Getting In and Out of the Holyland

As this website is being written, the Israeli Knesset (legislature) is examining the possibility of prohibiting those who are connected with the BDS boycott movement from entering the country. People traveling with an interfaith group were turned back at the airport, including a Rabbi, because they were considered to be against Israel if they supported a boycott against products produced in settlements. In other words, there is no guarantee that anyone will get into the country. On the other hand, these incidents wind up putting pressure on Israel to let more people in. Check with your denominational office that deals with the Middle East to see what the rules are when you are going.

Sometimes travel agents are prohibited from taking people to stay overnight in West Bank towns such as Bethlehem. This is disturbing to the economy of these towns which rely on tourism dollars spent in hotels and restaurants. It has been fought by Christian groups and may not be a problem when you visit. 

There is also a law which says you must apply to Israel in advance in order to enter the West Bank. This is usually not followed, but check in advance and register if it is required. You cannot get a visa in advance but only at the border. You also can get turned down if you have visas from some Arab countries stamped in your passport. Don’t let that deter you. Check it out with the U.S. State Department since the rules change from time to time.

The two main ways of entering are through the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv or crossing the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge from Jordan. Most people do the former and from there you can easily get transportation to your hotel wherever it is. If you are going to Jerusalem and want to save money, you can take a shared taxi which gives you a ride around town dropping others off. It is actually fun, if slower.

Crossing the bridge from Jordan means flying to Amman, getting to the bridge, proving yourself with your passport and travel plans, and crossing on a bus or taxi. On the Israeli side you apply for your visa, recollect your luggage, and take transportation to Jerusalem or wherever you want to go. Buses and shared taxis are available unless you are with a group that has engaged transportation in advance. Many regular visitors prefer this route.

In order to leave the country, you will go through this in reverse but allow several extra hours at the exit point as you will be asked about your experiences and people you have met. There are sometimes long lines and preference is given to Israelis when exiting the country.

In parts of the country, especially in Bethlehem, you will encounter the Wall. In Bethlehem it breaks up the town so people cannot always get to their own church or school. In other parts of the area it is built in ways that separate farmers from their fields and they must get permission to care for their crops. Sometimes it does not allow people to go to adjacent towns. There are gates and check points but they are not always staffed. It should not affect your travel and your passport will get you through checkpoints and gates. But it does affect Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

What about safety?

Despite what you hear in the newspapers, your trip is as safe as a trip to any other part of the world. News is what happens different from everyday life and acts of terrorism can happen anyplace, so newspapers tend to sound negative and everyday life goes on. But, like any other place, maintain situational awareness. 

If you personally feel uncomfortable, leave wherever you are. If you are near a store, go into it. Store keepers practice hospitality and will let you stay if you are nervous about going back outside. Trust your gut and get away from possible problems. When I had my 7 year old grandson with me in Jerusalem, I felt a sense of excitement on the street and ducked into a store. They were very gracious until things settled down outside. The next day the newspapers confirmed that there was pushing and shoving on that street where I felt uncomfortable. Trust your instincts just as you would any other place in the world. 

Gaza is badly damaged
Gaza is badly damaged

Avoid demonstrations and large groups out of doors. If you are a photographer, remember that someone else will take pictures and they will be in the newspapers tomorrow. 

At this time in history, it is unwise to go to Gaza unless accompanied by an official or other very responsible person. Israel and Egypt are in control of all crossing points and the economy has collapsed. In 2005 the Israeli Knesset (parliament) approved a unilateral disengagement and blockade.  Israel has responded to the demands of Gazans by shooting and killing, such as happened in June 2018. Few people are allowed in or out, including critically ill citizens of Gaza, itself.  "Don't visit!"  is said with reluctance since Americans need to know the history and more of what is happening to women, men, and children in that area.  But,  food and electricity are scarce and visitors use up the scant resources.

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