their opinion on the de jure status of the area. During this time the area was also sometimes known as "Cisjordan" ("this side of the Jordan") with what is today the Kingdom of Jordan known as "Transjordan" ("the other side of the Jordan"). The Jewish minority which had lived in the area both through Zionist immigration and since time immemorial was expelled by Jordan and the religious sites (including those in East Jerusalem) were off-limits to Jews despite half-hearted promises by the Jordanian government to find a way to allow visitors. Jordan also engaged in systemic acts of cultural vandalism, deliberately destroying Jewish historical sites such as synagogues or cemeteries. The Jordanian control of the region ended abruptly in 1967 when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser badly misjudged both his military capabilities and Israel's willingness to answer his brinkmanship with a preventive strike. After closing Israel's access to the Red Sea and amassing troops near the armistice lines - both acts Israel had warned would constitute a casus belli - Israel launched a swift and devastating airstrike destroying most of the Egyptian air force on the ground. Nasser managed to mislead the public as to how the war was going and despite Israeli attempts to keep Jordan from entering the war, King Hussein ordered an offensive, which was quickly repelled leading to the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In 1967, due to the Six-Day War, the West Bank came under Israeli control. Israel did not annex the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem which was incorporated in 1980) due to its large Palestinian population, but Israelis did establish civilian settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are considered to be illegal by most of the international community, the sole exception being the United States. West Bank Palestinians have often resisted the Israeli occupation, most notably in the First Intifada of the late 1980s. However, there have also been various degrees of cooperation and cross community relations, including West Bank Palestinians working for Israeli owned businesses - despite what firebrands on both sides want. In fact, Palestinians who were deemed "traitors" by more radical elements due to having or allegedly having worked for Israelis were among the most numerous group of victims of the First Intifada which also had characteristics of a "Palestinian civil war".
Among the territories Israel conquered in 1967, the West Bank is the most important for several reasons. Unlike the Golan Heights, its importance is not only of military-strategic nature. While both the Golan and the West Bank serve as (literal) "high ground" to stop an attack and to keep the fighting away from Israel's major population centers in the Coastal Plain, the West Bank also has sentimental, historical and religious importance as many of the tales of the Bible are said to have taken place here and the common assumption is that the Jewish people originated in the hills while the coastal areas were dominated by other groups like the Philistines - making the current geopolitical and ethnic setup particularly ironic. While the Sinai peninsula was conquered by Israel from Egypt and there were even attempts to establish Jewish settlements there, it was mostly held as a "bargaining chip" and given back to Egypt in a "land for peace" deal when Sadat and Begin hashed out peace at Camp David. Israel's unwillingness to give up the West Bank - with secular minds arguing that it would leave Israel with indefensible borders and religious leaders arguing that giving up the Lands of the Torah bordered on blasphemy - was also a major stumbling block to peace with Jordan. Jordan, despite engaging in the three big shooting wars with Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 was widely seen as a more moderate, pro-peace Arab nation under the comparatively liberal and pro-Western King Hussein, but as Jordan only officially renounced claim to the West Bank in 1988 in favor of the PLO, a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel (which largely sidesteps the West Bank issue) was only signed in 1994 - the second between an Arab nation and Israel.
The Oslo Accords in 1993 began the "peace process" and established Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank. This autonomy was extended in several steps in the 1990s, but in 2000 the Second Intifada broke out and negotiations halted. Since then, there have been some attempts at negotiations, but no more concrete progress towards an agreement. Around 2002, Israel reentered the autonomous West Bank cities in order to wipe out terror cells that were carrying out bombings in Israel. In 2005 Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip (the latter by force in some cases), but they remain in the West Bank. A year after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas won the Palestinian elections and subsequently took de facto control of the Gaza strip, while Fatah continues to control the West Bank. In Israeli political discourse the example of the Gaza withdrawal is often brought up as an argument against concessions or withdrawal, especially if done unilaterally. There haven't been any elections in either the West Bank or Gaza since 2005 and the (Fatah aligned) Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas who took over after the death of Yasser Arafat has had his term extended instead of standing for election. It is widely assumed by observers that Hamas would lose an election in the Gaza Strip and Fatah one in the West Bank as the vast majority of Palestinians in the respective areas have about had it with their corruption and incompetence, but the international situation as well as the conflict with Israel have allowed all parties to delay elections thus far. As Abbas is in his eighties and has not established a clear successor, there are questions as to the future of Palestinian leadership in the medium to long term.
