Difference between revisions of "West Bank"
Revision as of 14:01, 3 December 2012
The West Bank is a Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation with areas of Palestinian Autonomous Control pockmarked with Israeli military/civilian settlements in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. It forms the larger portion of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories (the smaller being the Gaza Strip). Depending on where one travels the area is controlled by Palestinian authorities, Israel, or even both. It has been under Israeli administration since 1967 with its future status uncertain and still to be resolved, between Israel and the PA.
It is known as the West Bank because it lies on the western bank of the Jordan River. This part of the world is steeped in biblical history and contains many sites of religious and archaeological significance.
About 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers reside comfortably in around 100 official and unofficial Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Major Israeli Settlements
Within the political dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis there are at least two presentations of the West Bank:
In Israeli terms it is called the regions of Judea, Samaria and Benjamin. Some Israelis see the West Bank territories as historically Jewish land and claim a biblical/historical birthright to resettle it by building settlements there. Israel is also building a huge concrete barrier partly within the West Bank, officially aimed at preventing the infiltration of Palestinians into Israel's official pre-1967 borders and to isolate Jewish settlements from Palestinian populated areas and unofficially accused by Palestinians as an unilateral Israeli attempt to draw the borders. The barrier cuts off Palestinians from each other, vital farm lands, and most of all: physically separates West Bank Palestinians from the Palestinian districts of East Jerusalem and its holy sites.
The Palestinians and the PNA claim this region, in addition the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as the territory of a future Palestinian state. There are 400,000 Jews and around 1.2 million Arabs living in the territory (Est. 2011). As of November 2012, Palestine is recognized as an independent state by the UN, still deemed under Israeli occupation until a final peace agreement between the two above parties.
Temperate; temperature and precipitation vary with altitude, warm to hot summers, cool to mild winters.
Mostly rugged dissected upland, very hilly and mountainous, heavy vegetation is very common in most places.
The Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (the DOP), signed in Washington on 13 September 1993, provided for a transitional period not exceeding five years of Palestinian interim self-government in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Under the DOP, Israel agreed to transfer certain powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority, which includes the Palestinian Legislative Council elected in January 1996, as part of the interim self-governing arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A transfer of powers and responsibilities for the Gaza Strip and Jericho took place pursuant to the Israel-PLO 4 May 1994 Cairo Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area and in additional areas of the West Bank pursuant to the Israel-PLO 28 September 1995 Interim Agreement, the Israel-PLO 15 January 1997 Protocol Concerning Redeployment in Hebron, the Israel-PLO 23 October 1998 Wye River Memorandum, and the 4 September 1999 Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement. The DOP provides that Israel will retain responsibility during the transitional period for foreign and domestic security and public order of settlements and Israeli citizens. Direct negotiations to determine the permanent status of Gaza and West Bank had begun in September 1999 after a three-year hiatus, but have been derailed by a second intifadah that broke out in September 2000. The resulting widespread violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel's military response, and instability within the Palestinian Authority continue to undermine progress toward a permanent agreement. Futhermore, Fatah control Palestinian Cities, whilst the Yesha Council via the authority of Israel controls and manages Jewish settlements.
There are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the nearest major airport is Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion. From Ben Gurion Airport, it is possible to take a 50 minute taxi or shuttle ride to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to continue on to the major West Bank cities of Bethlehem or Ramallah.
Note that Palestinian ID card-holders cannot travel to Israel or the Palestinian Authority through Ben Gurion Airport. The Israeli government requires them to fly to Amman, Jordan and enter via the Allenby Bridge border crossing located nearby Jericho in the West Bank. It is best for people who may be listed under the Israeli census as having a Palestinian ID-card (by birth to a card-holder, etc.) or who once had a Palestinian ID card to just use the airport in Amman rather than risk being sent back home on a flight from Tel Aviv for using the wrong airport.
