West Bank Travel Tips

 Palestinian flag, Bil'in, 9-11 slider

 

Getting around

Collective taxis are available to just about any West Bank destination. Area: D is working to develop a West Bank transport app that tourists can access on their mobile phones. Tourists can rent cars in Israel and drive them in the West Bank, or they can rent cars within the West Bank. For Israeli car rental:

  • Check to make sure insurance covers Palestinian cities (Area A). Currently it seems only Dallah Rent-a-Car allows travel in Area A.
  • Usually, only East Jerusalem rental companies have such insurance.
For car rental within the West Bank:
  • You may rent a Palestinian car (green/white license plate), which cannot enter Israel and is barred from driving on a limited number of roads in the West Bank because they are reserved for settlers.
  • You may rent an Israeli car (yellow license plate), though only two companies currently offer these within the West Bank.

Drivers must note that standard road maps are highly misleading as they do not contain checkpoint/terminal information. Always carry UN OCHA maps (available in PDF, for mobile phones, or in print at Area: D) to complement road atlases and avoid unpleasant surprises.

Also know that Google Maps/Earth is not fully functional in the West Bank for political/security reasons. An excellent alternative, however, is Open Street Maps, which contains enough landmarks (street names are listed but usually not used/known by locals) to orient yourself within each city.

As an independent traveler, you are likely to be denied access to the following: Palestinian communities on the Israeli side of the wall (known as the seam zone), ideological Jewish settlements (mainly deep within the West Bank rather than its borders), and Israeli military bases. Much of the Jordan Valley and certain other locations are closed military areas; though they may not be marked or fenced off, tourists are not supposed to enter these areas and do so at their own risk (of arrest or stepping on unexploded ordinance).

 

Getting in and out

Area: D is working to develop a transport app for mobile phones that will allow tourists to see all transport connections between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Tourists can access the West Bank only via Israel or Jordan. From Israel, most land at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. From there, you can take a collective taxi run by Nesher (no schedule, departs at all hours whenever full) to Jerusalem (around 33 ILS to the West Jerusalem bus station and twice as much to specific addresses anywhere else in the city), and then the bus to Ramallah (see below) or Bethlehem (bus number 21). Note that the West Jerusalem bus station (also called Central Bus Station) is not the same bus stop from which the buses to Ramallah and Bethlehem depart, so if you come from the airport, it is worth it to pay extra and ask to be dropped at the Damascus gate bus station (across from Jerusalem Hotel), because if you get off at the West Jerusalem bus station, you will have to pay for a taxi (30-40 NIS), take bus 21, or take the light rail (with a prepaid ticket of around 7 NIS; it runs from 5h30 AM to midnight 5:30 except on shabbat).

When doing the trip in reverse, from Ramallah to the airport, you should book in advance with the collective taxi company (Nesher: 02-6257227) and take it from their office at the high end of downtown Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street or pay double for a pick-up from any location. This company is notorious for awful customers service; plan on a 2 hour ride to the airport and a flexible pick-up time. Note that you must always be at Ben Gurion Airport 3 full hours before your departure time for extensive departure security checks.

You can of course take taxis from the airport to the West Bank, but you must reserve in advance as normal airport taxis will not take you to the West Bank. The cheapest taxis are with Fahed (052-397-3665), who will bring you to/from Ramallah for 250 ILS. His English is minimal, however, and you should avoid reserving more than 2 days in advance or he may forget.

Bus number 18 connects Jerusalem (Damascus Gate bus stop) to downtown Ramallah. When doing the trip in reverse, you must pass through the infamously time-consuming Qalandia checkpoint. You must cross on foot with all your luggage. To avoid luggage problems, you can get off at Qalandia checkpoint but take a white minivan to Jerusalem via another checkpoint, Hizma, where you do not cross on foot.

Coming overland from Jordan, tourists can enter the West Bank one of three ways. By crossing via Aqaba/Eilat in the south, tourists can then travel within Israel to Jerusalem and on to the West Bank from there. If they cross via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge (different from King Hussein/Allenby Bridge!) in the north, tourists can then reach the West Bank most efficiently by taking public transportation within Israel to Jerusalem and then continuing on to the West Bank. Most tourists, however, use the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge crossing, which links directly to the West Bank near Jericho. A bus is available from Amman, Jordan to the crossing (1 hour). Plan 3 hours for the extensive security checks and waiting at the crossing. On the West Bank side, you can take a collective taxi to Jericho or Jerusalem. From Jericho, you can then take a collective taxi directly to Ramallah, while from Jerusalem, you can take a bus to Ramallah.. Note that when travelling from the West Bank to Jordan, the Jordanian visa can be purchased at the border only at the Israeli crossings (Sheikh Hussein and Eilat/Aqaba); if you cross via Allenby/King Hussein (the most direct route), you will need a Jordanian visa in advance, which you can obtain in Ramallah or Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv).

Though Israel makes an effort to keep foreign activists out of the West Bank, it is recommended that independent travellers be honest about their travel plans to border officials at the airport. Travel to the West Bank is legal and frequent; lying can lead to deportation. However, expect a longer security check (1-2 hours) on arrival and departure if you mention West Bank travel.

Ramallah's largest hostel, Area D, bringing guests to hidden parts of the West Bank

Area D guests stop at an agricultural crossing in the wall surrounding the West Bank

Checkpoints

Many first-time visitors are surprised to realize that they need to cross through Israeli checkpoints not only between Israel and the West Bank, but also within the West Bank. This map shows a simple outline of the West Bank and its internal checkpoints. Remember that these checkpoints are a “normal” part of daily life here and there is no reason to fear crossing one.

When crossing a checkpoint, pay attention to the procedures followed by locals; these can vary from one checkpoint to another. When interacting with Israeli soldiers, remain calm, remove your sunglasses, and follow all instructions; challenging the soldiers’ authority by adopting a confrontational attitude will at a minimum delay your travel and could result in your arrest or worse. If soldiers ask you for your passport, they are mainly interested in ensuring that your visa is in order. Do not take photos of any checkpoints.

Main entries to large cities sometimes contain Palestinian Authority checkpoints, but these rarely stop foreigners.

 

Weather

The major cities of the West Bank tend to be an average of 7 degrees Celsius cooler than Tel Aviv, leading to hot (but usually not too hot) summers, mild autumns and springs, and cold, rainy winters. Pack rain gear for November-April travel, and plenty of warm clothing.

 

Clothing

Though a variety of clothing styles can be found in the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah, as foreigners attract more attention, it is recommended that visitors wear conservative clothing. Men wearing shorts will stand out, as will women with uncovered shoulders, skirts, or tight clothing. It goes without saying that public displays of affection, including hand-holding, should be avoided.

 

Discussing politics

Palestinians tend to enjoy engaging with foreigners and challenging negative stereotypes of themselves as suicide bombers and rock-throwing religious fanatics. Ask the people you encounter, from bus drivers to shopkeepers, about their views, and you are likely to be surprised by some of their answers, particularly regarding relations with Israelis. Always try to keep an open mind; the pre-conceived notions you have held before your first visit may not correspond to the reality you find.