The West Bank is divided into three noncontiguous areas based on the Oslo Accords:
- Area A (18% of land) - Full Palestinian security and civil control, but the Israeli army sometimes launches raids here to capture suspected terrorists. This includes most Palestinian cities and well over 90% of West Bank Palestinians live here.
- Area B (21% of land) - Israeli security, Palestinian civil control. This includes most Palestinian villages and the farmland between them.
- Area C (61% of land) - Full Israeli control. This includes uninhabited areas, all Israeli settlements, and most major roads. 4% of West Bank Palestinians live in Area C.
There are no fences or other physical boundaries between areas A, B, and C. However, the Israeli military has put checkpoints on many roads, generally at crossings between Area C and areas A or B. Because areas A and B are noncontiguous, Palestinians going from place to place often have to transverse these checkpoints. Israel's West Bank barrier (physically a wall and a fence depending on where you are, and labeled by either term depending on political sympathies) is entirely within Area C.
Temperate; temperature and precipitation vary with altitude, warm to hot summers, cool to mild winters.
Mostly rugged dissected upland, very hilly and mountainous, heavy vegetation is common in many places. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth reachable on foot.
- lowest point: Dead Sea -408 m
- highest point: Tall Asur 1,022 m
The main languages in the West Bank are Arabic and Hebrew, although English and French are also understood to varying degrees. Many Palestinians understand Hebrew, due to business and governmental contacts. However, it is not advisable to speak Hebrew in Palestinian cities or Arabic in Jewish settlements, as it may arouse suspicion. Russian is also common among students who have gone to university in Russia or Eastern Europe. Many Israeli settlements contain many emigres from the United States who speak English and some have Hasidic Jews who speak Yiddish.
- See also: Palestinian territories#Go next for details on the travel between the West Bank and Jordan.
There are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the nearest major airport is Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport (TLV IATA). From Ben Gurion Airport, it is possible to take a 50-minute taxi or shuttle ride to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to continue on to the major West Bank cities of Bethlehem or Ramallah.
Alternatively, one may fly to Amman Queen Alia International Airport (AMM IATA), and enter the West Bank at the Allenby crossing near Jericho. When using the Allenby crossing, you won't get a Jordanian exit stamp because of Jordan's role as a care-taker of the West Bank, so there is no "proof" of exiting Jordan (and therefore entering Israeli-controlled territory) on your passport. For more on this issue see our coverage on Visa trouble.
Palestinian ID card-holders must fly through Amman because the Israeli government prohibits them from entering Israel at Ben Gurion Airport. It is best for people who may be listed under the Israeli census as having a Palestinian ID card (by birth to a card-holder, etc.), or who once had a Palestinian ID card, to just use the airport in Amman rather than risk being sent back home on a flight from Tel Aviv for using the wrong airport.
You can rent a car in Israel and travel with it in the West Bank. However, this is only a good idea if you are not entering Arab cities. Israeli car insurance usually does not cover travel in Palestinian areas of the West Bank (Areas A and B). Check with your car rental company to see exactly where you can drive. Also, Palestinians often attack cars with yellow Israeli licence plates traveling in the West Bank, believing that there are Jews inside.
To rent a Palestinian car, first get to Ramallah or other cities, by public transportation or taxi. Then you can rent a car and take it to any Arab area in the West Bank. However, you will not be allowed to enter most Israeli settlements with it.
Palestinian car-hire companies located in East Jerusalem will rent you Israeli cars which can travel in most parts of the West Bank and throughout Israel. The aptly named Good Luck Cars have great service.
Bus service to Jewish settlements in the West Bank can generally be found in the major Israeli city which is closest to each settlement. Egged (אגד) bus company runs buses from Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Netanya, and Beit Shean. Egged Ta'avura runs buses from Jerusalem. Afikim bus company runs buses from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva. Due to ongoing terror attacks, the Israeli government has installed enhanced security on buses such as bullet proof windows (on certain routes) and crash barriers at bus stops.
