I am a Palestinian from my father’s side of the family and this month, I moved to Palestine. I was educated in France, worked in international organizations in a European and then an East African country, and also have lived in South America. Many of my colleagues, friends and acquaintances have no ties to the Holy Land. But they care and fantasize about it too. Therefore, during the many friendly discussions with people around me about why I was moving there, what it meant, how it would be, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again prompted by candid and genuine curiosity.
I was not necessarily expecting so many of these questions would be recurring. While they could be considered basic for some of us Palestinians and people who follow the situation on the ground, they made me realize how uninformed most people are (educated, well-read citizens from North America, Europe, Latin America and Africa) about what it means to be Palestinian in relation to our country (i.e territory), Palestine.
By Palestine, I mean the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem. (see interactive map to locate territory, settlements, barriers etc.)
During these conversations, I wish I had a simple leaflet I could hand to my interlocutors that would lay out the answers I end up diligently repeating.
This is where the idea of this FAQ emerged.
Despite several decades of a well-covered conflict in the media, such simple and clear information about the daily reality of Palestinians living and traveling in Palestine is buried and fragmented in many websites, articles, photos and projects, creating perceptions and myths that do not match reality.
This is not an attempt, yet again, to explain the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict in ten bullet points (although I have been asked zillion times “so what do you think about the conflict?” in between two bites of cheese, with expectations of a one-minute easy answer), as it would result in some level of demagogy and oversimplification.
This is not a travel guide either. I am conscious that we are still missing a good mainstream travel guide with all the “practical” information visiting foreigners would need when visiting. (see question below on tourism)
I have also included hyperlinks to further references and information, should the reader want to dig further. I hope people will come here and check out for themselves to understand better.
Here are the questions:
Q: So where is Palestine exactly?
Palestine, also known as occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), includes the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem.
(see comprehensive interactive map ).
Under the terms established by the Oslo Accords (aka Peace agreements of 1993), the West Bank was divided into three areas: Area A, which came under the civilian and security control of the PA (18%); Area B, which came under PA civilian and Israeli military control (21%); and Area C, which came under full Israeli control (61%).
Q: Is there an airport in Palestine? Where do you land?
No, there is no Palestinian airport. Palestine is under military occupation by Israel, which means that it does not control any of its borders, or its airspace. Therefore, you have to pass through an Israeli –controlled border, immigration and security authorities to get anywhere in Palestine. You can either land in Israel or Jordan depending on your ID status (cf. Table below). The two main options to arrive are: landing in Tel-Aviv (Ben Gurion International airport) in Israel – the easiest option if you have the right to (most with foreign passports do, most with Palestinian IDs don’t- see table below) – or Amman (Queen Alia international airport), Jordan. The border between Jordan and the West Bank is situated approximately 45 miles away from Amman’s airport and you have to cross it by road, changing cars between one side of the border and the other. It is also controlled by Israel.
Q: Why do you need a visa from Israel if you are a Palestinian and going to live in the West Bank? Don’t you hold the Palestinian nationality?
For most people in the world, traveling or being at home is a fairly straightforward concept and you fall into either one of the following categories:
- You have a country, a homeland from which you have a passport where you can decide to stay, live, work or emigrate from. It is your homeland, where you are not a migrant/expat, or tourist.
- Even if you are a refugee fleeing war or an emigrant to your country, you are still part of your recognized homeland under disastrous circumstances (Syrian, South-Sudanese, Afghanistan and many other countries). For example, Syrians remain Syrians, with a homeland named and recognized as Syria.
When it comes to Israel and Palestine, if you are Israeli or a Jewish person of any nationality the same applies: you have the right to go, visit and live in Israel freely. If you are a non-Israeli of the Jewish faith, you can visit under a normal tourist visa, but in addition, under the Israeli “law of return” you are entitled to acquire the Israeli nationality and the government will support you logistically and financially should you decide to move to Israel. It is called the Aliyah. The only area where Israelis are not allowed in Palestine is the Area A of the West Bank.
