Thinking of visiting Palestine and Israel?

Are you thinking of going away? Here are just a few reasons why your next trip should be to Palestine/Israel. Although far from an exhaustive list, these ideas will get you started.

1. Discover the beauty of the land

Though it remains a secret, The Middle East is spectacular. You get a little bit of everything, from desert lands to olive farms. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it truly is a breathtaking landscape.

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2. Visit the holy land for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Bahais

These religious sites are a part of human history and the lands are a mosaic of them all. Take a tour of Jericho, Hebron, Jerusalem and Bethlehem just to name a few.

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3. Discover quite possibly the richest culture known to man

The Arabic culture is one that dates back thousands of years. It is distinct in all its facets from traditional foods like Musakhan to folklore dances like the Debkah! Immerse yourself in the culture and discover its beauty.

4. Get invited to drink tea 3 times a day by 3 different people

Arabs are known for their hospitality so naturally you will find yourself being invited for tea several times a day! This is just something you will have to get used to.

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5. Swim in the Dead Sea (or more like float)

Due to the high concentration of sodium chloride in the water, you will find yourself floating in the Dead Sea rather than swimming.  It is the lowest point on Earth and a site famous for its unique geological landform.

Make sure you rub the mud from the seabed on your body as the minerals heal wounds, wash away impurities, moisturise and cleanse the skin. Just be wary of any open cuts and don’t shave the same day!

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6. Visit the birth place of Jesus

The village of Bethlehem is over 2000 years old and is the sacred city where Jesus was born. In the heart of the city sits the beautiful Church of Nativity where you can see the actual spot where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

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7. Discover a souq

Experience the bliss of simple living and walk through a souq where you will see village style entrepreneurship. Local vendors selling beautifully embroidered items from hand painted pottery to woven baskets. You can also find a wide variety of spices, fruits, sweets and other cooking essentials!

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8. Try the best shawarma

We would recommend Abu el Abed in Ramallah. The shawarma sandwich is to die for, but be sure to eat with pickled chili for the full experience!

9. Discover Herodyon Palace 

King Herod built his fortress inside the tallest hill in the land. He used the site for hiding and protection during the expansion of the Roman empire. Its remains are still animate.

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10. Visit the Cave of Patriarchs

Also known as the “Cave of the Double Tombs” or the “Sanctuary of Abraham.” The famous mosque in Hebron is the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah; the renowned Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

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11. Ride a camel

Riding a camel is extremely fun and will most definitely be memorable if you’ve never done it before. Just wait until the camel decides to stand up!

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12. Try the first Palestinian beer

Just outside Ramallah you can visit the Taybeh brewery and take a tour of the factory. They brew both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer and they really give the Germans a run for their money!

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13. Walk on ancient ruins 

Some of the most prominent ruins of the Roman Empire are in the lands of Israel and Palestine. A walk through the cities of Sebastia and Jericho take you back to almost 25 BCE. The 500-year-old Roman structures are an exquisite painting of the past.

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14. Visit the old ports of Akka 

Akka is a coastal city and its ancient port was once used for defence by the British Empire. The fortress, tunnels and cannons remain in excellent condition and are still standing today. Akka is also famous for it’s mouth-watering seafood straight from the Mediterranean Sea.

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Start booking and prepare yourself for the trip of your life.

The future Palestinian generations

As I approach my last week in Palestine and my internship with the Welfare Association comes to a close, I thought it would be a good idea to focus my final posts on the future.

As I have said before, I envision a future where Israelis and Palestinians live together. I envision a future without discrimination and where we have equal rights as citizens. I envision a future where people are proud to be Palestinian and proud of their Jewish neighbours, where we have a government representing both Palestinians and Israelis, where synagogues, mosques and churches stand side by side and people speak both Arabic and Hebrew. It is about time Israelis and Palestinians recognize we can never get rid of each other.

Arguments about history and who has rightful claims to the land are not going to get us anywhere. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years down the line, these details won’t matter anymore. The real question we should be asking ourselves is how we can ease the life of future generations – our children, our grandchildren and their children.

What can we do today to help the children of tomorrow?

Just as Palestinians have had a tragic history, Jews have had an even worse one. They have been expelled from more than 100 countries around the world since AD250 and have been persecuted much longer than we ever have. In the end Jews are our cousins and there is a lot of ground for cooperation and understanding if we change our perception of things.

It is very clear to me that we have a lot of potential. Did you know the Palestinian people hold one of the highest numbers of PHDs in the world?

The insecurity of not having a homeland should be the driving force behind our hard work and motivation. As Palestinians, we should strive to be the best and work harder than anybody else. Working hard is particularly important for us because without money, power and influence we will not get anywhere. We will never gain our rights and independence and we will never have a homeland (albeit in Israel, Palestine or whatever you want to call the country).

