Safety and Risk in the West Bank

There is also another special article addressing the special concerns of solo female travellers - at this link

Updated: September 2016 - by Green Olive staff
Safety and Security
The occasional random violence by Israelis, the IDF, and Palestinians, is intercommunal, and tourists are largely unaffected. Most of the violence has been by Israelis against Palestinians. All tours by the Green Olive Collective continue to function normally and care is taken to avoid any areas that are are most prone to violence.

Safety for tourists in the West Bank depends on a number of factors. First it's important to understand that street crime is very low, much lower than many other countries. However foreigners should generally take the same precautions that they would do in any other developing country where most of the people are very poor and oppressed by their government.

The potential for a tourist to encounter violence at this time (September 2016) is moderately low, certainly much lower than in most US cities for instance. However incidents do occur, rarely against tourists, and generally fall into the following categories:
  • Stone throwing by Israeli settlers at Palestinian vehicles or vice-versa.
  • Harassment and beatings by Israeli settlers against Palestinian villagers and farmers.
  • Israeli military attacks against often non-violent Palestinian & Israeli protesters.
  • Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas, and nighttime home invasions.
  • Israeli assassination of Palestinians.
  • Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes, often several dozen per month, where families are brutalised for building without a permit.
  • Occasional rocket attacks by Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli communities inside Israel.
  • Random politically-motivated violent attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians both in the West Bank and Israel.
  • Demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem can turn violent. The IDF and Israeli police often violently suppress non-violent demonstrations. Stone throwing by Palestinians at demonstrations often provoke a brutal response.
  • Note that suicide bombings have not been common since the tactics of the Palestinian militant groups changed in 2005. None have occurred for several years.
It is important to emphasis that none of this violence is directed at tourists. The exception is in ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Israel, especially Jerusalem, where immodestly dressed tourists are subject to harassment or violence by residents. Driving through an ultra-orthodox neighborhood on Shabbat, from sundown of Friday to sundown on Saturday, may result in stones being thrown at your car.

However most of the violence by Israelis is aimed at Palestinians in the West Bank, and violence by Palestinians is aimed at Israelis. You have a much greater risk walking about in Manhattan or Miami (where muggings are common) or Tel Aviv (where car fatalities against pedestrians are common) than you do in Bethlehem, Ramallah or Nablus.

The US government does not issue alerts for American cities but it does have an extensive travel warnings for Israel, The West Bank and Gaza, which is always interesting to read, although not necessarily accurate or up-to-date. The British Government also issues detailed warnings.

Dress code
When you are in public please dress similarly to the host population. Be especially sensitive in conservative Muslim or Jewish areas, or when visiting religious sites. 'Village clothes' is the local euphemism. In general this means long trousers (pants in USA-speak) to the ankle or skirt below the knees, and shirt covering the shoulders and upper arms with a high neckline or collar. Showing the shoulders and the upper torso is considered rude, whether by men or women. No shorts by men or women. Local people will relate better to visitors who are dressed appropriately. Ladies should keep in mind that many Jewish settlers in the West Bank wear long skirts, so you may be better off wearing trousers in order not to be mis-identified. On the other hand if visiting an Israeli settlement or religious Jewish neighborhood a long skirt is better.

Generally women do not need to cover their head, except when visiting a mosque. Married women should cover their head when visiting an orthodox synagogue. However it's a good idea to always have a light scarf handy. Perhaps you'll find yourself unexpectedly in a social situation where most or all the women have their heads covered. Although it's not expected or required, it will be viewed as a mark of respect if visiting ladies lightly cover their hair.

Street smarts
In general tourists should not walk around Palestinian cities by themselves at night, especially when there have been Israeli military incursions, except when escorted by a Palestinian guide or friend. Local Palestinians know what to do in case of an emergency and help keep you safe. There are exceptions. For instance Ramallah is quite cosmopolitan and has an active night life.

Palestinians are usually very friendly and visitors may sometimes be invited for coffee or even to visit a home during a chance encounter with a local resident. Use your common sense in these situations, as you would anywhere. If you have a 'gut feeling' that something is not correct about the invitation then politely refuse. However don't pass up a chance for a genuine encounter with local culture.

Take the usual precautions with your valuables. Don't leave cash, credit cards, passports, camera, laptop etc in an insecure hotel room. If there's no place to lock them up then carry everything with you in a day-pack and money belt. Don't leave your day-pack where you can't see it. In a crowded market, carry your day-pack in front of you, not on your back. Don't flash a large wad of cash in a public situation. Only have in your wallet what you need for the day. The rest of your cash should be in a money belt or locked up. In hostels or cheaper guest houses, do not leave valuables in the management's safe.

Traveling in the West Bank
If you are taking a guided tour then you will be escorted by your guide. Make sure you have the guide's mobile phone number and the phone number of the tour operator, just in case you are separated from the group for any reason. Palestinian guides are part of the community and provide a shelter from any potentially unsafe situation. For instance the Israeli military and Israeli settlers make incursions into Palestinian areas. Should this situation arise then the guide will know what to do. Follow their instructions. Tour operators in the West Bank keep close watch on the security situation and will cancel a tour if there is any risk. However in recent years it is extremely rare that a tour has been disrupted or canceled for security reasons.

You can take Palestinian buses and service (shared) taxis from Damascus gate in Jerusalem to most cities in the West Bank. It's fine to take a Palestinian transport if you want to venture off the beaten track. They are cheap and provide an opportunity to interact with locals. However you should have researched your destination, and if you are spending the night, you should have a reservation or be assured that there are rooms available in your hotel. Arriving in an unfamiliar town or city without knowing where you will spend the night is generally not a good idea.

Overall your safety and risk in the West Bank is a matter of common sense. Be aware of the potential problems, as you would in any unfamiliar country. But don't let concern about these issues hold you back from enjoying the culture and history of Palestinians, exploring Israel, and learning about the Occupation and possibilities for a real peace.

Comments

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10 comments:

  1. Great advice, especially about the dress 'codes'

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you a very good help!!!!!Great!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Is it okay to wear a kippah (skullcap) on your tours of the West Bank?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Palestinians in the West Bank associate the kippah with the settlers who they regard as their enemies. Best to avoid misunderstandings by wearing a hart.

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  4. Hi !
    I'm interested in the Bethlehem and the Hebron day-trips.
    I'd like to know how easy the entry / exit procedures are like at the checkpoints. As an American with a Turkish background, I have been warned that I will be taken in for extra questioning and body checks etc. at Tel Aviv airport, does this apply to the checkpoints too ?
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's true that if you have Middle eastern heritage, regardless of the passport you hold, then you are likely to be subject to additional security scrutiny at the airport. However at checkpoints you'll likely not even have to show your passport.

      Delete
  5. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!Key West Tours

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very useful and informative advices, I can see those advices are from local people who really knows this place. I'm going to visit this holy land this month, pretty excited already. :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. We are 5 adults and we would like to hire a taxi to make a day trip to Bethlehem and Jericho. Is it possible for us to hire one taxi for the day to bring us around and if yes how much roughly will that cost. Thanks

    ReplyDelete

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