Sunday, January 18, 2015

Palestine for Tourists

Sabastiya  is a wonderful "hidden gen" for tourists to Palestine

I recently found myself engaged in an e-mail conversation with the editor of a travel magazine (which, for the present, shall remain nameless!) about whether Palestine is a “travel destination” worthy of listing in his magazine.  Without going into the historical and political background that he and I have been discussing, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the reasons that I gave him as to why Palestine should be included in the “list of destinations” that his publication lists on its website and, more importantly, to address reasons that one should consider Palestine as a tourist destination.

I wondered, initially, if the magazine’s list included only UN member states, as Palestine’s observer state designation may have served to disqualify it, but, as the magazine’s list has 196 entries while the UN’s list of “member states” has 193, I concluded this was probably not the case (still awaiting his response!)

Church of the 10 Lepers, Palestine
Mr. Editor (who I do not believe has traveled to this part of the world) had some misinformation about border crossings, thinking that a visa is needed to enter Israel or Palestine.  Those of us who have traveled there know that visas are not needed, a passport will suffice.  We are also aware that travelers of Palestinian heritage, regardless what country they are citizens of (i.e. US, Great Britain, France, etc.) are usually not allowed to enter Israel through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  These visitors, if they are able to visit Palestine at all, must fly from the US to Amman, Jordan, and then cross the border from Jordan. 

And, as those of us who have spent time in this part of the world are well aware, one does, indeed, have to cross a border from Israel to get into Palestine – and, of course, to re-enter Israel from Palestine.  Thus, the border crossing “issue” is, indeed, a reason to separate Palestine from Israel when writing about travel in this part of the world.

Palestinian cuisine is wonderful...
“Exhibit A” in my lengthy letter to Mr. Editor pointed out that “travel guru” Rick Steves, spent time in both Israel and Palestine in the spring of 2013, went back later that year for filming, and, in the fall of 2014 presented three television shows on the area – one giving “background” information about both places and the ongoing “conflict” there (, show/tv-specials/holy-land) one about travel in Israel ( and one about travel in Palestine ( . Rick may have initially achieved fame for “Europe by the Back Door,” but these days, if he is writing about and filming a travel destination, that means it has become “mainstream!”  And let’s not forget travel/food guru Anthony Bourdain, who did a wonderful show on Palestinian cuisine a year or so ago!

...and the hospitality cannot be beaten!!
Anyone who travels extensively knows that the best way to understand a place and its people is to visit there.  Palestine is a destination worthy of a visit in its own right.  At present, most tourists who do go there are limited to a brief stop in Bethlehem, where they pay a quick visit to the Church of the Nativity, stop at a souvenir shop sanctioned by the (usually Israeli) tour company, and then drive back out without ever talking to a single local, or even being aware that they were in Palestine!  If there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, and reconciliation between these two people, it will (I believe!) only come from getting to know “the other” as individuals.  “Tell people to come and visit,” say my Palestinian friends every time I visit.  “Tell them we are human beings.”  Well, they are – and I am! 

Come, visit - the scenery is wonderful!
That said, we all understand that Palestine is not a destination for everyone.  It can be a bit short on “creature comforts” at times, although I have visited many comfortable hotels and guest houses.  And the food is universally delicious and nutritious!  But travel is not always easy.  Unlike the “settler only” roads, Palestinian roads are not always well maintained and public transportation can be unpredictable.  Still, the scenery (or at least that part of it not destroyed by ugly settlements!) is beautiful; the people friendly and the hospitality outstanding!  And, another consideration, costs are much less than in Israel! 

1 comment:

  1. Great work Dee.
    We must work to promote Palestine to all those wary Christian tourists misled by the exaggerated "security concerns" advanced by the Israeli travel authorities competing for tourist shekels.I share your thoughts on the rare warmth and authenticity of the Palestinians.
    Vincent D. Stravino, M.D.