There are also Arab bus companies going into the West Bank from the bus depot in East Jerusalem, for prices comparable to service taxis, theoretically running on schedules. The main bus station is across the street from the Damascus gate. These buses reach Bethlehem and Ramallah, and from there you can connect to other locations.
For reaching other Palestinian cities, service taxis (shared taxis, pronounced servees) are preferable over Egged buses. They are extremely cheap, and travel quite fast on the road. The service taxi is a great place to mingle with the locals.
Despite the issue sometimes being discussed in peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and bilateral negotiations between Jordan and Israel, there is no active railroad of any sort in the West Bank (if one excludes East Jerusalem). The easiest way to get to the West Bank by train is to take a train to East Jerusalem and then a bus from there as described above.
Roads used by Israelis (in Area C) are generally in very good shape. However, within Arab areas the quality of roads varies.
Numerous Israeli roadblocks greatly impede and slow the movement of Palestinians between Palestinian cities in the West Bank and also between the West Bank and both East Jerusalem and Jordan. Visitors who travel to Arab areas of the West Bank should also expect to encounter Israeli checkpoints, and those of Palestinian origin may be subjected to strip searches or other intrusive procedures. Meanwhile, Israeli citizens are barred entirely from entering certain areas under Palestinian administration.
Taxis are often your best bet, but they can be expensive. If you're part of a tour, your tour bus is even better.
You can rent cars in Ramallah with green (Palestinian) license plates, although it is not clear whether foreigners are allowed to drive in Palestinian registered cars. You can also rent cars with yellow plates in Jerusalem which can be driven in Israel and the West Bank. Try Good Luck Cars, opposite the American Colony Hotel on ☏.
Driving in the West Bank is relatively safe and has some wonderful scenery, particularly along route 90. But if you have a yellow Israeli license plate, stay away from populated Arab areas.
Jewish and Arab communities are served by separate bus networks; and – with the exception of Jerusalem, where it is possible to take Israeli buses in the west and Arab buses/sheruts in the east – it can be very difficult to interchange between Jewish and Arab networks.
The Jewish bus network is comprehensive and reaches every Israeli settlement. It is often very infrequent though. In addition, it can be problematic to gain admittance into a settlement to take a bus from the stops inside.
Arab bus services operate on limited routes and times, except for those around Jerusalem. You are almost always advised to use shared taxis which will be quicker although marginally more expensive. Buses, like shared taxis will also tend to wait until full before departing. You can hail a bus on any road.
Shared taxis (servees) are common between Palestinian cities, and often the best means of travel. Most shared taxis have fixed bus-stations, often car-parks near the centre of towns or cities. Larger minivans carry 7 passengers and inner-city shared taxis carry 4. Fares are fixed and overcharging on these services is extremely rare. Shared taxis are often distinguished with black stripes on front and back at the sides, particularly the normal-sized cars serving inner-city routes. You should pay the driver directly once the journey has begun, although you can wait until you reach your destination. Passengers will often work out the change between themselves. As you may be sharing with conservative or religious people, you may observe a certain etiquette, particularly when it comes to men and women sitting next to each other.
There are no Jewish-run shared taxis in the West Bank.
Hitching through the West Bank is easy and enjoyable — local Palestinians are happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly pro-Israel. Similarly, Israelis are generally happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly Arab, though they are more wary these days, as some Jewish hitchhikers have been kidnapped and killed, and one Jewish driver was killed by a hitchhiker with a bomb. Foreign tourists can try hitchhiking with either group, though of course, the only destinations available will be destinations of that group. There have been attacks on those waiting for a ride in isolated areas so in many settlements of either ethnic group there is a more or less established place where drivers will expect hitchhikers - ask around where that spot is as it will also increase your chances of finding a ride.
- 1 Umm Al Rihan forest (located at the far north-west of Jenin). It consists of a series of dense forests which are estimated to be ca. 60,000 dunums. The forest areas around Jenin are considered to be the largest woodlands in the West Bank; forming approximately 86% of the forests.
