Last updated September 2009
Olive Co-op Guidance Notes to Visiting the West Bank and Israel
These notes are intended for use by Olive Co-op tour customers, but will be useful for anybody travelling to the West Bank and Israel. We also recommend you read the Code of Conduct for Tourism in the Holy Land, produced by the Palestinian Initiative for Responsible Tourism. Pdf file available here.
Getting there and arrival
- Buying flights and insurance
- Visas: New visa restrictions
- Standard visas
Citizens with dual nationality
Entering and leaving
The ‘special treatment’
The occupation and security situation
In the West Bank
Roadblocks and checkpoints
Money and cashpoints
Clothing and culture
What to expect on your tour
You are welcome! Ahlan Wa Sahlan!
Public and private transport
British Muslim, Asian and Black travellers
Gay and lesbian travellers
Olive Co-operative recommends that you read these guidance notes before travelling. If you require clarification or would like further advice, please contact leonie[at]olivecoop.com. We encourage people to contact us about concerns they might have prior to a tour. Please also let us know about any campaigning you’re involved in, particular areas of interest you have and links you would like to make. We may be able to help with networking, campaigning and fundraising before or after your tour. Take a camera and keep a diary!
‘Palestine & Palestinians’, a comprehensive guidebook published the Alternative Tourism Group, is also a recommended read. Available to Olive tour customers for £20 including postage and packaging within the UK.
Other guidebooks can be useful in giving an idea of the geography and customs of Israel, but information on the West Bank is likely to be patchy and out of date.
Many people are wary of benefiting the Israeli economy, but you will also contribute to the Palestinian economy during your visit.
Getting there and arrival
Buying flights and insurance
Most Olive Co-operative customers book their flights to suit their own travel needs, and flights are not included in the tour price. It is worth shopping around on the internet to find a deal that suits you. Direct flights to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv are usually more expensive than those that include a European stopover. Many UK airports have flights to Tel Aviv. In the past we have provided information on travelling to Amman in Jordan and entering the West Bank through the land border crossing at King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge, however, recent changes to the visas issued by Israel at this border have meant that we can now no longer recommended this method of entry (see ‘New visa restrictions’ below).
In late Summer 2009, cheap flights were available from Luton airport to Tel Aviv and from www.jet2.com. Websites to book flights include www.britishairways.co.uk, www.easyjet.com, www.opodo.co.uk and www.expedia.com.
Olive Co-operative recommends that travellers purchase travel insurance before departure and be clear what the level of cover provides. We have not found any insurance that covers the West Bank, however some providers of worldwide travel insurance will cover the usual travel eventualities such as cancellation, delayed baggage or medical treatment, including if this should happen in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
These insurance providers include:
Key Travel – tel 0161 819 8900 or 020 7843 9600; www.keytravel.co.uk
Co-operative Insurance Society so long as you are already a customer – tel 08457 464646, www.cis.co.uk.
**NEW VISA RESTRICTIONS**
As of Summer 2009, the Israeli border officials began to issue a new type of visa which limits travel to Palestinian Authority (PA) areas only. A considerable number of visitors entering through Allenby (King Hussein) Bridge have received this, and some people that have entered through Ben Gurion if they have indicated that they intend to visit areas of the West Bank outside of Bethlehem. These visas are extremely problematic, as they do not allow people to pass through checkpoints into non Palestinian Authority controlled areas, which is all of 1967 Israel and some areas of the West Bank. According to an article in Ha’arez in August 2009, “’PA territory’ comprises the 40 percent of the West Bank (Areas A and B) over which the PA has civilian authority. These areas are enclaves interspersed throughout Area C, which is under full Israeli control. Theoretically, therefore, these tourists may not leave one enclave for another, enter the Jordan Valley, or cross to the other side of the separation fence… The new procedure effectively places many tourists and visitors under closure and discriminates against them compared to their compatriots who do not have relations with the Palestinian community and whose main destination is not the West Bank ” (See www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1107223.html). It is not clear whether people have been prevented from travelling around the West Bank with one of these visas.