Officially, you can ask for the Israeli border-guards at Ben Gurion Airport or at the Allenby Brige to not stamp your passport with the Israeli entry/exit stamps and instead stamp a separate loose piece of paper if you intend on travelling to Arab/Muslim countries that bar people who have visited Israel entry, however unofficially many individual Israeli border-guards have refused requests to not have the passport stamped or simply "forgot", so don't count on them not to do so. The procedure of having a separate piece of paper stamped only works at the Ben Gurion Airport and Allenby Bridge because, when using the other crossings with Egypt and Jordan (Taba in Egypt and Sheikh Hussein in northern Jordan), it is Egyptian/Jordanian policy to give entry/exit stamps at these border crossings with Israel, which prove one has been to Israel because these crossings only lead into/out of Israel. When using the Allenby crossing to enter Palestine, you won't get a Jordanian exit stamp because of Jordan's role as a care-taker of the West Bank so there is no "proof" of exiting Jordan on your passport.
There are numerous ways to enter the West Bank by road. Probably the most common is to take a bus from East Jerusalem (got to Damascus Gate in the Old City and ask around) to Ramallah. From there, shared taxis (know as Servis, pronounced [ser-vees]) are available throughout the West Bank. Before entering Area A, you will come to a checkpoint, where you will be required to show your Israeli-issued tourist visa. From the checkpoint you can take a shared taxi to your destination.
Driving in the West Bank is relatively safe (compared to Gaza) and has some wonderful scenery, particularly along route 90. As most car-hire companies in Israel have different rules, agreements and regulations, you may or may not be able to drive a hired/rented car to areas in the West Bank under Israeli authority. Inquire with whatever company you plan on using to get their policy on the issue.
There are numerous car hire companies that will rent you a car in Ramallah which you can freely drive around the West Bank although you cannot enter Jewish settlements. Palestinian car-hire companies located in East Jerusalem will rent you Israeli cars which can travel in most parts of the West Bank and throughout Israel. The aptly named Good Luck Cars  have great service.
If you do happen to drive to areas within the West Bank, take heed and uphold security precautions at all times. Palestinian militia used to attack cars traveling in the West Bank with Israeli license plates. Roads in the West Bank may not be in a good condition. Damage to cars resulted from driving in the West Bank may not be covered, as many insurance policies are invalid outside of Israel proper. It may be best to have a heavily robust car, such as a Jeep or Jaguar, when driving through these territories.
Also, it must be noted that taking a taxi on Palestinian roads can take several times longer if you are stopped at an Israeli Army checkpoint, and frequently requires you to walk across roadblocks and catch another taxi on the opposite side.
Bus service to Jewish settlements in the West Bank can generally be found in the major Israeli city which is closest to each West Bank town - particularly Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Egged (אגד) bus company runs buses from Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Netanya, and Beit Shean. The Dan bus company runs from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva. Due to recent political violence, the Israeli government has installed enhanced security on buses such as bullet proof windows (on certain routes) and crash barriers at bus stops. Still, traveling by bus is discouraged for first time visitors.
There are also Arab bus companies going into the West Bank from the bus depot in East Jerusalem, for prices comparable to service taxis, theoretically running on schedules.The main bus station is across the street from the Damascus gate.
Bus 21 goes from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (through Beit Jala) it takes at least 45 minutes, more if there is traffic. The cost is 7.40NIS. When the bus parks you have arrived in Bethlehem. You will be at the street called Bab ilSkak. The UNRWA building will be across the street. If you are wanting to go to Manger Square, it is an easy 3NIS a person taxi ride there. Hail down the yellow taxi with the black on the front and back bumpers. THey do the same circle and will drop you off right at manger square. Ask before getting in and double check that is the route they are taking.
Bus 24 also goes to Bethlehem, these are much smaller busses and will only take you to the closer Bethlehem Check point. From there you can walk through the check point. There are always plenty of taxis on the otherside. They can take you to your destination. Ask them to turn on the meter. Most of the cars have them now.
There are no train routes in the West Bank, though proposals for train service are occasionally made. Likely by 2020, via Ari"el.
Highways : total: 4,500 km
Taxis are your best bet. If you're part of a tour, your tour bus is even better. Delays at checkpoints are common when you enter or leave Palestinian cities.
Hitching through the West Bank is easy and enjoyable — local Palestinians are happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not Israeli. Vice versa, Israelis will be happy to stop for anyone who isn't a Palestinian.
The main languages in the West Bank are Arabic and Hebrew, although English and French are also understood. Many Palestinians understand Hebrew, due to business and governmental contacts over the last 40+ years. But avoid speaking Hebrew in Palestinian cities and Arabic in Jewish settlements, as it may arouse suspicion. Russian is also common among students who have gone to university in Russia or Eastern Europe. A few Israeli settlements contain Hasidic Jews who speak Yiddish.