- 2 Burqin (just 5 km west of Jenin). This small town holds the 3 St. George Church with the cave where Jesus is said to have cured the 10 lepers. It's considered the 3rd oldest church in the world (400-500 AD), and it's one of 5 of the oldest churches found in Israel. The interior is rather beautiful and worth a visit but simple. It still contains an old part of the original cave-like Byzantine building where the 10 lepers were supposedly "kept" and handed food through a hole in the ceiling. Furthermore, on the site of the church, there is a hole in the ground with a ladder down into a cave which was used for prayers and contains numerous white on black writings – an interesting must-see. The local priest also has a guest house available (not inside of the church) which he can offer, in case you want to stay in Burqin over night.
Also in Burqin, the Jarrar Historical Palace (Al Khoukha) can be found.
- 4 Tel Dothan. Tel Dothan was a Canaanite city lying in a fertile plain west of Jenin. According to tradition, Tell Dothan is the place where Joseph was sold by his brothers to Ishmaelite traders who took him to Egypt. Having said that, there is not much left to see on top of the hill except for some piles of rocks.
- 5 Arraba village (Araba) (13 km south-west of Jenin). It is about 350 m above sea level and lies near Sahl Arrabah, a 30-m² plain that lies between the two groups of heights of Mount Carmel and Nablus. The Palaces of 6 Abdel Qader Abdel Hadi and Hussein Abdel Hadi in the village were restored and converted into a Cultural Center and Children’s Center (including a rather ironical "Samsung Innovation Lab") respectively. Furthermore, a bath/hamam is built as part of the sites but unfinished due to the lack of funding. These centres are very active and attract lots of people from neighbouring villages. If you are unlucky and the sites are closed, there will probably an older guy there, having the keys and showing you around.
- 7 Zababdeh village (Zababida) (15 km southeast from Jenin). A Christian Palestinian village built on-top of a former Byzantine village. The mosaic of a 6th century can be found in one of the four churches here. Zababdeh is the only village of the northern West Bank with a Christian majority (2/3). Many of the former Christian inhabitant of Burqin have moved here over the years.
- 8 Aqabah (25 km northeast of Nablus, not Akaba north of Tubas). A little town founded by a famous man now, who also built the mosque with the special twin minaret. The town changed possession several times between Israel and Palestine and was last declared Palestinian ground. There is also a 1 Guesthouse in Aqabah.
- 9 Sebastia Archaeological Park (12 km northwest of Nablus, hitchhiking there is possible). Sebastia is home to a number of impressive archaeological ruins. The ancient ruins of Samaria-Sebaste is located just above the built up area of the modern day village on the eastern slope of the hill. The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine. Also in the beautifully preserved village of Sebastia is the alleged tomb of John the Baptist ("Maqam an Nabi Yahya" in Arabic). Also in St. John's tomb are the tombs of the Biblical figures Elisha and Obadiah.
- 10 Awarta village (8 km from Nablus). Present in the town is the burial ground for the family of the Biblical character of Aaron (notably the tombs of: Ithamar, Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, and Seventy Elders [Sanhedrin]). There is also a Muslim monument that is claimed to be the Tomb of Ezra the Scribe.
- 11 Kifl Hares (18 km from Nablus). Kifl Hares contains the traditional tombs of the Biblical figures Joshua, Caleb, and Nun.
- 12 Kelt Oasis / Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt) (with the car enter 1 near Mitzpe Yeriho or hike 2 directly from the highway). This is a beautiful valley/stream between Jerusalem and Jericho, from where it runs into the Jordan River. It is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna, 13 St. George's Monastery (9-13:00) and the
14 Wadi Qelt Synagogue (part of the "Jericho Royal Winter Palace" complex constructed in the Second Temple Period) can be found here. The latter is thought to be the biblical Perath mentioned in Jeremiah 13:5.
For the hike, get to the view point just north from the highway and from there down into the valley with the (old) housings. From there follow the artificial channel down Wadi Qelt, by St. George and into Jericho. 3-4 hr.
- 15 Convent of the Good Samaritan (Good Samaritan Museum) (just off the highway between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, west of Mitzpe Yeriho), ☏ . opens 08:00 till 16:00/17:00 (winter/summer). A travelers' inn from the Ottoman period. The ancient church, mosaics, the story of the Samaritan community and various archaeological finds are on display. ₪22/10 adult/child.
