Major Tourist Attractions: Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah
The Palestinian Territories (also referred to as the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’) refers to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank. However, the West Bank is still largely under Israeli military control.
The Gaza Strip, bordering Egypt, is completely off limits. The West Bank, landlocked between Israel and Jordan, is the area that can be visited by tourists, but only via Israel. A heavily contested region, it is predominantly Arab, yet 2013 figures put the number of Israeli’s living in settlements at the border around 350,000. These settlements are deemed illegal under international law and the struggle continues.
For the visitor however, this region is full of key historical and religious sites. The ancient city of Jericho has ruins dating back to around 10,000 BC alongside key points of biblical reference. Nablus still bears traces of its Roman Era to Ottoman Empire past, and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, remains a key pilgrimage site. You can also visit the thriving capital city of Ramallah and the Dead Sea coastline.
Hebron remains the most heavily contested area of the West Bank in the Palestine Territories, although it is not off limits to tourists. Said to be where the settlement movement started, it remains at the heart of the present day conflict and as a result is split into two areas - the Palestinian Authority controlled H1 (80%) and the Israeli controlled H2 (20%). The Jewish settlers have their own administration. An historical city, with a new bustling area, it is the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims – itself divided into a Mosque and a Synagogue.
Visitors to the West Bank must enter and leave via checkpoints in Israel, so always carry your passport. The Dead Sea, within ‘Zone C’ of the West Bank (which is under full Israeli control), doesn’t require passport checks. Although safe to visit, all travelers should be mindful of the current political climate when visiting the region.
- Visit the site of Jesus’ birth at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and soak up the atmosphere in Manger Square (especially on Christmas Eve).
- Explore the ruins of ancient Jericho, said to be the oldest city in the world..
- Submerge yourself in the waters of Qasr el-Yahud – a baptism site on the Jordan River where it is said Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.
- Understand the conflict from both sides in divided Hebron and visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs, said to be where Abraham is buried.
- Get lost in the vibrancy of Ramallah, a great spot for some delicious Middle Eastern cuisine. You can also visit the tomb of Yasser Arafat.
- View the art and graffiti calling for peace and freedom that covers the ‘Separation Wall’ – a barrier created to separate the West Bank from Israel and to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel without authorization.
- Check out the northern city of Nablus, founded during the Roman Empire and later incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
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