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.

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.

Up Close & Personal

New generation Palestinians are a people born without a homeland. We have been scattered all over the world and for most of us, we have tried to find our identities elsewhere. Since the start of the Zionist, colonialist project of uprooting Palestinians many generations were born and raised in exile.

I was born to second generation exiled Palestinian parents. My grandparents on both sides were kicked out of their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. After being exiled from Jaffa and Jerusalem, my dad’s parents moved to Amman where they have lived ever since and my mum’s parents resided in Ramallah.

My parents became British citizens 30 years ago and so my siblings and I all hold British passports. Being British means I am granted certain ‘privileges’ other Palestinians do not have like being able to enter Israel without a permit and with few questions asked. This has made it much easier for me to move about the colonized land of my ancestors.

For the Palestinians living in Palestine (who do not hold foreign passports) moving around the country has become increasingly difficult over the years. There are checkpoints between most cities in the West Bank (around 98 of them now) where Arabs are more often than not questioned, taunted, searched and turned away. Your luck on getting through a checkpoint often depends on how the soldier is feeling that day (who some of them by the way are no older than 18 or 19 years old).

There is something humiliating about being at these checkpoints. It’s the way the soldiers look at you, your fate being in their hands, waiting hours in the heat of the sun for a soldier to check your ID and decide whether he wants to let you through or not. It’s also the way the soldiers look at you that makes you feel like a lower class citizen and ashamed to be a Palestinian. That’s apartheid for you huh?

I wanted to share with you something I noticed when I was driving into the West Bank. This sign is a small illustration of how Israelis try to make people fear Arabs and segregate them from society.

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FYI this sign is visible to everyone entering the West Bank. Vertically it’s about my height, which granted I’m 5’3 I guess is not that high. Please take note of what the sign says; it is “Against The Israeli Law.” Israeli citizens are actually fined for entering Palestinian areas because apparently it is  “dangerous”. I mean, really?

Are Palestinians THAT scary? 

Who’s occupying who?

For those of you who have succumbed to believing Israeli propaganda and fear us, this is directed at you. If you have ever had the opportunity to step into an Arab family home, I will bet my life you will be brought into the family, greeted with open arms and treated with the utmost kindness and hospitality.

Think I’m biased and don’t believe me?

Just go to any Arab grandparents house and you will understand exactly what I mean. I’ll be amazed if you manage to walk out of that house with your trousers still done up with all the food that’ll be shoved down your throat.

The Palestine “bubble”

With the spare time I had today I thought I would start an online blog to write about my experiences and adventures in Palestine. I will be spending 3 months here so have plenty of time to be writing. For those of you that don’t know me already, I am originally a Palestinian from Jerusalem but I have spent my whole life in London. I am what people would call a ‘Westernised Arab,’ I’ve taken the nice aspects of both the Arab and English culture and found a happy medium. I am also one of those really annoying people who throws in the words “Wallah” and “Khalas” into every other sentence and has probably got over 100 parking tickets in my life. Why you ask? Well I am an Arab. In my head, I can park wherever I want, whenever I want and I do not need to follow rules. Rules were made to be broken were they not?

Anyway this isn’t my first time in Palestine. I actually came two years ago where I worked as a counsellor at Go Palestine Summer Camp. I also stayed in Ramallah then so I knew a bit about the area before coming. I find Ramallah (the “bubble” of Palestine) to be a little like Amman. It’s young, vibrant and is the in place to be. Every week a new coffee shop or restaurant opens hoping the young Ramallah crowds flock there and bring them business. These crowds of people range from 17-25 years old and move in packs. It is very normal to go to a café or restaurant and have to spend the first 20 minutes saying your hellos to almost every table and chitchatting before you are able to sit down. (Good for me since I don’t know anyone here!!)

Of course you’ve got the usual places where these people go, during the day coffee shops like Pronto and Zamn (where I had an incredible coffee this morning) and at night most of the young crowds are at Beit Aneeseh or Orjuwan – bar/lounge type places. Nothing like the ones in London but for a Middle Eastern country they’re still good fun!

These young people live in what is commonly called the “Friends School” bubble. They come from a certain class of society and attended the American Quaker School “Friends”, one of the best schools in the West Bank, which also happens to be the school my mother attended when she lived here. These people that I seem to see at every cafe, bar and restaurant are different generations of Friends school kids who all know or know of each other.

Now what I found most surprising about them is how open they are. The girls wear short skirts and dresses when they go out, most of them drink alcohol and love to party, marijuana is out in the open and most smoke pot regularly, they go to forest raves and festivals – at times I felt like what I was seeing wasn’t even real!!

I mean before ever visiting Palestine I had an idea of what to expect but didn’t think it was like this. (Ok mini confession: before my first visit here I thought Palestine was this barren land with run down houses and poor people walking around miserable living under the Israeli occupation. I thought it wasn’t safe to walk on the streets for fear of being shot by Israeli soldiers and the whole place was basically a deadly war zone.) Little did I know what life was really like for a person of my age in Palestine.

But then is this what life is really like? Because for me it seems more of a façade. This can’t be what its like to live in Palestine. This can’t be the same place we hear and read about where there is injustice, instability and inequality. In the words of my brother, “you are going into the most unstable country in the world!!” So what is life really like to live here?

Until next time.