- 16 (Maqam an) Nabi Musa (Tomb of Prophet Moses). This Muslim monument to Moses is originally thought to have been built as a site to view the traditional burial spot of Moses on Mount Nebo from Jericho. However, according to local Palestinian Muslim folklore, it was later recounted that the site in Jericho was the actual resting place of Moses, whose remains were said to have been brought across the Jordan River from Mount Nebo by Salahaddin during the Crusades. The complex is open to the public and contains a coffin decorated in colourful carpets that is said to hold the remains of Moses. Local Bedouins call the rocks surrounding the complex Moses rocks (Arabic: احجار موسى, ihjar Mousa) and make them into protective amulets to sell to visitors.
- 17 Monastery of St. Theodosius (Right next to Ubeidyia village, see Mar Saba on how to get there. The monastery is right before the entrance to the village coming from Bethlehem.), ☏ . The Monastery of St. Theodosius (also known in Arabic as Deir Dosi) is located about 12 Km east of Bethlehem. Founded by St. Theodosius in the late 5th to early 6th century stands on the site where the three wise men rested on their way back from visiting the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. The original monastery was destroyed during the Persian invasion. St. Theodosius died in 529 CE and at that time there was said to be some 400 monks living in the Monastery who were massacred by the Persians during the invasion of 614 CE. The Monastery was restored in 1893 by the Greek Orthodox Church and it encompasses the remains of an old Crusader building. Today the Monastery is inhabited by a dozen Greek Orthodox monks. A white-walled cave marks the place where the founder, St. Theodosius is buried. 08:00-15:00.
- 18 Monastery of Mar Saba (St. Saba) (The monastery of Mar Saba is located only 6 km from St. Theodosius and 15 km from Bethlehem. From the Bethlehem bus station take a minibus/servees to Ubeidiya (₪5) and walk/hitch-hike the rest. If you tell the driver Mar Saba, they will stop at the right point in Ubeidiya and point you the way. At the Bethlehem bus station, don't believe (that one guy trying to sell you a taxi ride), if they tell you there is no bus to Ubeidiya. There is one (!), just keep asking (the drivers in the minibuses/serveeses).), ☏ . 08:00-17:00, closed Wednesday & Friday. A Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley located in the West Bank east of Bethlehem. It is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Entrance apparently only for men. Few of the Byzantine desert monasteries can match the serenity and beauty this monastery. Clinging to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, this immense and spectacular Greek Orthodox Monastery evokes a thrilling shock when its first comes into view in the midst of a desert landscape. The Monastery is named after Saint Saba (439-532 CE) who settled in a cave opposite the actual site in complete seclusion that lasted some 5 years. Built into the rock, Mar Saba represents a way of life unchanged since the time of Constantine. The body of Saint Saba can be seen in the principle church while his tomb is paved in the courtyard outside. The first church founded by Saint Saba is marked by the Chapel of St Nicholas. Although Mar Saba is reputed for its hospitality to strangers, women have never been allowed to enter. Hence women can enjoy a glimpse of the chapel and building from a nearby two story tower known as the Women’s Tower.
Don't spend much or any money going to or at Mar Saba. This is exactly the opposite of what the monks at Mar Saba are interested in, converting Mar Saba into a place with souvenir shops and restaurants – talk to them about it.
- 19 [formerly dead link] Herodium (Herodion) Park (7 southeast of Bethlehem. Taxi ₪70-150 return, but you can also hike there and hitchhike back.). A fortress built by Herod the Great. The site of King Herod's manmade mountain and his tomb, which was discovered in 2007. Herodium is administered by the Israel Nature & National Parks Protection Authority. ₪29/25/19 adult/student/child.
- 20 Tor-Safa Cave (טור-צפא) (8 km northwest of Hebron, inside the Wadi Al Qof). This is the largest cave in the western slopes of the Judaean Mountains, right next to the Al-Safa park, with small tunnels and bigger rooms afterwards.
- 21 Taffuh Underground Church (Tapuah), Taffuh/Tapuah (6 km west of Hebron, ask the local municipality for where to find the church). The is an old church lying underground.