However, the situation is very different for Palestinians. Palestine is an occupied territory and by such, Israel controls all borders (among many other things), and Palestinians don’t have the same basic rights as Israelis. In order to enter either the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem you need to pass through an Israeli-administered border and the Israeli migration authorities and national security.
As a Palestinian, your right to enter, visit, work or live in the West Bank, Jerusalem or Gaza depends on your status (where you were born, where you live).
Here is a table, summarizing the different possible status and rights as a Palestinian, inside and worldwide.
(I am personally case number #6).
|Your status as a Palestinian||What ID documents do you hold?||How do you travel and/or work in Palestine and Israel?|
|#1 You are from the West Bank||ID (green color), and ID number is registered by the Israel government. You have a “travel document” controlled by the Israeli authorities (see more information in the below section) in order to travel abroad (instead of a passport).
Some West Bank and Jerusalem residents hold a Jordanian passport specifically issued for Palestinians (i.e. without a Jordanian national number).
WEST BANK AND GAZA:
You have the right to live and work within the West Bank in the areas under where the civil control of the Palestinian Authority (approx. 39% of the West Bank). To visit Gaza, you need a special permit from Israel and few are granted. You will need a family justification (a close relative in Gaza), or a work justification (if you work in for a humanitarian or international organization).
JERUSALEM AND ISRAEL:
Traveling to Jerusalem, to Israel or abroad, requires a permit/authorization – with a justification (health, family, religious festivities) – from the Israeli authorities. It is usually only a day-permit and you are not allowed to spend the night. You can also get a special permit from Israel to be employed by an Israeli company, under limited criteria and crossing checkpoints by foot every day in order to work in Israel. Crossing the checkpoint and the commute by foot between West Bank and Israel can take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on the day and crowd, and sometimes under very harsh conditions.
You can only travel through the Jordanian border (Allenby-King Hussein bridge) and take a plane in Amman. You cannot travel through Israel international airport unless you have a special permit. The road trip to the airport in Amman will take you from 3 to 12 hours depending on the dealy at the checkpoint. There is also a hinders of high costs for Palestinians including for transport and exit/entry fees (up to $200).
|#2 You are a Palestinian “from 1948” living in Israel||
Israeli passport and ID card.
Your family managed to remain inside of Israel after the war in 1948 and you became an Israeli citizen within the newly created state.
WEST BANK AND ISRAEL:
You have the right to live and work in Israel. While it is not authorized by Israel, it is de facto accepted that you can work in the West Bank should you prefer.
You cannot travel to Gaza.
You can use the airport in Tel-Aviv or cross any Jordanian border and move freely between Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
|#3 You are a Palestinian from Jerusalem||You have a specific Jerusalem resident ID “travel document” controlled by Israel (see more information in the below section) in order to travel abroad (instead of a passport).
Some West Bank and Jerusalem residents hold a Jordanian passport specifically issued for Palestinians (i.e. without a Jordanian national number).
JERUSALEM AND ISRAEL:
You have the right to live and work in Jerusalem but are considered a permanent resident, rather than a citizen (like having a Green Card in the U.S.). If you live outside of Jerusalem (in the West Bank or abroad) for a few years your ID may be revoked, regardless of the fact that you were born and raised there. (More than 14,500 Palestinians have lost their residency right since 1967). You have the right to visit and work in Israel.
You can travel freely within the West Bank. Should you decide to move to the West Bank (for marriage, family reasons) you will lose your residency.
A Special permit from Israel is also needed to visit Gaza and few are granted. You will need a family justification (close relatives in Gaza), or work justification (if you work in the humanitarian or international cooperation sector).
You can travel through either Tel-Aviv or the Jordanian airport. The Israeli international airport is located one hour by car from Jerusalem, and two hours on average from Ramallah (depending on traffic at the checkpoint). The road trip to Amman airport will take you from 3 to 12 hours depending on the check-point. It also hinders high costs for Palestinians including for transport and border crossing (around $200).
|#4 You are from the Gaza Strip||
ID (orange color), and ID number registered by the Israelis.
