Is it Safe to Visit the West Bank, Palestine? As someone not familiar with the West Bank, or Palestine, wanting to travel to the region can often appear to be a very daunting task. Not only do the media constantly show their audiences pictures and footage of protests gone violent, a landscape of barbed wired walls, checkpoints and running gun battles, but government bodies as well, especially in the West, regularly give the West Bank some of their higher travel warnings – warning their citizens to either not travel to the region or seriously reconsider their decision to do so. Given the impression the media and government warnings give of the West Bank, not wanting to travel for fear of one’s safety is in all actuality a pretty wise conclusion to come to given these prevailing stereotypes.
But is it correct? If you ask most international travellers who have made it to the West Bank, it becomes very apparent that a contradiction exists between the reality on the ground and as it is portrayed to Western audiences via the media, some organisations and government authorities. Obviously, the stereotype did not come out of nowhere – the political situation in Palestine is instable and the reality of the situation with Israel is a certain tension that hangs over the region. As has happened in the past, the situation can spiral out of control – those gun battles and violent protests are an ever present possibility when a military occupation becomes a permanent part of existence in Palestine.
Yet, despite the fluidity of the situation, a good dose of perspective is needed when deciding whether or not to travel to Palestine. While the political situation in Palestine is troubled, at times instable, and sometimes not safe, for the vast majority of the time, and in the vast majority of the West Bank, the region is safe, easy to travel and most importantly, very rewarding for those that do. Rather than the stereotype we are often given that paints a region beset by perpetual war at every corner, on every hill and in every town or village, travel to Palestine for an international is like most overseas travels we may take in our lives – it is not a matter of having to dodge bombs and bullets or angry military forces, but an adventure in a land different to our own that simply requires a bit of common sense.
Mirjam, from Germany who is at the Excellence Center teaching English, learnt this when she first travelled to Hebron. As she says, she was surprised at how safe it was in Hebron – there was no great concentration of military checkpoints, or angry soldiers and police harassing everyone. Instead, what she experienced was a normal, safe town which she was free to explore. As Mirjam explains, her time in Palestine has demonstrated, very clearly, that the West Bank is nothing like it is often portrayed as, and is in fact, very safe. In fact, as she explained, the main concern for her as a woman has been negotiating the different perceptions as to gender roles – however, with common sense, a good sense of humour and typical Palestinian hospitality, she has been able to do so easily, and in doing so, has been enriched for the experience. Safety was not the issue, the adventure of negotiating a new culture in a new country was!
The fact of the matter is, that the current stereotype of the West Bank is very overblown – instead of the violence, travellers the world over who come to visit this part of the world are instead greeted by an upbeat, happy and hospitable people living their lives. Of course, they are doing so in a unique and sometimes difficult situation – but what one does learn when travelling to this part of the world, is that when tensions do simmer over, they often do at certain points or certain times (such as protests). In Hebron, the ‘hotspot’, though it rarely gets hot, is at and around the border between H1 and H2. To be safe in Hebron therefore simply means avoiding this area, and even that is mostly unnecessary. If one does want to cross over to see the Israeli side or visit Abraham’s tomb, it is very easily done without many troubles. Further, as is often the case at the Excellence Center, travel throughout the West Bank becomes a part of life – volunteers often go on day trips to Bethlehem, or Jericho or Ramallah – the only concern for newcomers being how to negotiate the public transport.
Overall, as an international, travelling to Palestine simply requires a normal dose of common sense that one would practice when travelling anywhere else. And ultimately, coming to the West Bank, especially to Hebron, inevitably dispels any myth about the West Bank being a part of the world that is off limits to travellers.