What is it Really Like in Palestine?

For most people, Palestine is a bit of a mystery and knowledge of it comes directly from what the media shows them. Any good traveller has learned that a healthy serving of skepticism is good when dealing with media portrayals of a place. It’s always better to find out what a place is like for yourself. With that in mind, I started on my way to find out what it is really like in Palestine.

Introduction to Area A of the Occupied Palestinian Territories

The official UN label for the area, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem has been the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since 1999. My journey started in Jerusalem, where I caught a public bus to the bus stop closest to an Area A border. Area A consists of pockets of land throughout the West Bank that include the cities of Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and parts of Hebron. It is the only part of the West Bank that is under full Palestinian control, yet it accounts for less than 20% of the area of the West Bank. I was crossing over close to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah.

Upon entering the border area, things started to feel very ominous. It was like all development had stopped at an imaginary line several hundred metres before the border. The area was desolate until a huge watchtower came into view. I could see a large red sign with writing in Hebrew, Arabic and English;

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Area A Border

This road leads to Area ‘A’ under the Palestinian Authority The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and against the Israeli law

I was expecting to get my passport checked as I walked past the tower. No one asked to see it. There was a security guard stationed near the gate size hole in the wire fence behind the tower, but he was not stopping anyone going through. That fence seemed to mark the start of a kind of no man’s land that ran until a five metre high concrete wall with another watchtower. That is where I entered Palestine.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Area A Border Wall With Watchtower

What it is Really Like in Palestine – Getting to the Capital, Ramallah

To say that things were crazy on the other side of that wall would be a massive understatement. This was especially noticeable after spending minutes walking across a desolate space between fences. There were cars and people everywhere. I really had no idea where to go next, so I just started walking up the road. A local by the name of Ramek approached me. His English wasn’t too good, but he was eager to assist me. He helped me find a shared taxi, or ‘servees’ heading to Ramallah, where he also happened to be going.

Shared taxis in Palestine are actually minivans that seat around 16 people. In the van, Ramek tried to talk to me but it was very hard for us to understand each other. He did give me his phone number in case I needed anything while I was in Ramallah. I was surprised at how empty Ramallah seemed, but that could’ve been because it was afternoon during Ramadan. And also because it was fairly hot.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Quiet Town Centre Ramallah

Exploring Ramallah

I was quite surprised to find that many take away food places appeared to be open, even though it was day time during Ramadan. Maybe they stayed open in case people wanted to buy food for the ‘break fast’ meal in the evening. During my wanderings, I found a street lined with carts. Like old-timey wooden carts. The carts were mostly full of fruits that vendors were trying to sell. Almost every vendor said, “Hello, welcome to Palestine!”, as I walked past.

A few of them also enquired as to where I was from and asked if I would like to buy their fruit. I think they wanted to talk to me more than they wanted to sell me fruit. As soon as I stopped to talk to them, there was no further mention of buying goods from them. They seemed more interested in how much I liked Palestine. In less than a few hours in Palestine, I had come to the conclusion that Palestinians were very friendly and curious people.

Stars and Bucks

While walking near the town centre, I thought I saw a Starbucks logo. I had to do a double-take as I was sure that Palestine did not have Starbucks. Or many of the big chains like McDonald’s. Unfortunately, McDonald’s opened in Palestine several months after I was there. Which is crazy because they have so much good food there that I can’t understand why they would want to eat that rubbish. Anyway, back to the fake Starbucks.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Stars and Bucks K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Stars and Bucks in Ramallah

It seems that lack of access to some foreign brands has prompted Palestinians to come up with their own, better versions. Yes, better! Stars and Bucks is a chain in the country that could almost be mistaken for Starbucks if you’re not paying attention. Upon closer inspection, it is more of a sit-down-and-eat kind of cafe, as opposed to Starbucks’ focus on drinks. They even sell Starbucks-esk merchandise such as tumblers and mugs.

Area D

When in the planning stages of my trip to Palestine, I had started speaking to a local by the name of Moe. As he explained to me later, his name was actually Muhammed and one of his brothers was also called Muhammed, due to the naming conventions in the area. That is why he chose to go by Moe. Moe had invited me to meet him at the hostel that he worked at, Area D Hostel. This is a reference to the administrative areas that the West Bank has been divided into. I mentioned earlier that Area A is completely under Palestinian control. Area B is effectively Palestinian land under Israeli security control and Area C, which accounts for most of the West Bank, is completely under Israeli control.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Occupation Article

Meeting Some Locals

The idea is that Area D is a safe place outside of all of the political division that can be used as a base for exploration of the real Palestine. I was planning to check in to the hostel on arrival, but Moe said we could organise that later. It was time for tea and a chat first. Who was I to argue? Moe introduced me to an interesting group of people. One of them was a Dutch woman who also worked at the hostel. She had visited Palestine a year beforehand and loved the locals so much that she decided to return and live there.