We are therefore currently not advising people to enter through Allenby Bridge, or to say that they intend to visit areas of the West Bank outside of Bethlehem. To the best of our knowledge, visitors that have stated their intention to visit Bethlehem have not been issued these visas at Ben Gurion. A precautionary approach would probably be to avoid raising the subject of intending to travel in the West Bank, but if you are specifically asked whether you plan to enter the West Bank, then say that you hope to visit the tourist sites of Bethlehem. A number of visitors entering through Ben Gurion are asked to sign a pledge that they will not enter the West Bank or Gaza. We do not recommend that Olive tour participants sign this pledge. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has stated that any tourist wishing to visit the tourist sites of Bethlehem does not have to sign the pledge. Jericho also seems to be an accepted destination, so if pushed, you could state that you were thinking of visiting that area and the area around the Dead Sea. Our experience and the experiences of groups monitoring the situation at the borders is that if you are asked to sign the pledge, it is sufficient to say that you hope to visit the tourist sites of Bethlehem and Jericho and therefore do not wish to sign.
The PA only visa is a new policy and statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism and COGAT have not yet clarified who it applies to or under which circumstances. The British Consulate in Jerusalem have not yet responded to this policy. We hope to update these guidance notes as the situation becomes clearer.
British nationals with a passport valid for at least six months from the date of travel usually receive a three-month visa at Ben Gurion airport (or, previously, at land and sea borders) by filling in a visa form arrival.
If your passport has visa stamps for countries with a poor relationship with Israel, such as Syria or Saudi Arabia, you you may face additional questioning (see ‘special treatment’ below). It is relatively easy to replace your British Passport with a new one before you go to avoid this problem if you wish to. Similarly, having an Israeli stamp in your passport may make it difficult for you to visit such countries in the future, so it is worth bearing this in mind.
Israeli visa forms ask for your father’s name, your religion, your home address and your temporary address in Israel or East Jerusalem. This address will normally be your hotel, which Olive will give you before your departure.
An Israeli visa without specific restrictions entitles the holder to travel anywhere in Israel or the West Bank except “closed military zones”. It is currently extremely difficult to get into Gaza and the procedure for doing so is not covered in these notes. At the time of writing, Gaza is under siege.
Citizens with dual nationality
British and Israeli dual nationals are required by Israeli law to enter and leave on their Israeli passports and should bear in mind that they are subject to other Israeli laws when travelling in the region, such as those requiring them to do national service and those prohibiting them from Zone A areas (which include areas of Palestinian cities and towns) and the Gaza Strip.
British and Palestinian dual nationals are considered to be Palestinian by the Israeli and British authorities. They are not permitted to enter Israel and are not given consular support by the British embassy. This includes people who do not hold Palestinian passports but are registered in the Palestinian Population Register. If you are of Palestinian descent you may wish to seek further advice.
Entering and Leaving
In order to enter and leave the West Bank, it is necessary to pass through an Israeli border, either at Ben Gurion airport or at the land border crossings with Jordan and Egypt. The information below is intended to give visitors some idea of what they can expect, but essentially it is an unpredictable process, and arriving on a ‘bad day’ can delay travellers substantially and affect their chances of gaining entry. Whether or not a particular day or time is problematic may be up to the whims and moods of the soldiers and commanding officers on duty or because of local security alerts.
Questions to expect include the purpose of your visit, your travel plans, local knowledge, travelling companions and contacts in the region. If you present yourself with other people you may be questioned separately. Sometimes the questions can appear blasé, accusing, irrelevant or off the wall. Expect to be questioned on arrival and departure.
It is best to be as honest about the key reasons for your visit. For example you are on holiday, on a sight seeing tour, to visit or to see friends and family (though they often ask for names and addresses). Bethlehem is still a tourist destination and saying you intend to visit there should not be problematic. If you mention that you intend to visit other areas of the West Bank you are likely to be refused entry or issued with a West Bank only visa (see above).
It’s best to keep answers brief and to the point. Offering additional information seldom speeds things up and can create a whole new line of enquiry. Be wary of being drawn into a ‘political’ discussion: if you are angry or concerned about the situation in Palestine you will have far more interesting conversations with people after you have passed through the borders! However, feigning complete ignorance of any conflict at all would seem a little implausible. If asked about concerns over terrorism, something along the lines of, “It’s everywhere these days and we shouldn’t let it rule our lives” might be a good response.