Currency is Israeli Shekels, though US dollars seem to be widely accepted, especially at tourist shops (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example)
Ramallah has a number of good restaurants, including Darna (Palestinian and Lebanese food--there are pictures on the wall of many famous people who have visited, including Kofi Annan, Richard Gere and Jimmy Carter), Pronto (excellent pizza and Italian food), Ziryab (relaxing place with a fireplace), Stone's and Sangria's. There is an excellent ice cream shop in downtown called Rukab's. The locally-made ice cream is a real treat on a hot day, in addition to the fresh juice shops around the central square, Al-Manara.
Falafel, Shawarma, Hummus, Musakhan, Tabouli, Kofta, Knafeh, Kibbeh, Maqluba, Baba Ghanoush, and other delicious cuisine is widely available.
The settlement of Beitar Ilit has a great bar that serves Kosher Chicken soup with harif. The settlement of Ariel has many fast food restaurants and other tasty kosher treats.
In cities, such as Ramallah, alcohol is often available at restaurants. Ninety percent of Palestinians are Muslim, so public intoxication is considered inappropriate. Most Christian Palestinians drink alcohol, and there is an excellent microbrewery in Taybeh.
Ramallah: Grand Park Hotel, Best Eastern, City Inn, Rocky. The Movenpick is due to open by the end of 2009.
In the settlement of Ariel, Eshel HaShomron 5* Deluxe Hotel .
Birzeit University, just outside of Ramallah, has a long and illustrious history, and offers Arabic immersion classes for foreigners. In addition, there are simillar programs at the Bethlehem Bible College and Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, the Palestinian-American University in Jenin and An-Najah in Nablus. There is also the Palestinian-American University of Jenin located in the Christian Palestinian village of Zababdeh. Alternative travel agencies like Green Olive Tours , as well as NGO's such as the Holy Land Trust  and the Alternative Tourism Group  in Bethlehem offer day and multi-day tours, as well as enticing summer programs for internationals that combine homestays, culture and language classes with volunteering and site-seeing.
Ariel University Center is the largest Israeli-run educational institute in the West Bank. It is called a "University Center" rather than a "University" because official universities get a certain level of government support, and left-wing Israeli politicians do not want to be supporting West Bank settlement in this way. For religious education, many Yeshivot are located in various Israeli settlements in the West Bank If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural facets of life in the West Bank, there is a first hand experience tour, run by the All Nations Cafe  from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where you can get to know Palestinians and Jews who promote coexistance in the Holy Land.
Watch the news and check the situation before you go. It isn't a good idea to visit if fighting between Hamas and Fatah, or between the Palestinians and Israelis, happens to be intense at the given time. However, violence in the West Bank tends to be very localized. Violence in Nablus, for instance, shouldn't necessarily hinder travel to Ramallah. Still, use discretion.
While non-Israeli Jews are generally left alone and sometimes even openly welcome, symbols associated with the State of Israel or Zionism, such as the Star of David, are best left at home. Espousing blantly pro-Israeli views will highly offend many ordinary Palestinians and is not recomended.
The West Bank is less 'religious' than most Arab nations, so women travelers don't need to be completely covered. But it is still a good idea to dress fairly conservatively. With Palestinians, one should not insult with western mocking jibes at Islam or Arab heroes. Again, like Israel, one should not talk disdainfully about Torah, Holocaust, or Jewish history insofar as getting dirty looks from confident new settlers.
Be very wary of bringing up politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for obvious reasons.
Israeli company Bezek and the Palestinian company Paltel provide communication services in the West Bank. Many retailers in the West Bank offer cell-phones to rent. Popular companies to go with are: Jawwal (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), Wataniyya (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), and Cellcom (an Israeli company that is able to be used in both Israel and the Palestinian territories).
Delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events. Sometimes it may be quicker to walk through a checkpoint on foot rather than on a vehicle, and then take a taxi to your destination once you get through. If you are using the Allenby Bridge to exit Israel or the Palestinian territories, you must have a multi-entry visa for Jordan before coming to the crossing. You can get this visa beforehand at the Jordanian Embassy in Ramallah or the embassy in Tel Aviv. You can also get it in Jordan if you were in Jordan before coming to the Palestinian territories.