The Palestinian Territories consist of two physically separate entities, the West Bank and the GazaStrip. All are currently universally considered parts of Palestine although recognition as a sovereign nation varies by country. The West Bank, administered by the Palestinian Authority, has been under Israeli occupation since 1967; Gaza,under Hamas control and at odds with the PA in the West Bank, is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. The final status of these territories remains the subject of ongoing and future negotiations. The stated outcome of negotiations and final status talks is currently regarded as the eventual creation of a new, sovereign state - to be called The State of Palestine - however many difficulties currently block the creation of this state, namely the internationally-illegal Israeli settlement programme that dots the West Bank. Therefore, it is commonplace to refer to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip collectively as Palestine although the accepted terminology used by the United Nations remains the "Occupied Palestine".
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) is a semi-autonomous state institution (created in agreement with Israel and the United Nations) that officially is in charge of much of the Palestine not still under direct Israeli control. As of 2013, this autonomous government body officially refers to itself as the State of Palestine. The PNA, is dominated by the political faction Fatah, only has control of certain areas of the West Bank depending upon the region; other areas are under Israeli control. Hamas, a rival group of Fatah, is de facto in control of the Gaza Strip following victory in the 2006 elections. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority claim to be the sole legitimate Palestinian government, which places them at odds with eachother.
On 1947 the UN general assembly passed a non-binding resolution, without consulting the Palestinian inhabitants of Palestine, to partition the land of British Mandate Palestine into two separate states - a Jewish state and an Arab state. Representatives of the Zionists in Palestine agree to the UN's non-binding partition plan, and the Palestinian Arabs reject it. The State of Israel, having been engaged in efforts to drive out Palestinian inhabitants, finds itself in a state of war with the Arab league. The Arab League sends a variety of poorly prepared forces to the former Mandate. The British decide at this time to leave, and the indigenous inhabitants were left to finish the war with the Arab League against Israel. Israel ultimately won the war against the Arab League; and occupied territory that was designated, under the non-binding partition plan for Palestine, to be part of the Palestinian Arab state. The Hashemite Kingdom Of Jordan and Egypt, also captured territories that were meant for the future Palestine. Jordan captured the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the old city and the mountains of Judea and Samaria, and named the area "The West Bank" due to it being west of the Jordan River. Egypt captured the Gaza Strip. Israel captured West Jerusalem, and the whole other territory that was meant to be the Arab state. Palestinians living in the area Israel captured were held under military law and denied citizenship for some decades, whilst currently the West bank population remains under military law, whilst settlers and Israelis within Israel reside under civilian law. Mass arrests, revocation of residency (both to Jerusalem and Israel), denial of travel, indefinite 'administrative detention', denial of basic rights such as adequate water supply and power, and more are still the norm for Palestinians. The Israeli side oversees the transfer of goods and resources including electricity and water to Gaza in efforts of self-preservation. Raw materials in Gaza are often usurped by Hammas, the ruling political power in Gaza, and put to use in the development of rockets and tunnels that are intended to carry out attacks largely on Israeli citizens.
The Palestinian territory, in a wider sense and together with Israel, are considered the Holy Land for three of the world's major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Many sites of religious and archaeological significance from the Biblical periods are to be found within the current administration of the Palestinian National Authority and Israel, most notably Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho.
The current Palestinian Territories are a sub-division of pre-1948, British Mandate Palestine. United Nations-projected Arab-held areas of the former Mandate were greatly reduced after the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War, precipitated by Arab and Jewish dissatisfaction with British policy in Mandate Palestine (causing the 1936-39 Arab revolt, and the 1944-47 Jewish insurgency which committed bombings against British interests). Following the UN partition plan in November 1947, these conflicts developed in civil war, and then into inter-state conflict in 1948 following the Israeli Declaration of Independence - which resulted in around 700,000+ Arabs fleeing or being removed from their land, whilst 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel in the 3 years following 1948. These hostilities were accompanied by much bloodshed and Palestinian Arabs left in large numbers as refugees to neighbouring countries, or to Gaza and the West Bank. The Gaza Strip is under the administration of Hamas, democratically elected by popular vote in 2006 but considered a terrorist organization by various nations including the U.S. Per the Oslo Accords, Area A is under the military and civilian control of the PA, Area B is administered by the PA and under Israeli military control, whilst Area C is under full Israeli administration. Prior to 1967, the West Bank was under Jordanian administration (Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950 but this was only recognized by themselves and the United Kingdom) and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian control.
See also West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
Bus services operate on limited routes and times except for those around Jerusalem. You are almost always advised to use Shared Taxis which will be quicker although marginally more expensive. Buses, like shared taxis will also tend to wait until full before departing. You can hail a bus on any road.