You have a “travel document” controlled by the Israeli authorities (see more information in next column) in order to travel abroad (instead of a passport). Gaza has been under siege since 2007 putting heavy restrictions and obstacles on movement and overall life there.
WEST BANK AND GAZA:
You have the right to live and work within the Gaza Strip. To visit or live in the West Bank, you need a special permit from Israel and few are granted. You will need a family justification (family or health reasons), or a work justification.
JERUSALEM AND ISRAEL:
Traveling to Jerusalem, to Israel or abroad, requires a permit/authorization – with a justification (health, family, religious festivities) – from the Israeli authorities. Other than for health reasons, it is usually only a day-permit and you are not allowed to spend the night. You can also get a special permit from the Israeli authorities to conduct business in Israel, under restricted criteria and crossing the checkpoint by foot every in order to reach the Israeli side.
If you get a travel permit from both Israel and Jordan, you travel through the Jordanian border (Allenby-King Hussein Bridge) and then continue onto the Jordan international airport in Amman. If you get a travel permit from the Egyptians, you can go to/travel through the southern border crossing (Rafah). However, the border is often closed and movement is restricted.
|#5 You are a Palestinian refugee within a refugee camp in the Palestinian territory||
Refugee ID (administered by the United Nations vis-a-vis UNRWA)
“Travel document” controlled by the Israeli administration (see more information in next column) in order to travel abroad (instead of a passport).
WEST BANK OR GAZA:
You have a Palestinian ID card issued in the territory where your camp is located, either from the Gaza Strip OR the West Bank.
You have the right to live in the territory where your camp is located, either in the Gaza Strip OR the West Bank.
Traveling to Jerusalem, to Israel or abroad, requires a permit/authorization – with justification (health, family, religious festivities) – from the Israeli administration. It is usually only a day-permit and you are not allowed to spend the night.You can also get a special permit by the Israeli administration to be employed by an Israeli company, under limited criteria and crossing the check-point by foot every day to work on the Israeli side.
If you are a refugee from the West Bank, to travel abroad you need to first cross the Jordanian border and then take a plane from Amman, Jordan. If you are a refugee from Gaza, you require a permit to travel through the Egyptian border (Rafah). However, the border is often closed and movements are restricted. You can also apply for a permit from both Israel and Jordan to travel through Erez to Israel, to the West Bank, and finally to Jordan in order fly out of the Jordanian airport. However, few permits are issued.
|#6 You are a Palestinian in exile/ living abroad naturalized with another nationality, or you have one Palestinian parent and hold another nationality at birth from your other parent.This category also applies to foreign tourists.||Foreign Passport||
ISRAEL, JERUSALEM AND WEST BANK:
You are entering Israel as a foreigner and you are not considered Palestinian and therefore you are granted up to three-month tourist visa (B2) when visiting. You are only allowed to work in Israel, Jerusalem or the West Bank if you obtain a work visa (B1) from the Israeli Ministry of Interior upon request of your employer (must be an Israeli or international employer). This is studied on a case-by-case basis. In some cases (rare and not straightforward), if the Israelis consider that you have family from the West Bank, you might be considered for a West Bank ID (and your status, therefore, becomes #1)
You can only enter Gaza for professional reasons (mostly humanitarian) with a special permit, or if you have family still living in Gaza.
You can travel either through Israel or Jordan’s international airport.
Israeli international airport is located one hour by car from Jerusalem, and two hours on average from Ramallah (depending on traffic at the checkpoint).
|#7 You are a Palestinian refugee outside of Palestine||
Refugee ID (UNRWA-administered). You are stateless and do not have citizenship from any country.
|You are forbidden to enter or live in Israel or Palestine. Palestinian refugees demand the right of return.|
I also invite you to check this great infographic on the issue.
Q: Can I be a tourist in Palestine?