Some things are likely to lead to extended questioning, such as your ethnicity and/or religion; the stamps in your passport; whether you have been to the region before and if you are known or suspected of visiting the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Saying or carrying things which indicate you have sympathy with the Palestinian ’cause’, for example, items showing the Palestinian flag, or literature from Palestinian or pro-Palestinian organisations, are likely to result in your being denied entry to the country.
Preparation increases confidence, and once you have prepared sensibly there is little else you can do until you are there. Being refused entry (especially at Ben Gurion airport) can lead to a costly and short visit. It’s a good idea to remain courteous and polite, take your time and stand your ground.
The ‘special treatment’
This can be expected for any of the reasons given above. Primarily, however, it is reserved for travellers of Arab, Islamic, South Asian, African or Caribbean origin, or politically high profile individuals. Such people seeking to enter or leave Israel/Palestine, by the land borders or through Ben Gurion airport, are often subjected to long questioning about why they are coming and what their plans are. Young Muslim men are the most likely to experience the special treatment, particularly if they are wearing traditional dress. They are also in the highest risk category for being denied entry.
The ‘special treatment’ involves being taken into a separate room, questioned further and being subject to additional security checks. The kind of questions asked on entry and exit have included who you are travelling with; the origin of a family name; how many times you have been to Israel before; if you intend to travel to the West Bank; whether you have had contacts with radical Islamic groups, the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
Additional security checks include the contents of luggage being x-rayed, opened up and thoroughly examined and a body search, i.e. an officer of the same gender will scan and feel the clothes you are wearing. Often you are expected to drop trousers to the knees whilst scanned with a hand-held metal detector. The experience is intimidating, but to the best of our knowledge has not yet been reported to include physical violence.
With waiting around time, this may take several hours upon arrival, so you might want to take a book in your hand luggage. When leaving Israel, the security services seem to time their searches to fill all the available time, with security rushing you onto your plane at the last minute. It is unlikely that security will actually make you miss your flight – they want you to leave.
Entering and leaving Israel are the points at which the Israeli authorities are trying to get intelligence about opposition to the occupation and dissent in general. All travellers must take great care not to divulge the full names of Palestinian people they have met.
Unfortunately, beyond giving all the advice and experience we can think of, Olive Co-operative cannot guarantee your entry into Israel, and it is ultimately the traveller’s responsibility. You will be given the mobile number of the tour contact person in the UK prior to you departure – please carry this with you. If it seems uncertain whether or not you will be permitted entry, text and inform the tour contact person. We will contact the British embassy and do what we can to help.
When entering and more so upon leaving, it is not uncommon to have your bags thoroughly searched. We strongly recommend that you post home anything which indicates that you have been to Palestine before you go to the airport. More importantly, contact details of Palestinian people including names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses should not be in your luggage and erased from any mobile phones, computers, cameras etc., as passing over information like this could put people at risk.
Please do not carry these guidance notes, the tour itinerary, any Palestinian addresses, books or pamphlets that could be construed as being “pro-Palestinian” on your person or in your luggage on arrival or departure. Any information that you will need while there would best be stored in the form of an e-mail to yourself, which you can access later at an Internet café. Any record of meetings that you may have attended should be posted home. All of these will cause delays and could jeopardize group travel arrangements. Before you leave you will be given an opportunity to visit a post office and internet cafe, where you can copy photos onto a CD to post home. Leaving a few touristy photos of Israel on your camera is probably a good idea.
Computers, cameras and other technical equipment can be closely examined and very occasionally taken apart. In the rare instance that equipment is retained for further examination, it often comes back damaged.
The occupation and security situation
Usually, the biggest concern of visitors to Palestine and Israel is that of security. Olive Co-operative places the safety and security of our customers as our highest priority. Whilst we can give no guarantees about what will happen during your trip, any more than we can guarantee you will be safe when crossing the road, in the five years we have been running tours to the region we have had no incidents that have raised concern about the safety of our customers.
In the West Bank
The biggest security concerns when travelling in the West Bank are the activities of the Israeli security services and settlers. The nature of the occupation has changed significantly over the last six years, and intensive militarily activity has been scaled back significantly. Curfews, which at one time could last for a period of months, are now relatively rare; similarly, military incursions into Palestinian residential areas are less frequent in most areas (there are some exceptions, such as the village of Bilin where they military incursions occur almost nightly – Olive tours avoid these high risk areas).