We cannot keep viewing ourselves as victims and blame all of our problems on the occupation. For the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Israel, the ones who continue to live and breathe the occupation everyday, their existence alone is a powerful form of resistance and I would say continue to do what you are doing. You are what is keeping the Palestinian population from fizzling out and resisting against the racist Israeli state that is ethnically cleansing the region of non-Jews.

For the Palestinian diaspora, the ones who live outside of the country and who do not have restrictions placed upon them, you are free to excel and I believe the future of Palestine is in your hands. We are emotionally detached from the situation because we have not had to experience the humiliation and hardships of living under the Israeli occupation everyday. Let us work together to stop this purely Jewish state Bibi is trying to create. Lets show the world it is in everyone’s benefit for Israelis and Palestinians to be on the same side.

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I urge the Palestinian diaspora to learn more about the situation and to teach other people about what is going on. We have to realize we cannot expect change to happen but we have to create this change. I urge people to come and visit Palestine and to see for yourself what the media hides from you. That is when you will truly understand the power of propaganda.

We have to be the ones to build the bridges for future generations to walk on, we cannot expect someone else to build them for us. Certainly we have a tough mission ahead of us and that is to fight for the rights of the non-Jews in Palestine. We must open our arms to anyone wanting to help fight for our cause, whether they are Jews against the Israeli state, Americans, Europeans, Africans – anyone willing to stand with us and fight against racism.

The Palestinians living in Israel and holding Israeli citizenship, those that have had to live among the Jews are living proof that it can be done. When I went to Jaffa, my friend and I had lunch at a fish restaurant called the Old Man and the Sea where the waiters spoke English, Arabic and Hebrew fluently. I had a Palestinian family sitting on my left, foreigners on my right and Israelis sat in front of me. I did not know this even existed!

I know it takes a lot of strength to accept the reality of the situation, but once more people are able to do this we will be able to think clearly about the future of our people. I have heard a lot of people here tell me how they do not recognize the state of Israel (both old and young) but unfortunately Israel does exist and it is not going anywhere.

If we are ever to move forward, acceptance of Israel’s existence is the first step. Of course I know this is easier said than done, especially for those who have had to live under the injustices of the occupation and can see how Israel is destroying Palestinian life and the lives of millions of refugees. Of course we all feel frustrated and angry and rightly so, but if all of us thought this way we will never move forward.

All I ask is that when you think about the future of Palestine, think realistically and practically and 50 years down the line. Don’t think of next year or 2 years time. In the end, there is no point fighting a losing battle. Lets fight the battles we can win – like fighting for our rights, fighting for our independence. The first step in moving forward is acceptance so we can then think clearly about what is it that we really want.

What I personally see that is most needed here is for people to be able to live in peace. All the non-Jews living in Israel and Palestine deserve the same rights and freedoms as the Israelis have. There is no difference between the two. We all bleed the same colour, don’t we?

I read these words on the apartheid wall in Bethlehem and have not been able to forget them since:

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We remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of ours friends.

Please stand with us against the racist Israeli state and open your eyes to the realities of the situation. Everything the media feeds you is propaganda at its finest.

Just look at what happened to me in the past week. My facebook and email accounts were hacked three times this week from IP addresses in Russia, the US and Palestine. I couldn’t add extra security measures or change my password. An hour after posting my blog on my mother’s facebook wall, someone then tried to hack into her account. Anyone else who has been criticizing Israel had a similar experience?

Seems to me like I am getting my message across and hitting a sensitive nerve with the right people. Lets stand together and not give in to this intimidation. Lets show them that we cannot be silenced. Please like and share my blog!

The harsh realities of living under occupation

I have always wondered what it would be like to live in Palestine, to spend a few months living and breathing under occupation. I had always heard what it was like and read about it but I am the type of person who likes to experience things myself. Having been here for a month now, I have never been more grateful and appreciative of my own life back in England.

Since being here, I have seen and experienced first-hand the techniques used to intimidate, humiliate and discriminate against us. Being in Palestine has given me a taster of what it is like to live as a third-class citizen in your own country. Here, being Palestinian means the law is not on your side. It means you are not accepted as a citizen and it means you are born with a black dot beside your name.

Just to give you a small example of what I’m talking about – two days ago, I was telling one of my work colleagues about my trip to Jaffa and Tel Aviv last week and about how beautiful the old city of Jerusalem is. I started showing him pictures on my phone and going on about the little markets in the old city and how we should all plan a trip together for work. Cheeky me was hoping this would be an excuse to take a day off work and go on a trip.

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[One of the pictures I took in Jaffa]

Once I’d finished my story, he smiled and asked me to see the pictures I took again. He then told me he has not been to Jerusalem for 15 years because every time he applies for a permit, the Israelis refuse his request. He has not been on a beach or seen the sea for even longer than this.

