Or what (not) to pack for Palestine
Travelling to Palestine creates some dilemmas in what to pack. What do you pack for Palestine – to visit a people living under a military occupation? Of course it is not like packing for your average city break! But fear not! Because we’ve packed for Palestine a zillion times, and we’ve advised hundreds of people on what to take – and what to leave at home.
You’ll also pick up lots of tips about what to see and do in our other blogs.
What to pack – for your journey
Guidebooks – but not itineraries
Do pack information that is going to help you, a guide book etc. But if you’ve made specific arrangements with groups or individuals do not pack that itinerary. Because if airport officials go through your bags you could land yourself – and more important them – in some hot water. Instead email yourself any contacts and arrangements, log out of your email, and log back in when you’ve arrived at your hotel.
Snacks and drinks
When you arrive at the airport there is a small chance you might spend a bit longer getting into Israel – as the gatekeeper for Palestine – sometimes interview people they suspect are visiting the occupied Palestinian territory. Particularly if you are young, BME, travelling alone, or just look like an activist (you will know if we mean you!). Therefore, it is a good idea to have some provisions to keep you going.
What to pack for Palestine – whatever the time of year
Something warm to wear
Sure, in the height of summer you may be OK, but Palestine and Israel often have very hot days – and fairly cool nights. You’ll certainly want to have cardigans or jumpers for when it gets cooler. Always pack one just in case.
Long trousers/long skirt
No matter how hot it is when you are travelling in conservative area in Israel or Palestine, or visiting worship sites (churches, mosques or synagogues) you’ll need to cover up. This applies to men and women.
When you pack for Palestine , you will want to include modest dress that you can wear when visiting any place of worship. So you should at least have with you something that can cover shoulders and arms and your legs to below the knee.
Palestinians are very hospitable, so in case you are invited out, take something appropriate to wear.
And take a few small presents that you can give to people who are particularly kind, or for people who invite you to tea or to dinner. Something that is from your area of the world is also nice. But remember, best to avoid alcohol, as most Palestinians are muslim.
Long, wide scarf – women
This is one of the handiest things you can pack. Cover your hair when visiting religious sites, a cushion on long bus journeys, a cover-up when it is hot. What is not to like?
What to pack – sunglasses
Whatever the weather, whatever the season, always, always take sunglasses!
Pack sturdy shoes
If you really want to be able to explore the area – see what is happening, you will need sturdy shoes. Even in East Jerusalem there is lots of rubble, as the municipal services don’t operate properly in Palestinian areas. And if you want to be able to fully participate by visiting Bedouin villages or demolition sites, you’ll need something robust.
In these COVID19 days it reminds us all that is particularly important to remember a few medical supplies. Hand sanitiser is a great idea – it is not always easy to find a bathroom where you can wash your hands before eating. Make sure the sanitiser you choose has got sufficient alcohol content to deal with viruses, such as COVID 19.
When we first visited we were told to take sickness and diarrhoea relief – thankfully – despite taking over 400 people – we’ve never needed them. But they are a good back-up.
Some general pain killers – particularly if you are learning about the situation headaches are not uncommon.
Also, bring your refillable water bottle if possible. Whilst we advise avoiding tap water, often there will be water stations where you can replenish your supplies.
What to pack for Palestine in autumn / winter
Winters in Palestine and Israel aren’t much better than winters in the UK. And unsurprisingly, their hotels and guest houses are less equipped to cope with that drop in temperature. In the colder months make sure you pack not just warm jumpers but something warm to wear at night. And some waterproofs. We are going to say something once – thermals. Yep, a shock, but you may live to regret ignoring that advice! If you get cold it can be very difficult to warm up again.
It might well be worth the risk of going without in Spring/Summer but travelling without waterproofs can be a miserable affair! Make sure you pack some.
What to pack – gadgets
The general socket type is European, so take some European adapters with you. If you are staying in hotels or hostels – unless you are staying in the top end – they won’t have USB power points so make sure you take the plugs.
Take a good camera and lens
For a sharp eye: Take something – either binoculars or a zoom lens – that will enable you to see action in the distance. Sometimes it maybe for safety reasons you can’t get too close to something, but want to understand the situation (eg the proximity of an Israeli settlement to a Palestinian village). There are also some beautiful views out there – it pays to have the means to see!
Kettle: Well look, we don’t take a kettle, but don’t expect your hotel to supply you with one. However, many Palestinian hotels will offer you sage tea or Arabic coffee in the foyer / reception area if you ask (or they might have it ready). Both are delicious, so only bother with a kettle if you really, really need one in your room.
What to pack – money
The currency is the Israeli shekel (though hotels will take dollars) and you will find prices significantly lower in Bethlehem and Ramallah than in Jerusalem.
In the West Bank it can be hard to find a cash machine. There are cash machines at the airport and near the hotel in Ramallah, but sometimes it’s difficult to find a cash machine that works. And it can be quite a hassle if you get low on funds and can’t find one.
It’s best to take lots of shekels with you. You can get decent rates before you travel if you shop around. As a back-up take GBP, euros or – even better – dollars and convert them at a money changer.
Watch out for cash machines!
One word of warning – particularly in Ramallah, there are a number of cash machines that issue Jordanian dollars. These are for people travelling to Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge/Allenby Bridge. So don’t use these cash machines – you won’t be able to use Jordanian dollars in Palestine or Israel. Best to check the currency before taking out the cash!
It’s worth having some cash. This is because cash is the easiest way to buy gifts, such as embroidery, pottery, jewellery, in the Old City in Jerusalem or Hebron and in the refugee camp.
Books to read before you go
If you travel with us you will receive high quality briefings when you are there (you can see our itineraries in Palestine and Israel), so you won’t need to brief yourself in advance. However, if you have time it is a good idea to have a general introduction to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it will certainly make it easier to absorb all the information. There are lots of books – some historical, some personal. This is just a small selection.
Some books to try
Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide
John McCarthy, You Can’t Hide the Sun: A Journey Through Israel and Palestine
Ray Dolphin, The West Bank Wall: Unmaking Palestine
Max Blumenthal, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin
Miko Peled, The General’s Son
Our Harsh Logic, Breaking The Silence
What to take – the right attitude
Wherever you are travelling take an open heart and mind. Because Palestine is a wonderful place to visit, and you will learn so much if you are willing to explore and delve.