Quick Tips! Things to Know Before Visiting The Holy Land
Language(s) Spoken: Hebrew in Israel, Arabic in Palestine. Do NOT confuse the two—especially in Israel.
Words you should know:
Shalom in Hebrew
Mer-Ha-Bah in Arabic
Toe-dah in Hebrew
Shoo-krahn in Arabic
English Level: Moderate.
Israel: You will be able to navigate well enough in Tel Aviv and Haifa, but once you leave those places, it will get significantly more difficult to communicate.
As the signage is concerned, you might find yourself struggling a bit if you don’t speak or read Hebrew. On highways and some main streets, many of the signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. But this is not the norm throughout the country. Just, FYI.
Palestine: If anything, the level of English here is slightly higher. The signs generally have English on them as well, but if you are really struggling, there is always someone willing to help you.
Currency: The Israeli Shekel
Exchange Rate: 3.6-4 USD to 1 ILS
While the Shekel is not as strong as the USD, I found most of the prices in Israel to be inflated to the point of equivalence. For example, a meal in MCDonalds ranges from 52-60 shekels, which is the equivalent to 14.40-16.60 USD. Roughly, if not even more expensive as in the US.
In Palestine, however, one dinner which comprised of 4 pieces of chicken, fries, two slices of pita, coleslaw and a drink cost 40 shekels or about 11 USD. This was more than enough food for two people and therefore lasted me for 2 meals. Bringing the total cost to less than 6 dollars per meal.
If you don’t eat fast food, I don’t blame you. So, for reference, a falafel in Israel will cost between 15-20 shekels, while in Palestine it will run from 3-6. Don’t pay more than that in either region.
Visa Process: None for US and Canadian citizens. Upon entry, you will be given a tourist visa which is valid for entry between both regions for 3 months.
However, you will likely be denied entry if you have a passport stamp for other countries in the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt.
So, if you are planning to journey throughout the Middle East, start with Israel, and then head into the other areas. Israel doesn’t stamp passports. They give you a card that you must keep on you at all times. After that, you can go wherever you want.
You will be interrogated when you enter and after you leave Ben Gurion Airport. I was questioned for over 20 minutes when I entered and stripped searched on my way out. (That story coming soon.) So, if you are going and you are not Jewish, just be aware that airport security is going to put you through the wringer.
Israel has a highly integrated transit system that is very simple to use.
You will, however, need to purchase a transit card as you cannot pay with cash. This card can be purchased on board the bus or at the train stations. It can also be refilled at most transit stations and at the Israeli version of what I reminds me of a bodega or corner store. People from the East Coast will know what i am talking about. But for everyone else, think of it as a locally owned 7/11 or convenience store. If you are unsure, you can always ask someone.
For both regions, if you want to call a taxi, it is best to use an app. Uber works in Israel, but it only semi-legal. The app that works best for both regions is called Gett. I highly suggest downloading it before getting on the plane.
In Palestine, they also offer a shared taxi service known as a servis. They look like normal taxis, but have a black sticker on the side that differentiates them from the others. They have a designated route, start and end point, but will drop you off where you ask. If you don’t speak Arabic, don’t worry, one of the other passengers will help you. A servis costs 3.5 shekels.
Personally, I am a huge fan of the app Here over Google Maps. However, be aware this neither of these two will work properly in Palestine.
If you are heading to the West bank, it is best to download Waze to help with navigation.
Did I mention that Israel is expensive? Because Israel is expensive.
You can find cheaper accommodation in cities like Haifa over Tel Aviv, but Haifa is not that great. The only thing worth seeing are the Ba’haí Gardens. Tel Aviv is a small yet vibrant and cosmopolitan city on par with London and New York. But be aware, if you go there, you will spend NYC and London prices.
To book, you can use Airbnb, Booking.com and Hostelworld.com. There aren’t many hostels in Palestine, but there are several guesthouses that are starting to pop-up in cities like Nablus and Jericho. There are also normal hotels as well, if that is what you prefer.
I have to say, however, if you are going to spend an extended amount of time in Israel/Palestine, I would suggest staying in the West Bank, namely Ramallah. From there, you can visit nearly all of the historical Biblical sites such as Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Doing it this way will be a tremendous way to save money. While you are in Israel, you can visit Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth and then crossover to see everything else.
Because of the news, I was quite frightened to visit the West Bank. And while it isn’t without isn’t issues, you are not going to be blown or terrorized by Palestinians (or Israelis for that matter.) Keep your wits about you, but also open yourself up to the hospitality of the people.
As a solo female traveler, this is always something that I have to keep in mind. Overall, I can say that I managed to get by mostly unmolested, by here is what I did experience, just as an FYI.
In Palestine/The West Bank, it was basically non-existent. People did often call out to me to ask me where I was from and to welcome me to Palestine, but the men generally left me alone. Which, I am not ashamed to say, was a bit surprising given the Western media’s depiction of Arab men.
In Jerusalem, however, walking through the market was a bit of a challenge. It was essentially a cacophony of voices of men calling me “Brown Sugar” and other racialized cat-calls while inviting me to come into their shops.
The worst offender was a by a man named Yasin who cornered me in his store. The conversation between us shifted radically from him trying to get me to buy a scarf to him telling me that he wanted to “make me happy.” When I tried to play coy and brush off his comment, he told me in no uncertain terms, “you know what I mean.”
The funny thing is, while his behavior was wildly inappropriate, but I did not feel unsafe. I mostly laughed in his face about his forwardness and he did not respond aggressively. I think a part of me understood that this was just his attempt at flirting, however misplaced. However, next time I enter a shop, will always make sure that I am closest to the door just in case the next man isn’t as harmless. I would suggest that you do the same.
The second time I was harassed was in Tel Aviv, by a man whose origins, like the majority of the words he said, I could not discern. As I was sitting at the bus stop, he sat down next to me and began…I don’t even know. But he did make me feel uncomfortable enough that I moved away.
And the last bordered on the line between harassment and flirting. Again it was in Tel Aviv, by some guy who claimed to be a sound engineer or something. I had asked him to help me find the correct bus stop, which he did, then followed me there and refused to leave until I gave him my contact information. During the course of our never ending conversation, he invited me to spend the night at his house—claiming that he would be away for the night.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst harassment that I experienced, but it was there. Again, just an FYI for my solo female travelers.
At some point, I will write an entire post on this, but to put it plainly—in Palestine I felt welcomed, in Israel, I did not. There was nothing overt, of course, but there was this rather distinct air of “what are you doing here?” throughout my time in Israel. To be fair, there is a sizable East African Jewish population there, so seeing Black people is not terribly uncommon. But I am clearly not East African and that community is not without its struggles.
Overall, I found the same type of micro-aggressions that I experienced in the US present in Israel. Namely, people crossing over the street if you are coming towards them on the same side walk, or stopping altogether if they notice you are walking behind them. This type of behavior is generally executed by other women, to whom I guess, my gender doesn’t quite register. I was just Black and therefore possibly dangerous. Just like home.
So, that’s it! Sorry to end the post on such a downer, but them’s the breaks.
I hope that you found this run down of all the basic and most important things to consider before heading to Israel/Palestine helpful. If you have any other questions, leave them for me down below!