Disturbances such as these are localised and, using their contacts on the ground, your tour guide will not knowingly take you to an area where such things are happening. They will also pass on information about any army or settler activity in the area and advise you on the safest course of action. Participation in demonstrations or other ‘solidarity activities’ are not included in Olive tours, and if customers wish to attend such events they will need to opt out of the tour for the relevant period.
We advise that you avoid settlers wherever possible, as they are an unknown quantity, often heavily armed, often aggressive and not bound by any theoretical rules of engagement.
While most personal security issues arise from the Israeli security services and settlers, certain areas should be avoided at night, as they may be patrolled by edgy Palestinian security forces. These include areas of Jenin and the Old City in Nablus amongst others. Your Olive guide can advise you about the relative safety of walking (or driving) around after dark and we would not advise people to break curfews. Olive Co-op tours also avoid taking advantage of settler roads as, aside from forming part of the infrastructure of the occupation, they have also been the targets of Palestinian sniping and attacks.
Roadblocks and checkpoints
All Palestinian cities and many towns and villages are surrounded by a series of checkpoints and barriers which enable the Israeli security forces to effectively close them off, completely preventing people and vehicles from entering and leaving. Checkpoints vary considerably: some it is possible to drive through, whilst others, which have been built in recent years, are more like airport terminals.
Checkpoints and roadblocks are also commonplace on roads throughout the West Bank, and sometimes can spring up without warning. In the case of unmanned roadblocks, it is often possible and safe to drive around them, but if this is not the case then an alternative route can usually be found.
Checkpoints are a considerable inconvenience. A journey that used to take 30 minutes may now take many hours and involve standing in line for half an hour and walking 300m across each of four checkpoints with all your baggage. You will be glad if you packed light!
Much of the time, soldiers at checkpoints are not interested in questioning internationals about the purpose of their visit, however, it is probably best to be prepared with some kind of response, such as tourism, study or work. Knowing the name of a church or some sort of viable tourist sight near to where you’re going could be a good idea.
Occasionally, some Palestinian towns, such as Nablus, will be effectively closed to internationals. This is usually known about in advance and Olive tour groups will not be taken there in that case.
When approaching checkpoints you should always walk reasonably slowly. When crossing checkpoints on foot, the soldiers expect you to wait to be called forward. Have your passport or a colour photocopy of it to hand.
Internationals are often able to jump the sometimes long queue in which Palestinians must wait. Many people prefer not to take advantage of this but to wait their turn along with the Palestinians around them, as an act of solidarity. This is a decision that will be left to the group on the day: your guide will ask you to huddle round to discuss what course of action you wish to take.
The Separation Wall has also become a major feature of travel in the West Bank. Geographically it must be taken into consideration, as there are long stretches which are impossible to pass through, and where it is possible to pass a checkpoint must be traversed. Your guide will be prepared for this.
In Israel, there is virtually no personal risk from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), providing you don’t take part in demonstrations, act suspiciously while wearing Arab markers such as kuffiyahs (traditional scarves), or hang around and/or take pictures of militarily or politically sensitive areas such as army bases or power stations.
Olive Co-operative does not take visitors to any border areas other than between the West Bank and Israel, as there is increased risk from all sides. These areas include the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon, the borders with Syria at the Golan Heights, between Israel and the Sinai, and the area surrounding the Gaza Strip.
In recent years there have been very few terrorist attacks in Israel. In the past, they have taken place predominantly in public places, such as buses, bus stations, bus or hitching stops, popular bars, clubs, eateries and markets. Travellers should be aware of the greater risks in these and other public areas.
Extremist zionist groups sometimes demonstrate in areas of Israel, particularly in Jerusalem. These occasions may turn violent, but are usually known about locally in advance and therefore can be avoided.
For Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), the British Consulate is located at 19 Nashashibi Street, Sheikh Jarrah Quarter, PO Box 19690, East Jerusalem 97200. 24 hour switchboard: +972 (02) 541 4100. If you have particular concerns about your safety, you may wish to inform them of your visit on arrival.
Money and cashpoints
Olive Co-op tours include almost most of your tour expenditure including accommodation, transport, donations to groups visited, guides and some meals. However you’ll be paying for some meals (around £5 to £10 per person) and for any alcohol with meals. Its normal to leave a 10% tip in restaurants or cafes with table service. If you want to tip hotel workers, you can leave money in your room upon departure. During the Olive Co-op tour, there will be opportunity to buy gifts from Palestinian co-operatives, and free time to be tempted into the gift shops in the Old City of Jerusalem.
