Why Your Trip to Israel Should Include a Trip to the West Bank: So, you’re planning on visiting Israel, maybe for a vacation with friends or family, maybe for work, maybe for educational reasons. Perhaps you’ve heard a little bit about the West Bank but you’re unsure if you should visit.
Here are five reasons why your trip to Israel should include a trip to the West Bank.
The first reason is to learn. The West Bank is the largest region in the de jure state of Palestine, the other being the much smaller Gaza Strip, and home to the Palestinian people. Since 1948 Palestinians and Israelis have been engaged in a land dispute that has been fought on battlefields and in the halls of the United Nations. It is one of the longest running disputes of modern history and it is unlikely to end soon. As a global citizen, you have a responsibility to be informed about such issues that will shape not only the Middle East, but likely even the foreign policy of your own country. Because the conflict is cold, i.e. there are no gun battles raging, you can travel freely and safely to places like the Palestine Museum in Ramallah and the separation barrier in Bethlehem which will give you a good overview of the conflict.
The second reason is that many of the most significant, historical, and stunning sites in the region are in Palestine. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Dead Sea where the salty waters balance swimmers with ease, or the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some of the holiest religious sites in the world. Maybe you want to see the world’s oldest city, the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth or Qumran where scrolls from 400 BCE where discovered. Natural, historical, and spiritual wonders are abundant in the West Bank.
The diversity of cultures is the third reason to visit the West Bank. For centuries Jerusalem’s status as a holy city attracted pilgrims and migrants from around the world. Walking through the old city in East Jerusalem one can quickly gain a sense for the cultural richness that inhabit these ancient walls. The Jewish quarter encompasses communities that have lived in the city for centuries as well as new comers who bring with them the cooking and languages of Europe and North Africa. An entire quarter of the city is devoted to the Armenians, who are neither Jewish nor Palestinian, and still retain their old traditions. Lastly the Muslim and Christian quarters contain a Palestinian culture and religious tradition that visitors to Israel too often gloss over.
The food is undoubtedly another reason to visit the West Bank. How does cooked lamb with rice and fermented dried yogurt sound? How about cheese topped with pastry and honey? These are traditional Palestinian dishes that can found throughout the West Bank, with each city fighting over the title for the best knafeh or falafel. The diversity of cultures in the old city of Jerusalem previously mentioned also means that food from around has landed in the capital of Palestine. German, Slavic, Moroccan, French, and Indian food can all be found in East Jerusalem.
Lastly the people are what makes a trip to the West Bank absolutely necessary. Visitors to Israel will find the culture relatively similar to that of Western cities. Most people will likely be friendly but like in New York or London few will stop and talk with you. People go about their lives with the anonymity and brisk pace of the modern world. In Palestine, most people retain a culture of community and hospitality that has long since been lost elsewhere. People will likely stop you to ask where you come from and what brings you to their country. People have been known to show off the sites they live by with impromptu tours, whether it’s the architecture of their homes or sheep in their flocks or mosques, tombs, or ruins down the street. Everyone knows everyone and the sense of community pride comes with a sense that they must present a good face to guests to properly represent their home.
Millions make their way to Israel every year as tourists, yet by ignoring the natural wonders, traditional cultures, and historical monuments of the West Bank, Palestine too many are missing out. Next time you fly into Tel Aviv make sure to take a few days to visit Palestine and see why the scholars, clerics, and travelers have been talking about the Holy Land for millennia.