Getting to Palestine as a British Citizen: Many British people harbour misconceptions about travelling to Palestine. It may be a more complicated procedure than visiting France or Spain, but in reality the West Bank is relatively easily accessible for British citizens, provided that they do a little research beforehand and are prepared for some small quirks and individualities to arise along the way.
In practical terms, Palestine is an area with excellent transport links. For example, flights to Israel from the London airports Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted are easy to get seats on. Both Easyjet and El-Al (the Israeli national airline) run a regular service to Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv. Furthermore, once you have arrived in Jerusalem (only a quick sherrut ride from the airport), the whole West Bank is connected through a cheap and frequent bus service between the major cities, as well as shared taxis to almost any location you can think of.
Another point that needs to be emphasised is that no special documents are needed to enter the West Bank. This is for several reasons, but for one thing, there is no Palestinian embassy to issue such documents. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the immigration officials, after asking a few general questions about the length and nature of your stay in Israel, will issue you with an entry card, which is stuck inside your passport. This card marks you down as a tourist, notes your arrival and departure dates and grants you access to Israel and the West Bank. As a volunteer with the Excellence Center (or indeed any other NGO in the region), you do not need a working visa – as you are not being paid, tourism documents will suffice!
The West Bank is generally envisaged by British people as a separate, self-contained region. A more accurate image would be of an archipelago – divided by checkpoints and borders into sections under the control of the Israeli government, the Palestinian authority or a mixture of both. As a Briton with a tourist’s visa, you can pass freely through these different areas of control – in fact, apart from having to show your passport at the odd checkpoint, it would be possible to travel around the West Bank as a UK resident relatively unaware of which sector you are currently in.
An aspect of travelling in this region that can also seem daunting is talking to your loved ones in the UK about visiting the West Bank. Having this conversation, even with those you are close to, can feel a little fraught. It is hard to know how people will react – after all, in Britain everything we hear about this part of the world is framed in terms of danger and insecurity. However, in my experience, most people react with curiosity – very few Britons have spent time in Israel or Palestine, and it can be truly interesting to show them a new perspective on the region. You may feel wary about discussing your trip, but like visiting Palestine itself, speaking about it is easier and more rewarding than you imagine.