In Israel, many foreign credit and debit cards can be used for cash withdrawals (in shekels and/or US dollars) from most bank cashpoints for a £3 transaction charge. Cashpoints are nearly as common as they are in Britain. Israeli banks do not generally allow over-the-counter cash advances on credit cards. It is convenient to use the cashpoints in the arrivals lounge of Ben Gurion airport.
In Palestine, cashpoints are harder to come by (though becoming more common), and bigger branches of the Cairo Amman Bank can manually authorise credit or debit card advances. Local advice should be sought, but short-stay and first-time visitors are advised to withdraw enough money from an Israeli cashpoint before entering the West Bank.
Travellers’ cheques are not recommended as they are subject to a double tax (about 10/12%) and commission of up to £3 per cheque. If you wish to take them (out of some sense of nostalgia perhaps!), then it’s advisable to change them with money changers – for instance at the Damascus or Jaffa Gates in Jerusalem (or for better rates on Salah Eddin street) – or at an AmEx office. Cash can also be exchanged at AmEx offices at better rates than the banks. For money transfers, the Israeli Post Office or Western Union are the best. Israeli banks do not appear to recognise or accept bankers’ drafts.
Over the last couple of years, the exchange rate for the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) has taken a nose dive: expect to receive around 6.4 shekels to £1 sterling. It is best to change your money once you arrive in Israel, as the UK banks tend not to give a good rate of exchange.
With cash, both in Israel and the West Bank, it’s easier to stick to shekels. Though some Israeli businesses will accept dollars and euros, don’t rely on it. Big transactions in Palestine are generally conducted in Jordanian Dinar, but the day to day currency, and the currency for any transaction you are likely to need on a tour, is shekel. At a pinch, Palestinians can be found who’ll accept any hard currency, but it might involve a trek.
As a general rule, the climate in Israel and the West Bank is one season warmer than in England. Five day forecasts for Jerusalem can be found on www.bbc.co.uk/weather.
Israel and Palestine have a very varied climate, but in general the following rules apply:
Everything south of Beer Sheva is warm all year round and dangerously hot in summer, but has cold desert conditions at night. As you move north from here the winters get colder and wetter until at the Golan Heights and Lebanese border snow in winter is not uncommon. The Gaza Strip and the area around the Dead Sea and Jericho also have a similar climate to the Beer Sheva area.
The West Bank has a small range of hills running north-south on which Jerusalem is located and because of its height this makes the area colder and wetter than the coastal plain, with snow occurring sometimes; clothes suitable for British weather should be taken. The summers, however, can be very hot and varied, with daytime temperatures around 40+ degrees and night time temperatures dropping thirty degrees below that.
Clothing and culture
Some areas of the West Bank are more conservative than others. In predominantly Christian Bethlehem and cosmopolitan Ramallah it may not be uncommon to see young women showing their arms, in other areas, particularly the refugee camps in the cities, this would be unusual. We advise people to stick to a conservative dress code in Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Covering up will avoid drawing unwanted attention to oneself and is also polite. Visiting men and women should cover their shoulders, and wear shirts or t-shirts that tuck into their trousers / skirts or come well down so as not to show any of your belly or back even when bending down. Women should wear long sleeves in more conservative areas. It is very rare to see a Palestinian man wearing shorts or with his shirt off. There are no hard and fast rules, but instead general cultural sensitivity is advisable – tight clothes should be avoided, and smarter and more modest clothes are generally appreciated.
Be aware that hippy-ish clothing, such as long skirts with trainers and small headscarves, is a style strongly associated with fundamentalist or settler Israeli women and may attract hostility. Similarly, most male Jewish clothing will be associated with settlers, so if you wear kippah you may need to wear a baseball cap or similar over the top in parts of the West Bank.
Olive Co-op tours can be mentally, emotionally and physically demanding. In general, it is advisable to pay extra attention to your own health, wellbeing and stress levels while travelling, including getting sufficient sleep and avoiding excessive alcohol. Your guide will also be keeping an eye on your wellbeing. Please discuss any particular health issues that you have with your Olive tour contact person prior to your tour.