Palestine is a great tourism destination and really worth the trip! Once you have crossed a border controlled by Israel make sure you properly enjoy all that the country has to offer (see table above). Palestine has actually ranked 1st fast-growing tourism destination of 2017 by the World Tourism Organization.
While there are still not many written guides (the only good one is a Bradt Guide, edition dating back from 2011), you can start by checking these websites:
Official website of the government for tourism VisitPalestine.
To book your accommodation, the great Yamsafer is a good gateway.
Q: Isn’t it dangerous there?
(This question is usually preceded by your interlocutor’s face of bewilderment when you say you are actually moving there.)
The violence in most places in Palestine is indirect, verbal and psychological. Regarding direct physical violence, Palestinians are by and large the target, not tourists. Actual fire, shotguns, military violence and injuries occur in concentrated and limited areas. Most violence is related to the occupation i.e. between Israeli military forces and Palestinian protesters or their family. Within Palestinian society there is very limited violent crime or even violence due to the conflict.
Indirect violence occurs in various forms: intimidation, restrictions, systemized oppression through checkpoints, searches, and physical obstructions, land confiscation, control of water resources, home demolitions etc.
Your exposure to direct violence depends highly on your location within Palestine and can occur in the following circumstances:
You are a Palestinian living in a village often raided by the army searching houses and for people they are trying to arrest;
You live in Hebron’s city center and face intimidation from Israeli settlers and the army.
You live near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and you risk being attacked by settlers when walking nearby.
You participate in Friday demonstration at Bil’in or another location where organized protests are held (occasional violence from the Israeli army includes tear gas and live-fire).
You participate in demonstrations at checkpoints or in Jerusalem that often lead to police violent repression of protesters.
As a foreigner, you can easily avoid (and even ignore or be oblivious to) direct violence by knowing these few places where not to be at the wrong moment.
Despite abnormality of their situation, Palestinians are resilient and their urban life is often not dissimilar to many peoples’ lives in other countries: going to work, driving, walking, going grocery shopping, visiting friends and family, going to restaurants and cafes, connecting to wi-fi and using social media etc.
Q: Are there any places in Jerusalem restricted to certain religions? Or can you visit freely all places?
Jerusalem is divided by what is commonly called “Green Line” (1949 armistice line). East Jerusalem- which includes the Old City-is occupied Palestinian territory and West Jerusalem is the Israeli side. In practice, the whole of the city is controlled and administered by Israel, so you are unlikely to notice which side of Jerusalem you are in when you are there.
The Old City is a concentration of holy sites for the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam:
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound (including the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock), known as the “Temple Mount” to those of Jewish faith, is accessible to non-Muslim tourists in between Muslim prayer times but they are not allowed to pray there. The Islamic Trust (waqf) controls entrance to this site in theory. In practice, the Israeli military, which maintains checkpoints directly outside all of the Compound’s access points, controls entrance and access.
Muslims (Palestinians and non-Palestinians) who have a permit to enter Jerusalem (see table above) are allowed to visit and pray there. Many Palestinians are not given permits to enter Jerusalem, or to pray at al-Aqsa.
The Western Wall (known as the Kotel to Jews and al-Buraq to Muslims) is accessible to people of all faiths and the site is guarded by security and X-ray system. The Israeli military controls access to this site.
The Christian holy sites (Church of the Holy Sepulchre etc.) are accessible to visitors of all faiths.
In times of relative “peace”, Palestinians and Israelis cross between East and West quite often, for shopping, entertainment and health reasons in either area.
But there is de facto mistrust and generally Israelis and Palestinians remain in their respective areas in a climate of tension. For example, it is not uncommon that an Israeli taxi will refuse to take you to the eastern part of the city.
There are however Jewish settlers, who deliberately move among Palestinian populations, illegally taking over Palestinian-owned houses, in an attempt to claim the Eastern part of the city as belonging to Israel.
Q: Can you visit Gaza?
