Women travellers to Palestine: Female travellers to the Middle East, and Islamic countries in general, might obviously have some reservations. The expected role of women and their place in society is obviously different than it is in the West, this difference being largely based on Islamic law and local customs. In Palestine, while Islam is a central pillar of life here, women though need not worry. Of course, their experiences in Palestine may differ from men, but this does not make their journey any less valuable nor should it be a cause of any concern. Like travelling anywhere in the world – simple common sense and respect for Palestinian society is all that is needed.
Arguably, the only real change to behaviour is the need to dress more conservatively. This though does not mean a hijab is required – it simply means covering one’s shoulders and knees – that is, no tank tops and short shorts. And when attending pools or the gym, if you are staying a long time or volunteering at the Excellence Center in Hebron, a burkini, not a bikini, should be worn. The only time a woman will have to cover her hair is when attending religious sites – though this is generally a requirement across the Middle East (and in other sites holy to Buddhism or Hinduism). Doing this is not only an outward means of respecting the community you are in, but it is also something Palestinian women appreciate. As one learns, while Palestinians will always be interested in the West, they generally favour their own ways, and when men and women respect their ways, the appreciation shown is real.
In terms of general safety, Palestine is one of the safer regions in the Middle East, despite the ongoing conflict. Walking alone during the day is never an issue, and in Hebron, walking alone at night for a woman is again not a problem. Hebron is a well-developed city and its main streets are always bright. Of course, the absence of alcohol in Hebron (and in other cities such as Nablus) means there is never going to be drunk young men roaming the streets – in Ramallah this is different and some volunteers have expressed their preference in getting a taxi around at night time – however, like all Palestinians cities, crime is generally quite low and the preference to get a taxi around towns abuzz with bars and clubs like Ramallah is a reality that exists all over the world. You can check out the latest crime statistics at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics here.
For women, there will sometimes be cases that could best be described as a bit of a culture clash. While Palestine is a region of the world largely defined in the West through unfair stereotypes separate from reality, the West, and Western women, are also subject to some of these stereotypes – stereotypes are a factor of life everywhere. While these instances may occur, it is important to understand they will very rarely turn violent – of course, that is a possibility anywhere – but it is important to stress it need not be a constant source of tension for female travellers to Palestine. As one volunteer at the Excellence Center explained, she did notice that men would stare more than they do back in her home country (the USA), and while some men made advances, they never went too far, most often they were simply over eager teenagers with a good dose of confidence.
Yet, the norm in Palestine for women is a region safe for women to travel, in groups and solo if they wish. As Celine, from France, who has spent the last eight years travelling to Palestine, says, not only is Palestine safe, but it is one of the safest parts of the world she has travelled. Not only does Celine believe this from a woman’s perspective, but she makes this conclusion as a photographer constantly carrying expensive equipment. Similiarily, Tanya, from the USA, has expressed similar sentiments – as she says, her time in Palestine and in Hebron has been a safe and enjoyable one, never has she felt threatened for any reason, least of all, for being a woman