The most common question we are asked is: Is it safe to visit Palestine?
This has taken an extra dimension in a COVID19 world. More on that below.
It is understandable that people have a lot of concerns about this. The first thing to say is that there are ways to travel in the West Bank that make it a very safe destination for tourists. We’ve got sound advice and travel hacks so that you can enjoy fruitful travel to Palestine, meet the locals and find the facts. This based on our decade of travel to the region, and the expertise of our Palestinian guides.
Why do people worry if it is safe to visit Palestine?
There is no wonder people worry that Palestine is unsafe! This is because it is not only an unusual destination, but we only tend to hear about it in the news. But that is the exception rather than the norm.
One of the first things that you will notice when you arrive: Palestinian people are very warm and friendly to visitors from all over the world. They really want people to visit their areas and hear their stories. If you do go to Palestine, you have a responsibility to share what you see when you return home.
Is there street crime in Palestine?
One of the next things you will notice is that street crime is very low – often lower than our own neighbourhoods, towns and cities. There is a really strong sense of community.
What safety ranking is Palestine given?
Palestine is considered a medium safe destination (you can check out the safety profile of countries here https://www.internationalsos.com/risk-outlook). And that is pretty amazing when you consider that it is an occupied zone. Remember that the people most unsafe are Palestinians themselves, followed by Israelis, followed – at some distance – by international visitors. You can look at the casualty data here https://www.ochaopt.org/data/casualties.
Will I be safe from COVID?
The good news is that the Palestinian Authority has been widely praised for their handling of the COVID19 pandemic. But as of now (Spring, 2021) it is not possible to visit as a tourist, it is open for essential travel only. There have been few cases compared to many other countries. However, it is an occupied country, and has a health system to match. Make sure you have a good travel and health insurance policy before travelling – and double-check it covers the occupied Palestinian territories. You can get more detailed health advice from the UK Government site.
Is Palestine popular with visitors?
Palestine is also becoming a more and more popular place to visit. We’ve seen a massive increase in visitors since we started our tours in 2011. But when we met with the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Rola Maayaa, we were impressed when she told us that more than 2.8 million tourists were due to visit Palestine by the end of 2018.
Plan ahead: book your accommodation!
But what that means for you is that hotels and hostels are getting booked up! Our first tips is to make sure that you do book ahead. Otherwise, like Mary and Joseph, you may find there is no room at the inn!
Also, you should pack a few essentials that will make your trip much easier, and cover any emergencies.
How to stay safe when visiting Palestine: allow longer for journeys
The difference between travelling around the West Bank and travelling around a normal area, is because Israel occupies Palestine there are road blocks and checkpoints. This is normally just an inconvenience (mostly for Palestinians; internationals normally pass through quickly) but it does mean you should allow longer for your journeys.
How to stay safe in Palestine – avoid flashpoints
If you really want to understand the situation, no visit to Palestine would be complete without meeting displaced Palestinians at one of the many refugee camps or visiting one of the Palestinian villages affected by settlements.
The city of Hebron is also a fascinating and welcoming place to visit. But these can all be flashpoints for conflict between the Israeli Army, Palestinians and sometimes settlers.
The safest way to travel is to visit with Palestinians, who will know if there is going to be a problem and what to do if there is. This is normally much easier to do in a group.
Is it safe to visit to Palestine alone?
Many people have a wonderful time travelling on their own. One of the problems you may experience is not of safety but of cost and convenience. It is harder to get to further away places because transport is limited, and it is harder to make the contacts that you need to meet the most interesting people and places if you aren’t travelling in a small group with expert leads.
Is it safe to visit East Jerusalem?
Yes, it is relatively safe but to get the most of out of East Jerusalem we would recommend a Palestinian guide, or someone from one of the organisations that organize tours, such as ICAHD or Alternative tours. If you are travelling alone or as a couple of the easiest ways to get a glimpse of the situation is to take a tour into East Jerusalem and its surrondings.
What about Hebron?
Hebron, or Alkhalil as it is known in Arabic, is one of the places that we’ve experienced most hostility from Israeli settlers, and being with someone or a group with experience will help ensure that you don’t get into hot water!
If you aren’t travelling with an expert small group like ours, then perhaps book onto one of the tours of Hebron that start out in Jerusalem. However, many of the day trips only travel if there are a minimum number of participants. So make sure that you’ve got friends or contacts who want to join you.
Is it safe to go on demonstrations or protests?
Protests and demonstrations are one of the flash points you should avoid if want to make sure you stay safe. Sure, Palestinians do want solidarity from visitors and if you may decide to participate. But it is one of the riskiest activities in the West Bank. Although Palestinian demonstrations are generally non-violent the response from soldiers is not. Tear gas canisters, rubber and metal bullets can cause serious injury and death.
If you are in an area and think a demonstration is likely to occur, consider moving away to another area.
Is it safe to visit Gaza?
It is really difficult to visit Gaza right now, unless you work for an NGO, are a medic or sometimes a journalist. That’s a shame because it is a really beautiful place right on the coast of the Mediterranean. Hopefully, soon the restrictions will be lifted and when they are we will be amongst the first to visit again!
Get the most out of your travels!
So, is it safe to visit Palestine? Overall, our experience is that Palestine is a safe, friendly and interesting place to visit. But if you want to get the most out of it whilst travelling safely there are advantages to travelling in small expert groups like ours. However, you travel, make sure you follow the Palestinian ethical code.