It could be a good idea to talk through any worries, anxiety or concerns with other people in the group and/or your Olive Co-op tour guide. Upon request, Olive Co-op tour groups can have a structured de-brief at the end of each day.
To give you an idea of fitness levels expected and to emphasise the importance of travelling light, at some checkpoints, you will need to be able to carry all your luggage for up to a mile along a bumpy road. The West Bank, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is quite hilly, so you’ll need to be able to walk up and down steps for 5 minutes twice a day. Waiting time at checkpoints is unpredictable; you will need to be able to stand for at least 30 minutes.
The Department of Health website has no entry for Palestine. For Israel it recommends that protection be taken for Hepatitis A and typhoid, though “immunisation for typhoid may be less important for short stays in first-class conditions.”
Israel and Palestine are not malarial zones. However, some areas do have some very large and unbelievably hardy mosquitoes, which seem impervious to repellent. If you are really prone to mosquito bites, then we would recommend precautions such as spray repellants, incense coils or electric repellents.
If you need medical attention during your Olive Co-op tour, your tour guide will help you. Any prescription or regular medication that you require should definitely be acquired before you travel. It may also be easier to take any basic medication (remedies, painkillers, lemsip etc) and/or first aid kit with you.
In the West Bank, hospitals are horribly under-resourced but if you have to use them the staff are extremely professional and welcoming and will often go above and beyond the call of duty to help, especially once they know why you are there. However, they may be short of drugs and equipment, so if there is any way in which you help them out either at the time or later it is very much appreciated.
You are likely to need to carry all of your luggage at times, so please travel light.
We advise you to take:
Photocopies of your passport, insurance documents and tickets
Medication or remedies if required
Glasses in addition to any contact lenses you might usually wear
Long sleeved top(s)
Small gifts for host families e.g. pens, toys (fruit and sweets are also good gifts but better purchased there!)
A two pronged plug adaptor if you plan to take any electical equipment
Palestinian names and addresses
Printed material that might be seen as ‘pro-Palestinian’
These guidance notes in your bag
What to expect on your tour
You are welcome! Ahlan Wa Sahlan!
Despite the violence of the region and the sufferings they have endured, many Palestinian and Israeli people are incredibly welcoming, especially to people who travel there to learn about the situation and to do solidarity work when they go home. However, this hospitality must not be abused and it is important to act as guests, with politeness and sensitivity to local culture, for example in dress code, eating and drinking.
It is also important to remember that there have been many deeply unhelpful interventions from Western colonial powers in this region, and that we are here to learn. Comment, judgement and criticism should be thought about very deeply: is this really the time and place for expressing your opinions on a situation you are lucky enough not to have to live in? Some visitors have had a regrettable tendency to want to be evangelists for their political views to Palestinian and Israeli people – please try to remember that you are not the expert in this situation. Consider asking and listening instead of talking. Listening is not the same as agreeing and you can always make decisions later about which groups you would like to work with in the future.
When you arrive at the hotel at the beginning of your tour there will be an information and orientation meeting with the group and tour guide. You will be given an up to date version of the itinerary. This is a good time to ask on-site questions, raise issues and ensure that your tour guide knows everything they need to about your plans and specific needs.
Palestinian and Israeli food is generally delicious (tasty but not too spicy).
When eating out, vegetarians are likely to be well catered for, although much of the vegetarian food will be cold – hummus, fuul (beans), labneh (a kind of yoghurt), cheese, salad, flat bread etc. There are falafel stands in most towns (in abundance!) and the oil used is generally olive or corn oil. There are often markets or shops which sell a glorious array of fresh fruit and vegetables. We regret that vegan tour participants may find themselves eating, for the most part, what everybody else eats without the meat and dairy. It would probably be a good idea to take some extra sources of protein into the West Bank, such as nuts or peanut butter.
When eating with families it is a point of honour to offer meat to guests so refusing it can be difficult. Unfortunately, in some areas (especially rural ones) the concept of vegetarianism is pretty alien and even if dishes are made of non-meat ingredients they may show signs of having been cooked in meat stock. Please indicate your dietary requirements on your booking form so that Olive Co-operative can convey your wishes to hosts. Olive Co-operative will endeavour to deal with dietary requirements, but under such circumstances cannot make firm guarantees.