- 22 Tomb of Prophet Lot (Maqam an Nabi Luut), Bani Na'im (in the town of Bani Na'im, 8 km east of Hebron city; not worth the trip (by bus) from Hebron, but if you are travelling in your own car and passing by). Here lies the tomb of the Biblical figure Lot and his two daughters. Also explore the surrounding close-by area with many old and falling apart houses and even a cave – makes you wonder why people always built new houses instead of keeping the solid old ones.
There is another Muslim monument in the town, called "al Maqam an Nabi Yateen" in Arabic, which is associated with Lot's settlement and prayers.
- 23 Birkat al-Karmil (Holy Pool), Al Karmil (south-east of Yatta, right next to Karmil). A interesting natural and holy pool, which lies in the southern Hebron hills. Great for a swim in this dry land. Renovated in 2011, by the Yatta Municipality, it is now a park with the ancient pool at its centre. Controversial sometimes due to Israelis coming in, forcing out the Palestinians, so the Jewish settlers can bathe – but this only happens rarely.
- 24 Ancient Susya, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Su-Th 08:00-16:00, in summer 09:00-17:00. An ancient city which was populated by Jews and Muslims from the 3rd to 14th centuries. The most impressive relic is a synagogue from the Byzantine era which contains some beautiful mosaics. There are explanatory signs, pamphlets, and an education video on the site, and you can also order an organized tour. The site is located near the Jewish settlement of Susya, at the very southern edge of the West Bank. There is no public transportation to the site - and only a few buses to the road junction outside Susya settlement, which is a possibly-dangerous 30-minute walk to the ruins. So best to drive there. ₪26 (₪17 for elders).
The West Bank has a controversial political history and present. There are a number of NGOs and movements on the ground that monitor the situation and advocate for human rights. These organizations are largely run by volunteers with tourist visas.
- Christian Peacemaking Team, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. CPT has been in Al-Khalil (Hebron) since 1995, when they were invited by the Mayor
- Jordan Valley Solidarity, ✉ email@example.com. JVS is based in the Jordan Valley free.
- International Solidarity Movement, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. ISM has been working for Palestinian Human Rights since 2001, when the movement was co-founded by both Israelis and Palestinians ₪30 per day.
- Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. EAPPI has been peace keeping in Palestine since 2002
- Operation Dove, ✉ email@example.com. Operazione Colomba (Operation Dove) has been in Palestine since 2002
Currency is Israeli Shekels, though US dollars seem to be widely accepted at tourist shops in Jericho and Bethlehem.
Ramallah has a number of good restaurants, including Darna (Palestinian and Lebanese food—there are pictures on the wall of many famous people who have visited, including Kofi Annan, Richard Gere and Jimmy Carter), Pronto (excellent pizza and Italian food), Ziryab (relaxing place with a fireplace), Stone's and Sangria's. There is an excellent ice cream shop in downtown called Rukab's. The locally-made ice cream is a real treat on a hot day, in addition to the fresh juice shops around the central square, Al-Manara.
Falafel, Shawarma, Hummus, Musakhan, Tabouli, Kofta, Knafeh, Kibbeh, Maqluba, Baba Ghanoush, and other delicious cuisine are widely available.
The settlement of Beitar Ilit has a great bar that serves Kosher Chicken soup with harif. The settlement of Ariel has many fast food restaurants and other tasty kosher treats.
Birzeit University, just outside of Ramallah, has a long and illustrious history, and offers Arabic immersion classes for foreigners. In addition, there are similar programs at the Bethlehem Bible College and Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, the Palestinian-American University in Jenin and An-Najah in Nablus. There is also the Palestinian-American University of Jenin located in the Christian Palestinian village of Zababdeh. Alternative travel agencies like Green Olive Tours, as well as NGO's such as the Holy Land Trust and the Alternative Tourism Group in Bethlehem offer day and multi-day tours, as well as enticing summer programs for internationals that combine homestays, culture and language classes with volunteering and site-seeing.
Ariel University is the largest Israeli-run educational institute in the West Bank. For religious education, many Yeshivot are located in various Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural facets of life in the West Bank, there is a first hand experience tour, run by the All Nations Cafe from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where you can get to know Palestinians and Jews who promote coexistence in the Holy Land.
