Travelling through Palestine and Israel, one may find it hard to get relatively unbiased information and figure out what is really going on on the ground of this conflict zone. In order to get an introduction to the area, that goes beyond, or deviates from the official Israeli narrative it's recommendable to go on a guided tour with one of the alternative travelling companies. However, as the Israeli mainstream is not so keen on tourists checking out the other side of the story, you may find it hard to get access to that information.
I'm by now an experienced traveler of the region, but when I came the first time, I was pretty clueless and going with the guides from Green Olive Tours to some of the major cities in the West Bank, like Bethlehem and Ramallah, seeing both the historical sights, but also political stuff, like the Separation Wall and settlements, constituted a very good and analytical introduction to the whole situation and made me understand at least to some extent what life under occupation means.
They have both (lefty) Israeli and Palestinian guides, so maybe this creates a bit more of an equilibrium. In any case, I can really recommend them!
In October 2010, the first "EcoCenter" in Palestine opened with the goal of alleviating the impact of water scarcity and environmental degradation on the village of Al Auja, 10km north of Jericho. Despite a serious blow to the (agricultural) economy in the past 7 years since the famous Auja spring has largely dried up (except for the winter months), the village remains rich in tradition and overwhelming hospitality full of warm people who are eager to share their ways of life. The EcoCenter was established by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), a unique organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists. It attempts to facilitate initiatives in the community toward environmental sustainability and economic recovery through education about environmental and water realities and widespread dissemination of conservation measures.
Visitors to the Center, whether with a group or individually, are bound to have an enjoyable and eye-opening experience. Their is a guesthouse with dorm-style rooms and a double room, and the center is full of fascinating displays of important environmental messages specific to the region. Outside there are beautifully-designed "environmental education stations" that further explore these ideas, but with a hands-on, real-life component. For example, there is a fully-functioning greywater system that recycles used water from the building to be used in the organic garden. Experts in natural sciences, such as biodiversity and hydrology, take visitors on tours to nearby natural areas, and the center is conveniently located near great cultural and historical sites around Jericho, some dating back to 10,000 years ago.
Interested in volunteering or interning in Palestine? Take a look at www.pidev.org for internships and volunteering in the Bethlehem area. We do adventure education with children that includes hiking, climbing caving etc...
Travelling in Palestine you can not avoid noticing the involvement and wide knowledge of political issues the youth have. I think the word I heard more often then all other words in such settings was "democracy"..
In the arab world there has been a tradition for kids to be seen and not heard. These youths know that their country and their people is going through radical and difficult times and want to have their say in it. As they phrased it: We are the future - and we want to help creating it.
Youth organisations are everywhere, run by skilled older youths. They are starting to have influence on the elders and their communities, and many of them also participate in peace summercamps, workshops to speak of peace and deal with trauma etc.
It is very inspiring to go and see how these kids work. I strongly recommend it:) One you can easily get to see is Palestine Vision in Betlehem. You can also ask people in Holy Land Trust if they can contact any youth organisations for you if you want to see how they work.
If you want an update on the situation you can try to visit TIPH (Temporary International Presence in the city of Hebron).
This is a civillian observer mission created to observe, not intervene in, the conflicts between settlers and Palestinians in Hebron. The purpose was to give the Palestinians a sense of security by having outsiders observe and write reports on what happens. The background for this was that an Israeli settler opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque on february 25 1994 and killed 29 people while they worshipped.
TIPH patrol the streets, take pictures and observe everything that happens. They can however not intervene and all their reports are secret. Because their hands are tied like that many Palestinians feel they are a bit useless as they can not change their situation. This type of observation is especially needed in Hebron as these settlers are known to be the most brutal and extreme of all.
TIPH is however very updated and can probably give you lots of information on what happens in Hebron, pop by their office and ask if they can tell you a little bit about their work.
In Betlehem there is an organisation called "Holy Land Trust". They can offer volunteer work for anyone, you can work at a hospital, as a journalist, as a lawyer, in the refugee camps, in day care for children etc. You'll live with a palestinian host family and get to learn some arabic...
