What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Tel Aviv at night
Sunset over Tel Aviv, Israel

 

One of the most amazing trips we’ve taken here at Road Warrior — the best travel adapter — included traveling through parts of the Middle East. One of the definite highlights of our trip was a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We knew very little about the region prior to our travels, although we were very aware of the conflict in the area, but after our travels we now realize that we still have so much to learn!

First, a little bit of history about the area. Officially the “State of Israel”, this democratic country has a population of about 8 million. The country is bordered by Egypt to the southwest, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to northwest. The nation was recognized in May, 1948, which ended the former “British Mandate for Palestine”, which had been established in 1922. This largely led to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that originated back in the late 19th century and still exists today. Most Palestinians occupy an area within Israel known as the West Bank.

Map of Israel and Palestinian Territories
Map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories from Wikipedia. The lighter color indicates Israeli territory.

 

When we thought about “what to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories” and were pre-planning our trip, we didn’t have much more than a guidebook at our disposal. So now that we’ve come back from our travels, here are the top 4 things that we, at Road Warrior, experienced in our travels through this amazing country.

 

1. Historic Jerusalem –

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and arguably one of the most historical places on earth. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world. It is considered a holy place for three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We were blown away by the history of this city. There is so much to see and do here. One of the main highlights of our trip to Jerusalem was visiting the Temple Mount. This is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, and is known for its significance in the bible.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

 

At the west side of Temple Mount is the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall), where visitors flock every day. It is the remnants of a wall that surrounded an ancient Jewish Temple, and is one of the most sacred sites within the Jewish faith.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Worshippers come to pray at the Wailing Wall

 

At the visual center of Temple Mount stands the Dome of the Rock, a beautiful shrine with an enormous gold-colored dome. It is located on one of the most contested pieces of land in the world. In fact, the dome covers the slab of stone sacred to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. It was at this site that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son and, according to Islam, also where the Prophet Mohammed launched himself up into the heavens alongside Allah. Today, it is under the control of the government of Jordan and although non-Muslims are allowed to enter the building, non-Muslims aren’t allowed to pray within the premises or carry any religious artifacts or anything with Hebrew letters.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

 

2. The West Bank –

We had the fortunate opportunity to visit the West Bank, to meet some of the amazing Palestinian people. We took a bus from Jerusalem to Ramallah (the bus departed from the Arab Bus Station by Damascus Gate in Jerusalem). Ramallah is only about 15 kilometers north of Jerusalem, but it took us over 2.5 hours to get there! It was very interesting to see how the conflict has shaped the way the people treat each other between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. All Palestinians are required to carry an ID card that is scrutinized by the Israeli forces. We were stopped at many road checks and redirected by the Israelis back and forth, which created the very long ride to get to our short destination of Ramallah. It was very frustrating and I couldn’t imagine having to go through this on a regular basis.

Once we got close to the West Bank, reality set in. There is a huge wall that has been built around the Palestinian Territories by the Israelis as a protection measure. We were taken aback by how high and how long it is. In order to pass through the wall, there were Israeli forces with machine guns that were guarding entry points.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Israeli/West Bank Barrier 

 

The Palestinian Territories are very poor compared to surrounding Israel. With a population of about 4 million people, many Palestinians are not able to leave the area. The GDP of the area is only about $1,200 per capita, compared to the $30,000 per capita of Israel and the unemployment rate is extremely high at around 28 percent! This is very evident when visiting the Palestinian Territories. In many places in Ramallah, the buildings are decrepit and there are many signs of the ongoing conflict, with many bullet-laden walls and fallen concrete from bombings.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
 Streets of Ramallah

 

We had a fantastic visit wandering the streets of Ramallah and trying to communicate with the locals in English. The people may be very poor, but they are extremely warm and kind! We grew very fond of the Palestinian people and learned a bit more of their struggles due to the conflict.

During our visit to the area, we also had the opportunity to see Yassir Arafat’s grave. Read it on our blog post here: http://rwarrior.com/a-visit-with-death-morbid-fascination-or-intoxicating-historical-voyage/

 

3. Cosmopolitan Tel Aviv –

One of the most welcome parts of our trip through the region was finding out just how cosmopolitan the city of Tel Aviv is! This is the second largest city in Israel, with a population of less than half a million. It is located in the central part of Israel, on the coastline of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. We were surprised at just how modern the city is! There are a ton of amazing cafes and restaurants, lots of fantastic night life, and many, many beautiful people here! If you enjoy international fare, you can find almost every type of food here. Sheinkin Street is one of the most popular streets for boutique shopping and a really strong cafe culture, and is a definite must for anyone to see when visiting Tel Aviv.

What to do in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Cafe Culture on the Mediterranean – Tel Aviv, Israel

 

4. The Dead Sea

 

Floating in the Dead Sea was one of the most amazing nature-related things that we have experienced! Talk about salty! This body of water has one of the highest salinities in the world! Here’s an interesting factoid: The banks of the Dead Sea are actually the lowest walkable elevation on land! To read more about our Dead Sea experience, please visit our post at: http://rwarrior.com/floating-in-the-dead-sea/

floating in the dead sea
Amazing buoyancy when floating in the Dead Sea!

 

If you’re planning on visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories, there are few tips that we can offer as you prepare for your adventure:

1. Travel in and out is frustrating, especially if you are traveling alone. We arrived by plane to Tel Aviv, solo, from overseas and were questioned a lot about our intentions to visit the country. Given the terrorist threats and the volatile situation in the region, the security measures are completely understandable. But, sometimes it may be hard to understand when you’re a completely innocent traveler! The best advice we can give is to be prepared for lots of (repetitive) questions, intimidation, potential delays and even strip searches. Be patient and stay calm and don’t let it bother you. It’s a small hassle for the opportunity to travel through one amazing region in the Middle East!

2. The media can often overplay the safety factor of the region. The dangers of Middle East are often overplayed or somewhat exaggerated by the media who often like to prey on our fears, especially in this particular region. While we definitely recommend being cautious during travel (and condone safe travel for everyone!), we also recommend that you travel with confidence!

3. Dedicate extra time for your travels here! We’ve traveled all over the world, and in many cases rushed through major cities trying to “see it all”, but on this particular trip we found that leaving lots of extra time was definitely important. We were mesmerized by Jerusalem for its historical significance…and it didn’t seem as though we had enough time to spend taking in all of the historical sites. We were also fascinated by our trip to the West Bank and would have loved to spend more time there…but it took us such a frustratingly long time to travel to (and from) the West Bank that we were glad to have even have the opportunity to visit! We definitely recommend over allocating hours that you will spend at particular places to ensure you aren’t rushed!

 

Indeed, our trip through Israel and the Palestinian Territories was one of the most fascinating places we have traveled in the world. Until next time, safe and Happy Travels!

 

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