Most Shared Taxis have fixed bus-stations, often car-parks near the center of towns or cities. Larger minivans carry 7 passengers and inner-city shared taxis carry 4. Fares are fixed and overcharging on these services is extremely rare. Shared taxis are often distinguished with black stripes on front and back at the sides, particularly the normal-sized cars serving inner-city routes. Simply tell the drivers in the parking lot which city you are headed to (or ask about which checkpoints they are travelling through if that is a requirement for you). You should pay the driver directly once the journey has begun, although you can wait until you reach your destination. Passengers will often work out the change between themselves. As you may be sharing with conservative or religious people, you may observe a certain etiquette, particularly when it comes to men and women sitting next to each other. Shared taxis are usually fairly new minivans and are quite comfortable and safe to travel by.
Private taxis are very common and can be hailed down at any point. Fares should be negotiated in advance although there are fixed rates for common journeys and it is worth checking with a local in advance. Some taxis will operate on the meter if requested although this is rare. Rates between cities vary widely and some taxis are not permitted to operate inter-city.
For the West Bank, driving a private car is a very convenient way to see more. You can hire cars in Ramallah with green (Palestinian) plates although it is not clear whether foreigners are allowed to drive in Palestinian registered cars. You can also hire cars with yellow plates in Jerusalem which can be driven in Israel and the West Bank. Try Good Luck Cars +972 2 627 7033 opposite the American Colony Hotel.
Arabic is the official language, but expect to come across a lot of people (street venders, shop assistants) who speak very good English. People will be more than willing to assist you. Both Arabic and English are heavily used on street signs and advertisements/shop signs.
Currency: Shekels, though US dollars and euros are widely accepted at major tourist destinations (Jericho and Bethlehem, for example). Additionally, the Jordanian dinar is widely accepted across the West Bank. Again, if you are visiting Palestine and have certain political interests, consider changing your money at a Palestinian-owned money exchange once in East Jerusalem (you can use US dollars to pay for your taxi from the airport, or ideally have your hotel pick you up). There are plenty of local exchanges along Salah e-Din St around the corner from the National Hotel (heading toward Damascus Gate). Locally-made keffiyeh head wear is a common gift, look for Christian-themed olive wood carvings from the many artisans in Bethlehem or pottery from Hebron.
Shawarma and falafel sandwiches are really popular foods for Palestinians, as well as olives and hummus. It is traditional to eat with bread and not a spoon or fork. It is unusual to eat a meal without bread.
Both Taybeh Beer and Shepherd's by Birzeit Brewery are Palestinian national beers with 5 and 6 percent of alcohol. It has a mild taste. The Taybeh Beer Brewery is located in Taybeh village and is accessible by taking a shared taxi/private taxi from Ramallah's bus station Taybeh village (inquire for the price of the trip before taking the taxi) You can find a good liquor store called 'Cheers' opposite the Bravo Supermarket in Ramallah on Emil Habibi St where you can buy these local choices.
Plenty of good hotels across all major cities. If staying in Jerusalem, research where you are planning to stay - chances are if you are in Palestine to begin with, you already have a political interest in the place you are visiting - ensure your hotel is Palestinian-owned.
It is possible to study Arabic and other subjects in the West Bank. Specifically at Birzeit University near Ramallah.
If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural aspects of Palestinian life, there are several programs and organisations offering courses, workshops or learning tours, such as: the All Nations Café in the Bethlehem area, or Green Olive Tours, that offers organised informative and political tours throughout the whole of the West Bank.
Because of ongoing conflict in this area of the world, travellers should take notice of travel advisories issued by various governments before undertaking travel here. Security concerns result in travel between Israel and the Palestinian Territories being tightly controlled on occasions. Travellers should ensure that their travel documentation is entirely in order and should monitor local news channels in case the security situation changes suddenly.
A few hints for a successful trip:
Wearing or displaying such symbols which the Palestinians see as hostile is not going to win you any friends. Women should dress conservatively and men should also avoid shorts.
While the vast majority of Palestinians are Muslims, remember that the country also has the oldest Christian community in the world, and many of the holiest sites in Christianity including the birthplace of Jesus. Even for non-Christian Palestinians, this is a significant source of national pride, so don't simply assume that everyone is Muslim.
Delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events, and especially if you are Arab, Arab-looking, or involved with peace activists. Many countries, including the United States, warn that they cannot offer significant assistance to tourists detained at the border or involved in demonstrations.
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.
It is highly advised to keep Palestinian flags, PA/PLO pamphlets, and similar articles out of plain sight when going through Israeli checkpoints. Many people send their souvenirs from the Palestinian territories home by Israeli-postal service parcels to avoid having to take the Palestinian-themed souvenirs through Ben Gurion Airport.
Be sure to carry shekels with you when departing, as there is a departure tax. If you are leaving through one of the ground crossings, such as the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge to Jordan, it's a good idea to try to get to the border as early as possible, especially in the busy summer season. If you are using the Allenby Bridge to exit Palestine, you are required to have a Jordanian entry visa (preferably a multi-entry visa) before coming to the bridge. You will not be allowed to use the Allenby crossing to enter Jordan without having an entry-stamp for Jordan before hand. Preferably, get a 6 month multi-entry visa, this saves you a lot of effort. You can do this either in Jordan, or at the Jordanian Embassy in Ramallah or Tel Aviv.