I got to see some of their projects, and also worked for three days in Aida Refugee Camp. It was a wonderful way of getting to know the daily life of people living here, and also to have fun with the kids at the activity centre. I had the best time and would recommend everyone to do the same. One of the many important programmes this organisation has is non-violent training. It helps people handle their frustration and to protest in a non-violent way when IDF makes life difficult. This kind of protests have been effective up to a certain point.. they make it more difficult for the IDF to treat protestors violently as they are not being threatened physically.
Gaza is such a small piece of land - and one of the most densly populated areas in the world. In the south, especially in Rafah, the inhabitants were hit hard by the Israeli army, and they have been bombed, killed, shot at and gotten their houses destroyed on a regular basis. Now after the disengagement and the removal of the settlers, there are no ground troops left of the Israeli army in Gaza. This is somehow good, but on the other hand it is easier for Israel to bomb Gaza now as they don't have to worry about hitting the settlements anymore. They also continously fly over the area with supersonic aircrafts, which causes panic attacs amongs children, general fear amongst the population, shattering of glass and... recent research show that this has led to abortions among pregnant women. They have also bombed peaceful demonstrations several times, causing the death of children as well as women and men.
Rafah is not a place to go if you are on a happy clappy holiday, but if you want to see how the situation is really like for many palestinians, you should go there and have a look... There you will see the situation in the Middle East as it really is - that is a truth you won't find in the fancy hotels in Jerusalem or in the old churches of Betlehem... You'll need a permission from the army to get into Gaza, and that is really really difficult unless you have contacts. If you ever were to volunteer in Palestine, make sure you sign up for one of the many summer days in Gaza, as that will allow you to meet youths from all over the world whom you can sit down with to talk about peace, being a youth and ... just make friends.
The medias like to portray the demonstrations made by the Palestinians as very violent and enormous. I suggest you join a peaceful demonstration and see what it is all about.
We joined a demonstration in the north of Jenin, in a village where the "security fence" had seperated the village from 90% of their agricultural land, land they and their families had lived off for generations. It was a quiet and calm demonstration more then 100m away from the fence with the whole village present, including children. Still the soldiers aimed their guns at us and stood ready to shoot tear-gas into the crowd... Nothing happened, maybe because no one acted threatheningly, maybe because the direction of the wind didnt allow the IDF to release the gas without being affected themselves.
... dont only hunt sights, but take yourself some time just to stroll through the labyrinth of roads and get the "old city feeling" Watch both Israeli and Palestinian people at their workplace, sit down in a remote cafe and have a big glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, have a few conversations with people, hear the sounds and smell the fragrances of the city. Try it, its amazing!
There are some quiet corners within the premises of the Church. Anywhere outside the main part with the Cave will have less visitors. Here, the Roman Catholic chapel was a haven of peace after being crammed in the Cave.
Sadly, the church was the scene of a mjor hostage crisis recently. It is sad to see such terrible acts being commited in a place of worship. Any place of worship for any religion, for that matter...
Dead Sea mud contains sulphur, zinc oxide and magnesium carbonate, which are considered to be very good for the skin and the sea's warm waters are beneficial for arthritis sufferers and for those with circulatory problems.
Actually, when people DO visit Palestine (in this context I'm referring to the West Bank and Gaza) they cannot avoid the sight of illegal (according to international law) Israeli settlements. Those visiting Israel are more likely to miss them - unless they're actually visiting the settlements themselves of course. Personally, I think the continued confiscation of Palestinian land for the building of what many refer to as Israeli colonies is the biggest hindrance to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For a more in depth view on this issue, visit www.fmep.org, a site by the Foundation for Middle East Peace.
About 3 Km from Jericho town, perched on a rocky hill at an elevation of about 350 m, there is an old greek monastery that's worth a visit. You have to walk or to find a lift.
My friends and I drove into this little village in the mountains, and were welcomed by these wonderful children. They willingly posed for my camera, and this encounter is one of my finest memories.
Everybody was dreaming, hopefully after waking up from sleep, the frog will turns to swan but I think this will never happen.
Jerusalem Hebron Road, PO Box 1167, Bethlehem
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Families
Jericho Jerusalem Road, Jericho
Good for: Solo
Nablus Road Albireh, P.O.BOX 2169, Ramallah
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business