The West Bank is an Arab enclave and an area of Jewish settlement in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. 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. It has been under Israeli administration since 1967 with future status uncertain.
Within the political dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis there are 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 with financial and logistical support from the Israeli government. Israel is also building a security barrier partly within the West Bank, officially aimed at preventing the infiltration of terrorists into Israel's official pre-1967 borders and to further isolate settlements from arab populated areas. 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 million Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank territory. Officially, the West Bank is not part of any country, but deemed under Israeli administration 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, some vegetation in west, but barren in east.
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. For the next nine years, the resulting widespread violence in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip was met by numerous harsh Israeli military responses. Israel's continued support for and expansion of West Bank settlements and and general instability within the Palestinian Authority and continued attacks on Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip are undermining the progress toward a final permanent agreement. Futhermore, Fatah only controls Arab West Bank Cities, whilst the Yesha Council via the authority of Israel controls and manages Jewish revenant settlement areas.
There are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the the nearest major airport is Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion. From Ben Gurion Airport, it is possible to take a 50 minute taxi or train ride to Jerusalem.
Note that Palestinian citizens and their descendants living abroad 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 in the West Bank.
Some Arab families with non-Israeli passports or other citizenships have been stranded because of the new airport requirement. Even if a person of Israeli Arab descent enters through Ben Gurion Airport they cannot leave using the same method.
To enter the Palestinian Autonomous Authority, take a shared taxi from Abu Dis to the city you are traveling to. Before entering Area A, you will come to a checkpoint, where you will be required to show your passport, verify your citizenship, and complete a security check. From the checkpoint you can take a shared taxi to your destination.
Driving in the West Bank is not recommended at any time due to the political situation. You cannot drive hired/rental cars from Israel into the Palestinian Authority, specifically areas designated as "Area A" under the Oslo accords, although there are many taxis that will take you from Jerusalem to areas in the west bank for a much higher price. 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.
If you do happen to drive to areas within the West Bank, take heed and uphold security precautions at all times. Arab Militia used to frequently attack cars traveling in the West Bank with Israeli license plates. Likewise, in Israeli areas any NGOs such as ISM or UN designated vehicles, which may be seen by Jewish returnees as anti-semitically invoked, could easily get fire bombed or harassed. 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 provinces.
It is also not possible to drive from Jordan to the West Bank.
Also, It must be noted that taking a taxi on Arabs roads can take several times longer if you are stopped, and frequently requires you to walk across roadblocks and catch another taxi on the opposite side.
Bus service to Jewish towns 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.
For reaching Arab cities in the West Bank, Service Taxis (shared taxis, pronounced Servees) are preferable over Egged buses. They are extremely cheap (6.5 NIS from Jerusalem to Ramallah; 4 NIS to Bethlehem; 15 NIS to Hebron), and travel quite fast on the road. The service taxi is a great place to mingle with the locals.
A visibly (by dress/behavior not facial features) Jewish person traveling by Arab transportation runs the risk of being kidnapped and killed. A visibly Arab person on Jewish transportation (in the West Bank, not within Israel) may attract suspicion and will perhaps be kicked off, or perhaps arrested if the police are called. Behave like a foreign tourist and you should be OK either way.
There are no train routes in the West Bank, though proposals for train service are occasionally made.
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 Arab cities.
The main languages in the West Bank are Arabic and Hebrew, although American English and French are also understood. Many Arabs understand Hebrew, due to business and governmental contacts over the last 40+ years. But avoid speaking Hebrew in Arab cities and Arabic in Jewish cities, 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 Pronto (excellent pizza and italian food), Ziryab (relaxing place with a fireplace), Stone's, Sangria's and Darna (Lebanese). 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. Be aware that the West Bank is predominately religious, and as such public displays of intoxication are considered rude, and are possibly dangerous.
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 classes. In addition, there is an Arab-American University in Jenin and An-Najah in Nablus. There is also the Arab-American University of Jenin located in Zababdeh.
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 West Bank towns.
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 Arabs and Jews who live in the West Bank.
Construction in Israeli rebuilding of ancient Jewish cities such as Shiloh. Inquire at the Amana Building Corp. H.Q. in Kiriat Moshe, Jerusalem.
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 Arabs and Israelis, happens to be intense at the given time. However, violence in the West Bank tends to be very localized. Violence in Shechem, for instance, shouldn't necessarly hinder travel to Ramallah. Still, use discretion.
While non-Israeli Jews are generally left alone, symbols associated with the State of Israel or Zionism, such as the Star of David, are best left at home. Israeli citizens generally aren't permitted past Israeli checkpoints into Area A zones, which hold the greatest threat.
Hospital in Ariel and Emergency room in Beitar Ilit.
The West Bank is less 'religious' than, say, Saudia Arabia, so women travelers don't need to be completely covered. It is still a good idea to dress conservatively. With Arabs, one should not insult with western mocking jibes at Islam or Arab heroes, such as King Faisal. Again, like Israel, one should not talk disdainfully about Torah, Holocaust, Jewish History insofar to getting a dirty looks from confident recent Jewish returning exiles in major Jewish areas.
Be very wary of bringing up politics and the Israel-Arab conflict, for obvious reasons.
Israeli company BEZEK and the Palestinian company PALTEL are responsible for communication services in the West Bank
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.