Gaza is bordered by Israel and Egypt. Israeli has been imposing a blockade on the territory since 2007, restricting movements of goods and people to the minimum (causing a dire humanitarian situation, with a risk of serious collapse). Egypt maintains the border closed most of the year and special justification to leave the territory is required (religious, family, health).
In order to enter/exit the besieged territory to Israel, you need a professional justification (humanitarian worker, journalist, foreign diplomat or United Nations staff). Israel delivers very few permits to enter and exit Gaza. For Gazans, special permits are also needed but often refused.
Gaza’s Southern Border with Egypt (the Rafah border crossing) is also closed most of the time but Egyptian authorities open it in rare occasions.
Q: Can Israelis visit Palestine?
Israelis, by Israeli regulations, are not allowed to visit the “Area A” of the West Bank, which represents 18% of the West Bank territory and is the zone entirely controlled by Palestinian. The photo below shows the sign to the entrance of zone A.
Areas B and C are under the military control of Israel and Israeli settlers live and circulate in these areas. Israel has built a road system in the West Bank for Israelis and many prohibit Palestinians-use.
Q: Is Palestine on the coast?
The Gaza Strip has a 25 miles coastline along the Mediterranean.
As a consequence of Israel’s ten-year blockade and over-pumping of the underground water aquifer, along with poor sanitation on part of Gaza’s Palestinian administrators and an electricity crisis, the beach and the sea are heavily polluted.
Entry into the Gaza Strip is restricted (see table)
Part of the Israeli coastline is historically populated by indigenous Palestinian populations and is made of Palestinian towns and villages. Palestinians who can access Israeli territory (see table above) enjoy hanging out on these beaches. These include notably the coastline around Jaffa, Haifa and Akka (Acre).
Q: Can you travel easily between the West Bank and Israel? Visit Jerusalem?
Please refer to the table above for the different status.
Q: Do you have to wear the (Islamic) headscarf there?
No, wearing the headscarf remains an individual choice.
The Palestinian population is predominantly Muslim and Islam is recognized as an official religion, but there is a prominent Palestinian Christian community who are recognized equal before the law. The vast majority of Jewish Palestinian became Israeli after 1948.
While the legal and judicial system is inspired by the Shari’a law (Islamic corpus of law) for family affairs, the Palestinian Constitutional text (Palestinian Basic Law) protects freedom of beliefs, freedom of expression, equality before the law, rule of law and human rights. Most of the judiciary system in the Palestinian Authority-administered territory is a mix of various layers of systems inherited from the Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Egyptian ruling periods.
Society is therefore secular and wearing the veil is not a requirement. Nevertheless, it is still a conservative society where people dress modestly, and therefore women are expected to wear modest clothes in public (covering shoulders and knees). As a tourist it is appreciated if you respect the culture codes, avoiding mini-skirts and deep cleavages for example.
In Hamas-controlled Gaza (since 2007), the political Islamic movement has made it more difficult for women to dress and act freely.
Visiting foreign women are not required to wear a headscarf anywhere (except if you visit a mosque).
Q: What Money and currency do you use? Do you use credit cards there?
Palestinians don’t have their own currency as the occupation and current regime (under the Oslo Accords economic protocol of 1995 – aka the Paris Protocol) prevents them from having an independent central bank and create money.
The Palestinian economy uses and depends on the New Israeli Shekel, and it is subjected to the fluctuations of the Israeli market. Most banks and shops also transact with U.S. dollars and Jordanian dinars.
Palestinian Banks exist and are operating in the West Bank and Gaza. Credit/debit cards, as well as checks, are in use (particularly in franchise restaurants and brands) but not as widely as in Europe or North America. Most small shops and restaurants will only accept cash.
Q: What language is most commonly used among Palestinians? and between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem?
Palestine’s official language is Arabic.
Most people speak good English as a second language.
Most Palestinians in Jerusalem and Palestinian citizens of Israel (case #2 in the table below) learn some Hebrew at school.
Most Israelis don’t speak Arabic as it is not taught in school. Therefore Israelis and Palestinians usually communicate in Hebrew or English.