Watch the news and check the situation before you go. It isn't a good idea to visit if fighting between Hamas and Fatah, or between the Palestinians and Israelis, happens to be intense at the given time. However, violence in the West Bank tends to be very localized. Violence in Nablus, for instance, shouldn't necessarily hinder travel to Ramallah. Still, use discretion.
It is important to carry your passport (including Israeli entry card, if applicable) with you while travelling in the West Bank, especially if taking buses. Israeli checkpoints can be just about anywhere and may require you to show identification.
In general the security situation in the West Bank tends to be much better than in the Gaza Strip, but that does not necessarily mean much.
While non-Israeli Jews are generally left alone, symbols associated with the State of Israel or Zionism, such as the Star of David, are best left at home. Espousing blatantly pro-Israeli views will highly offend many Palestinians and is not recommended. On the other hand, people living in Jewish settlements usually don't take kindly to blanket statements about their presence being the only problem on the road towards a peaceful solution.
Dogs can be a problem in remote areas of the West Bank, e.g. when hiking in Wadi Qelt, although they are far less numerous than in some other parts of Asia. If they get too close to you, pick up a stone or pretend to do so. They will remember this gesture from the last painful experience. Also, picking up or carrying a large stick might help.
Due to more and more tourists visiting the West Bank, there is a constant growth of unofficial guides (mostly taxi drivers) waiting at bus stops or checkpoints offering their service to the unsuspecting tourist. Be wary of such people, who just try to make as much money off you as they can without offering much added value.
Mostly they will try to take you from one place to the other where you will likely buy something, so they can make their share from the shop owner (~40%). They will even ruthlessly tell you that something is closed or might take too long - this is mostly not true, they just want to make sure you spend more time somewhere else, potentially spending money there.
Don't believe anyone if the solution to your question is going by taxi or requiring a guide. These are just lies made up for the tourists to make them pay unnecessarily for services which are easily explorable one one's own. Alternatively, if you require help, ask several locals first before you make a decision. If you really need to use a regular guide, agree on a fixed schedule and do not allow deviations from it.
One distinct exception seem to be servees (orange shared taxi/minibus) drivers – they are probably the most honest people you will meet as a tourist. They will always give you exactly the price locals pay, too.
The West Bank is less conservative than most Arab nations, so women travellers don't need to be completely covered. But it is still a good idea to dress fairly conservatively.
Be very wary of bringing up politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for obvious reasons.
Israeli phone company Bezeq and the Palestinian company Paltel provide communication services in the West Bank. Many retailers in the West Bank offer cell-phones to rent. Popular companies to go with are: Jawwal (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), Wataniyya (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), and Cellcom (an Israeli company that is able to be used in both Israel and the Palestinian territories).
Phone numbers in the Palestinian territories use one of two country codes: +970 and +972, which correspond respectively to the Palestinean Authority and Israel proper. If one of the codes won't work for a number, try again using the other.
- Jerusalem – Besides the Dead Sea, a central focus for most people coming to this region. Multiple buses throughout the day available from Ramallah.
- Tel Aviv – A big and the most cosmopolitan city in Israel, well known for its club culture. Buses available directly from Jerusalem.
- Nazareth – The largest Arab city in Israel and best known as the home of Joseph and Mary.
- Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee – Gateways to the Western Galilee, the Upper Galilee, the Sea of Galilee region and the Golan Heights.
- Dead Sea – One of the most famous things to see/do in Israel and Jordan. Check out Ein Gedi, a Nature Reserve [formerly dead link] and oasis along the Dead Sea.
- Negev – Desert south of the Dead Sea, featuring amazing sites and desert landscapes, including the Ramon Crater, the Small Crater and Ein Avdat.
When exiting Palestinian areas, delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events. Sometimes it may be quicker to walk through a checkpoint on foot rather than on a vehicle, and then take a taxi to your destination once you get through. By most accounts, you cannot get a Jordanian visa at the King Hussein crossing. This means you will have to apply for one at the embassy in Ramallah, or online. The exception would be if you got a Jordanian visa before coming to Palestine, and you can use this same visa coming back in.
- See also: Palestinian territories#Go next for leaving into Jordan.