Some guidebooks advise travellers to the Palestine to stick to bottled water and avoid tap water. During the summer months the water supply in Palestine is restricted and the quality likely to deteriorate. While we are not aware of people becoming seriously ill from drinking the Palestinain tap water (stomach bugs may occur), we adivise people to drink what they feel comfortable with and buy bottled water if it suits them. Water purification treatments such as tablets or iodine are probably best bought in the UK to avoid needing to get to a chemist.
If possible, try to avoid using the left hand for touching food, as is the local custom.
Public and private transport
If requested, Olive Co-operative can book taxis for arrival and departure from Ben Gurion airport, but these are expensive as we have to budget for possible waiting times. Getting a shared taxi from Ben Gurion is straightforward, and will take you to a request stop in Jerualsem or Tel Aviv. Come out of the arrivals lounge, go straight ahead and ask at the information booth – it will cost about 55 to 60 NIS to get to Jerusalem in a shared sheroot – remember that these often wait to fill up so you may be sitting around for 30 to 60 minutes if there aren’t many takers from your flight.
With private taxis taken by the tour group, your Olive tour guide will ensure a price is agreed at the outset or ensure the meter is running. Sheroot (people-carrier mini-buses) prices are fixed, as are the routes. Fares tend to be paid, like a bus, in advance. This is the safest and cheapest way to get around. Some roads in the West Bank are only for vehicles with yellow Israeli number plates.
Taking the bus carries some risk as the main civilian bus company (Egged) has been specifically targeted by suicide bombers for many years. However, statistically you are extremely unlikely to become a victim of a suicide attack. Trains are cheap, clean and quick. Services run usually hourly between Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv and Naharriya, and from Tel Aviv to South Jerusalem and to Ben Gurion airport.
Remember that public transport – and many shops and other services – pretty much shut down on Shabbat (the day of rest from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon) and Jewish religious holidays. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, similar closedowns apply for Muslim holidays.
Israel is a small country, about the size of Wales, so travel times are quite low – Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is about an hour. The same should apply to the West Bank, but the territory has been so effectively carved up by the network of checkpoints, roadblocks, settlements, settler-only roads and the separation wall, that travelling anywhere can take much longer than expected. Often it depends on the military situation and circumstances at the checkpoints on the day.
Internet cafes are common all over Israel, though prices can vary significantly. In the West Bank internet cafes and connections are also common, but reliability and accessibility varies.
A mobile phone is indispensable if you plan any independent travel before or after your tour. Most UK mobile phones will work in Israel but calls are very expensive – around £1.50 per minute and 50p per text message. Take a two pronged adapter plug for all electrical equipment brought from outside Israel.
You can hire mobile phones or buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards for 300 NIS from shops around the Damascus Gate (Jerusalem) or in the Dizengoff Centre (Tel Aviv). But check before you pay that the SIM card is compatible with your handset! It is also possible to get some phones ‘unlocked,’ either in the UK or at mobile phone shops on Salah Eddin street near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. It should cost around £15 in the UK and about 70 NIS in Jerusalem, and should make your phone open to use with any SIM card.
The country code for Israel/Palestine is +972. The region is two hours ahead of Britain, though the change from summer to winter time and vice versa may not happen on the same weekend.
Easy and cheap phone calls to Israel / Palestine are available from TeleDiscount. Dial the prefix 0844 861 78 78 for Israeli land lines, 0871 772 46 46 for Israeli mobiles and 0871 999 69 69 for any Palestinian numbers.
Issues for Jewish and Muslim travellers can be complex and emotive. They include different treatment at the borders and at checkpoints; reactions from and towards the groups and individuals we meet; and requirements for food or prayer times. We ask everyone who is Jewish or Muslim to speak to your Olive tour contact person before your tour to discuss these issues individually.
Discrimation on Olive tours of any kind, including ethinicity, religion and sexuality, will not be accepted.
Public displays of affection, whether between same or different sexes, should be treated with caution. Palestinains hug or kiss the cheeks of the same sex in greeting. Other types of physical contact in public in the West Bank, for married and non-married couples alike, will not go down well. Please be sensitive of, and respectful to, the local culture.