The others were just passing through, but also commented on how much Palestine had surprised and impressed them. We all sat around chatting and sipping tea well into the early hours. At that point, Moe suggested that I needn’t bother checking in and should instead stay at his place. Ramallah felt very serene and peacful as we walked back to Moe’s place in the middle of the night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Mosque Near Area D

Planning a Trip to Nablus

Once back at Moe’s place we chatted more over mint tea, made with mint that Moe grew in a pot on his balcony. I had thought until that point that I wasn’t a fan of mint, but it seems having it fresh makes a world of difference. During our chat, Moe has asked if I was interested in seeing Nablus, his home town. He advised me that he had a friend in the city and he would ask him to show me around the city. Considering that I’d only just met Moe, I felt super appreciative that he was going out of his way to make my stay in Palestine awesome.

What is it Really Like in Palestine – Nablus

Moe’s friend in Nablus said that he would be available after 11 am to show me the city. I got myself to the transport station near the town centre and got a servees to Nablus. Most of the driving was done in 30 minutes. Then we hit traffic coming into Nablus. For a relatively small city, it seemed to have a whole lot of traffic!

Moe had given me his friend Majed’s number to call when I got into the city. The servees driver called him for me. He told Majed exactly where he was dropping me off so he knew where to meet me. In Palestine, you can just ask any random person on the street to call someone for you and they will do it. How lovely is that?

Meeting Majed

I was a little overwhelmed by the massive amounts of noise coming from the traffic and wasn’t quite sure exactly where I was meeting Majed. Luckily, as a confused looking foreigner, I stood out a bit and Majed was able to spot me fairly quickly. He greeted me with, “Welcome to Nablus!”, and it was clear to me that he was very proud of his town. As we moved away from the busy main street, I was surprised at how quickly things became more spaced out and quiet. It wasn’t long before we were in the old town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Nablus Old Town K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Old Town Nablus Alleyway

Wandering the City

Majed advised that Nablus was one of the oldest cities in the world. He believed that it could have been settled nearly 10,000 years ago. It certainly felt very old while walking through it. Majed also said that the city was often reffered to as the Damascus of Palestine. What was amazing about the town was that despite the extreme heat of the day, the covered alleyways were quite cool. As we walked around, it felt like Majed knew almost all of the shop keepers.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Nablus Town Centre Clock Tower K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Nablus

He stopped for a small chat at quite a few of them and almost every one of them gave me a little treat from their shop. Some of them even wanted photos.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. New Friends in Nablus

After the walk around town, Majed took me back to his place where I met his mother, sister and six year old niece, Aya. Aya took an instant shine to me and was excited to practice her English. She proudly said, “How are you?”. Then we munched on an insanely delicious Palestinian sweet called Knafeh Nabulsieh. Yes, it was during Ramadan, but children and non-muslims are not required to fast for Ramadan. As long they don’t eat in front of someone who is fasting, it’s all good.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Knafeh Nabulsieh

From what I could gather, it’s made with white cheese, pastry and sugar syrup. Majed assured me that the Nablus version of sweet was the best. In fact, Nablus is where the sweet originated. Majed later told me that Aya had asked if I could join the family for their ‘break fast’ feast that night.

Ramadan ‘Break Fast’ Feast

We walked to Majed’s sister’s house on the other side of town for the meal. It was around sunset time and Nablus is in a valley between two hills. That made the view quite striking.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. View of Nablus

Aya rushed up and hugged me as I walked in the door. She then spent the time before dinner pointing out each new relation as they walked in the door. Unfortuantely she didn’t quite know the English words for all of them, so I had to help her out. She would then tell me the Arabic equivalent of the word.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. Ramadan 'Break Fast' Meal

Majed’s mum and sister were constantly trying to stuff me with food and drink. They relayed, through Majed, that they wanted to make sure that I was looked after as their guest. I was so looked after that I’d probably gone up a clothes size!

Leaving Palestine

On my way out of Palestine, I had decided to make a short stop to try to procure a mini Palestinian flag. I was close to giving up because all the shops I’d tried only had full size flags. I finally came upon a shop that had a whole display full of the exact flag that I wanted.

When I asked the shopkeeper how much it was, he asked me why I wanted it. When I told him that I try to grab a small flag in each country that I visit, his face lit up and said, “For you, it’s free”. He also offered me some tea, but I had to continue moving.

