Whether Palestine is already on your travel wish list or you’re wondering if it should be, here are five reasons to visit:
#1 Get a true taste of local Palestinian culture
Have you ever been told it’s best to avoid discussing politics and religion? In some cultures and situations, those topics may be seen as taboo. But you can only truly experience Palestine if you take the time to understand a bit about the politics and religions that have impacted the history and present-day realities of this place. And there’s perhaps no better way to engage in candid conversation than through food and drinks! Sit down to a traditional Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family in Jericho. Take a cooking class with a Palestinian family in Bethlehem. Taste fresh tahini (sesame seed paste) and knafeh (a traditional Palestinian dessert) in Nablus. Join a culinary tour through Jerusalem’s Old City. Sample wine and craft beer in Taybeh. Wherever your tastebuds lead you, be sure to choose a variety of experiences and get to know Palestine through its food and people.
#2 Spend a night in a controversial work of art
Most hotels would not boast about having the “worst view in the world.” But most hotels are not designed and decked out in artwork by the elusive British street artist, Banksy. With every window facing the barrier wall, visitors to the Walled Off Hotel—located in Bethlehem, an area controlled by the Israeli military—get a glimpse of what life here is like for Palestinians in the shadow of the ever-present, 25-feet tall slab of concrete and barbed wire. Whether or not you decide to spend a night, an on-site museum offering insight into the history of the wall and a gallery featuring Palestinian artists are worth a visit.
#3 Follow the footsteps of pilgrims
There are numerous sites of significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And some, like Temple Mount, are important to all three major monotheistic religions. Visiting sites—such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem (the remaining retaining wall of the Second Temple, important to Judaism), the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem (believed to be the birthplace of Jesus), and Dome of the Rock (a shrine built over a rock that is believed by Muslims to be the place where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven and believed by Jews to be the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son) —and learning their history can help give context to current conflicts.
#4 Take a hike
Palestine might not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning an outdoor adventure. But it is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails that will take you through a variety of terrains—including olive groves, valleys, and deserts, passing by archeological and spiritual sites and into local villages. In fact, you can hike the 205-mile Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil long distance trail all the way from Rummana in the north to Beit Mirsim in the south, overnighting in Bedouin tents, homestays, and guest houses and dining with local families en route. If you don’t have the time or desire to hike the full trail, you can opt for a day or section hike, depending on your interests and schedule.
#5 See Palestine beyond the headlines
It’s no secret that the majority of the news the world hears from this region is negative. Unfortunately, mainstream media often focuses on dramatic and politicized stories and fails to show us what life is like on the ground. Taking a tour to Palestine and interacting with local people gives you a chance to see for yourself. Overnight at a homestay in Hebron. Visit an organic farm outside of Bethlehem. Explore the markets in Jerusalem. Tour the separation wall. Whatever activities you include on your itinerary, make sure you allow space in your schedule to slow down and spend time with locals. Listen to their stories and share your own.
Sunny is a Jordan-based writer and sustainable travel specialist. Her work appears in National Geographic, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, and elsewhere. Sunny has a BA in International Studies from Middlebury College, an MA in Cultural Sustainability, certification in sustainable tourism, destination expertise in over 20 countries, and more than a decade of experience designing international programs for adventurous and conscientious travelers.
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