The sad thing about it is people here have lived under occupation for so long that it has become part of their everyday lives. They have learnt to cope with the struggles of every day life that comes with living under occupation as best they can. I, on the other hand have spent my whole life in England, where I have never felt being Palestinian held me back. I tasted what freedom felt like and I vow to never take my freedom for granted again.

Not only has Israel robbed people of their land and homes, it does not even acknowledge the existence of the indigenous Palestinian population before 1948.

People seem to forget the only reason Jews are becoming a majority here is because of the forced exclusion of hundreds and thousands of Palestinians from their homes. Do you know 95% of the new Jewish communities were established on expelled Palestinian land in 1948?

They say Israel is “a land without a people for a people without a land” – sounds a bit strange when thousands of Palestinians had to be expelled to create their country, no?

In the West Bank, although Palestinians are the majority and make up more than 80% of the population, Israel continues to restrict our water access and usage. We are only allowed to use 20% of the water from the main underground aquifer. We have to apply for permits to build on the land from Israel and most often these permits are denied, which means houses are built illegally and can then be demolished legally. Israel maintains the domination of its people at the expense of our people. It is apartheid at its finest.

Just look at the separation wall that continues to grow. It is more than three times the size of the Berlin wall and stretches over 400 miles. Israel has caged us in like we are animals in a zoo. Each time I come here, the wall gets longer and longer and it makes me question how the Israeli regime is able to get away with such a horrific war crime.

Every time I see the wall, I feel like crying. I feel like screaming out about the unfairness of it all. Why is nobody doing anything about? How does the wall keep growing when it is internationally recognized as illegal?

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Wall

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The international community calls on us to negotiate and engage in peace talks, how can this be expected from a people who have never been allowed to assert their identity legally? How is this going to be possible with the existence of the apartheid wall and illegal settlements all around the country that continue to expand?

To imagine what it is like to live under occupation is only a fraction of what it actually feels like. I pray that one day the world will wake up and hear the cries of the Palestinian people, I pray that one day we will rid the world of discrimination and injustice and I pray that one day the Palestinians will be free from the oppressive Israeli regime.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King

Crossing over to the “Other Side”

Ok so three days ago a friend of mine took me to Israel and we spent the day in Tel-Aviv and Jaffa. Being in Israel is literally like being in a European country. I was shocked at how modern and well developed the country is. The public transport system is like something you would see in Paris, the roads are clean and well kept, they have international retailers like Zara, H&M and Massimo Dutti, people are living happily, tourists are everywhere.

You know the blue public Barclays bikes we can rent in London? They have the equivalent in Israel!

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[Public bike rental service, Tel Aviv]

They really have done very well for themselves. To be honest, had I not been into the Palestinian areas, there is no way I would have any idea at all what goes on across the checkpoints.

The images below were taken of the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Notice how these pictures could have been taken in a European country?

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When I walked by the pier in Tel Aviv, you know what surprised me most?

The number of children I saw running around in their swimsuits, riding bicycles, eating ice-cream, playing with balloons, chasing one another. Why did I find that so shocking? I mean it’s pretty normal, right?

Because I do not remember the last time I saw this.

I cannot remember the last time I saw happy children. I have been in Palestine for almost a month now and I cannot remember the last time I saw carefree children, just living and running around happily. That’s the childhood most of us had and the childhood that has been denied to the Palestinians here.

Have a look at the image below I took in Ramallah, the morning before I went to Tel-Aviv.

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Do you notice the two young boys sitting on the street? They are 8 and 9 years old. Look at the run-down houses and the rubbish on the streets. Most of the children I see on a regular basis look aged and worn out.

I never realized how bad it was until I went to Israel and then came back into Palestine. It was a huge reality check for me. These Palestinian children grow up deprived from seeing the sea and playing on the beach, they grow up discriminated against and do not have the same opportunities as the children in Israel.

They have been deprived of a childhood.

Do you have any idea how hard it is for Palestinians holding West Bank ID to get permits from Israel to go to any of the cities by the sea?

This is a crime against humanity.

Israel discriminates against anyone who is not Jewish. I could not believe it when I saw Korean Jews living in Tel-Aviv. Do you know the government sponsors them to live in Israel? Do you know they have more of a right to live on the land than the Palestinians who were driven out of their own country in 1948?

How do they have more of a right to be here? Please explain to me how this is fair in any way.

I don’t feel passionately about Palestine because I am Palestinian. Heck I have never even lived in the bloody country, I can barely say two words in Arabic, I look English, I sound English, my friends are English.

This is about a peoples’ right to live free from racism, discrimination and oppression. This is about fighting against human rights abuses and this is about what is right and wrong.