Many Muslim women wear hijab (a woman’s traditional head scarf), some wear jilbab or abaya (a long coat or dress over their clothes). Some prefer to avoid physical contact with men, for instance not shaking hands, and some women avoid eye contact with men in the street. Female travellers that attempt to initiate physical contact with men, such as shaking hands, may find themselves feeling a bit awkward, as this is not something that Palestinain women are likely to do or that men expect.
Gender relations are different in Palestine to the gender relations most of us are used to in the West. In some cases that can mean oppressive for women; in others it simply means different.
There exists an ongoing internal dialogue, with many womens’ groups and prominent women arguing that while they would like to improve gender relations in their country, they do not want to become like the West, and are trying to shape a distinctive Palestinian feminism to meet their needs and aspirations. It is vitally important to listen to Palestinian women about their lives and beliefs.
Israel is a highly militarised and macho society. It is equally vital to listen to Israeli women about their lives and beliefs.
If you experience any sexual harassment, whether verbal or physical, it should be challenged as forcefully as you would at home and promptly reported to your local host or guide.
Entry into and departure from Israel can be considerably easier for Jewish visitors. It is very difficult for Israel to decline entry to Jewish visitors.
Most Palestinians are highly hospitable and considerably more so, in fact, than we are generally used to; this generally extends to Jewish visitors as much as to anyone else. Furthermore, those Palestinians who Olive Co-operative deal with are aware of our goals and the nature of our tours and often show Jewish visitors much hospitality and friendship.
However, you will meet Palestinian people whose only direct exposure to Jews occurs through exchanges with Israeli soldiers and settlers, which are almost exclusively negative. This leads to some degree of anti-Jewish sentiment within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Many Palestinians assume that all Jewish people support the right wing policies of the Israeli government. This can result in Palestinians using the terms Jewish or Jew synonymously with Israeli, Zionist or soldier in a way that would, were it said here, be seen as extremely anti-Jewish.
The experience of Olive Co-operative is that, while it has always been safe to challenge anti-Jewish sentiment in a broad or a general way, Jewish travellers would be well-advised to remain somewhat reticent at first in affirming themselves as Jewish while in the OPT. While this is obviously an individual decision, we would remind people that their immediate personal security and that of their group is paramount, as is the security of those individuals and groups that Olive tours go to meet. Therefore, please try to avoid actions that could, in any way, compromise the security of the group and of the Palestinians you meet.
Most Jewish clothing will be associated with settlers, so if you wear kippah you may need to wear a baseball cap or similar over the top in parts of the West Bank. Understandably, you do not have to be Jewish for a Palestinian to suspect that you are, and it is not uncommon for people to ask, occasionally in an aggressive manner. By and large, though, Palestinians are very open and friendly to all people who share their hope for peace and justice.
British Muslim, Asian and Black travellers
Israel is a highly stratified society, and has its own variety of racism. Darker skinned travellers have a higher chance of search, targeting or arrest by the Israeli authorities and of having their entry into or exit from Israel delayed – see special treatment earlier.
The day to day experience of life under occupation for Palestinians, and the interactions with soldiers that this entails, can be extremely unpleasant. Westerners are at far less risk from the Israeli army than Palestinians. Unless you participate in any civil disobedience or solidarity work, such as attending demonstrations, in Olive’s experience the risk is minimal.
If you are keen to avoid being treated like a Palestinian by the Israeli army, you may want to make your Western identity as obvious as possible, for example, through the way that you dress. Baseball caps and Western hairstyles will make it more obvious that you are not Palestinian. For women, not wearing a headscarf or hijab is not a guarantee of being obviously non-Palestinian, as many Palestinian women also do not wear this, but if you do wear hijab you are more likely to be at least temporarily mistaken for Palestinian.
Speaking audibly in English is an obvious way to demonstrate that you are not local.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Homosexuality is legal in Occupied Palestine and in Israel, but both Palestine and Israel have quite macho societies and homophobia is sadly common. There is no gay ‘scene’ in the West bank and discretion is important. Tel Aviv has a fairly vibrant gay ‘scene’, and Jerusalem, Haifa and Eilat also have some gay-oriented venues. But even in Tel Aviv, public displays of affection could generate some hostility.
We have taken care to prepare this guidance and ensure that it is up to date at the time of writing. To the best of our knowledge, neither Olive Co-operative Ltd nor its employees can accept liability for injury, loss or damage arising in any respect of any statement contained herein.