One Last Palestinian Adventure

My last adventure in Palestine actually started in Jerusalem. A friendly Palestinian/Israeli local who owned an ATV had offered to take me ATVing. After going up and down some hills in Israeli controlled Area C of the West Bank, we ended up on the top of a hill overlooking the little town of Bethlehem at night.

K in Motion Travel Blog. What Is It Really Like in Palestine. A Hill Overlooking the Little Town of Bethlehem

They say that it’s people that make a place worthwhile. With all the Palestinians that offered me help and made me fell more than welcome while I was in their country, Palestine quickly became one of my favourite countries in the world. It’s sad that it’s so misunderstood. I think everyone needs to visit to find out what it is really like in Palestine for themselves.

You may also be interested in –
Southern Israel
Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel
Historic and Natural Places to See in Northern Israel

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39 Replies to “What is it Really Like in Palestine?”

  1. Hello there! I really appreciated learning a little more about Palestine. I haven’t traveled in the Middle East but would love to do so for one main reason – the food! Food is always a great way to connect with people no matter what their culture, politics, or religion is, I am sure there are wonderful people there!

    1. Middle Eastern food is amazing! I’ve also found people to be super warm and friendly in all the Middle Eastern countries that I’ve been too :o)

  2. Kez, I really really loved reading this!

    I have been to a few places where strangers have been super nice to me, but nothing on this scale! It’s soooo nice that people welcomed you into their home, shared their food…and even things like the first bloke who helped you find a taxi or the man who gave you a flag and wanted to fill you with tea!

    You are right. It is friendly people that make visits so much more epic. I am so sad that the world is letting these lovely folks down.

    1. They really do take it to the next level. You know I wasn’t too surprised, because people in all the Middle Eastern countries I’ve been to previously have been really friendly.

      It definitely is! I mostly just sat around chatting and drinking tea, but it was one of the best travelling experiences I’ve had.

  3. Great article and thank you for sharing! I’ve actually heard wonderful things about Palestine! I like the fake Starbucks!

  4. I have a preconceived idea about Palestine. You can guess that it’s biblical, and it is. You took the reader to a different level by making it a tour with the people (and food) that you met. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Loved this peek into what it’s actually like in Palestine. Due to all of the negativity in the news, it definitely didn’t make it onto my travel list and now I’m thinking that it really should.

  6. given the years of misery the Palestinian people have gone through, it’s very surprising to find most of them have a positive outlook on life! It’s a shame a beautiful country and people have to suffer so much due to politics!

    1. Exactly! I had long conversations with locals about the situation and they are obviously annoyed, but even though they have every right to be, they are not angry. They just want to move on and be free to live/travel as they wish.

  7. That was fascinating. Just wonderful how hospitable everyone was towards you. You really were a traveller this time instead of a tourist! I’ve been to Bethlehem, but none of the other places you visited – that wall wasn’t there when we went in the early 80s.

  8. What an awesome account of your trip and the hospitable hosts you had! Being atop the hill overlooking the little town of Bethlehem at night must have felt surreal.

  9. As someone who grew up in Israel and lived most of his life with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, visiting the Palestinian cities was something I could have never done (except for during the army time, that I was right outside of Nablus for a short while). I really hope that one day I will be able to travel safely in these cities and experience the same hospitality that you did.

    1. It would be really great to see a solution to the situation. But it’s been going on for so long that a solution could be getting further out of reach.

  10. The Middle East hasn’t been on my bucket list, but the more I see and read, the more attractive it becomes. It sounds like you had quite the adventure and I can only imagine how delish the food is. Palestine is certainly on my radar now and I’d love to learn more about the area and its people.

  11. This may be one of my most favorite adventures you have had Kez! I love the entire story and your trusting in the goodness of people around the world despite what garbage we are fed by the hate mongers!
    By trusting your gut and allowing yourself to take a little risk, you found out what Palestine really is like and that is that people are innately good and just want to create a wonderful story while they are alive.
    I, in particular, loved how you joined the family during the fast breaking meal at the end of Ramadan. I could just imagine the whole room and the mother stuffing you up with amazing foods and desserts!

    1. It’s one of mine too!
      I never believe anything I hear about places, I always prefer to find out for myself.
      If there’s one thing I have learnt from travelling, it’s that people are innately good everywhere. I’m always amazed and humbled by how much people are willing to share with and help strangers.

  12. I truly love how friendly everyone there seemed to be! You honestly feel so emerged in their culture when you get shown around by a local. Thanks for opening my eyes to this country I never considered visiting before.

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