Travel logistics in Israel and the West Bank
Travelling through Israel, like this drive through the Jordan Valley to Israel and the Sea of Galilee, requires careful planning. (Andrew Burke/LPI)
Due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, travel advisories from countries such as the US, Canada, the UK and Australia recommend exercising a high degree of caution when travelling to Israel and the West Bank, and caution against all travel to the Gaza Strip.
That said, plenty of people travel safely around the region every year. It just takes some planning and common sense.
The following guidelines should help you facilitate the logistics of your trip, figure out which rules apply to you and avoid making mistakes that could (in the worst of cases) get you into hot water with authorities
According to the US and British consulates, all travellers – including those who have previously travelled to Arab or Muslim countries before -- may be subject to lengthy questioning and thorough searches upon entering Israel. The Israeli government may deny entry or exit to anyone without having to provide a reason.
Upon arrival, be sure to declare valuable items such as laptops, for which you may have to pay a refundable deposit, the British Consulate advises.
In addition, if you are not sure how long your stay will be, Lonely Planet advises asking for the maximum amount of time: three months.
Travellers of Palestinian descent, regardless of which country they hold passports for, are not allowed to enter the region via the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv; instead, they must enter via the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge border crossing, outside of Amman, Jordan. (Travellers often fly into Jordan before crossing over). Conversely, travellers with Israeli citizenship or dual citizenship between Israel and another country are not allowed to enter via the Allenby Bridge crossing and must enter via the Ben Gurion International Airport.
According to the US and British Consulates, some travellers who said at the border that they were travelling to the West Bank have been given “Palestinian Authority Only” stamps, which prevent them from going to Israel. The British Consulate also says that Israeli border officials can also ask some visitors to sign forms saying they cannot enter Palestinian-controlled territories unless they receive authorisation in advance.
While you cannot take a rental car in to or out of Israel, you can rent a car in Israel and drive it to Israeli military-controlled parts of the West Bank. Your rental car is not likely to be insured for the West Bank or Gaza, however. Frommers offers several helpful tips for driving in the region.
To get into the West Bank, you can take a bus (on an Arab-operated bus line) from East Jerusalem. Lonely Planet provides details on bus options. One way to understand the tumultuous situation in the West Bank, Lonely Planet recommends, is by going on an organized tour that includes visits both to a Palestinian refugee camp and to a Jewish settlement.
Craig Bidois, co-author of the new book Travel Safety and a former UN security trainer who runs the travel safety firm Fearfree, explained that land borders are not as tightly controlled as airports. If crossing a border by car, be ready to show your travel documents to authorities. “Only open the window five centimetres: just enough to comfortably hand over your documents,” he advised. “You don’t want anything thrown into your vehicle or to give someone a chance to seize your keys or strike you.” He also warned that proceedings at the border can take a long time.
Make sure you know key words and phrases in the local language -- enough to understand written street signs alerting drivers to checkpoints. “We have known of cars being fired at because they have not recognized signals to stop at waypoints or borders,” Bidois said.
Travel insurance is frequently recommended by consulates for trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories. You should also make sure you are up to date on the necessary vaccinations.
Although consulates advise against all travel to Gaza, some travellers still visit the area. If you go, be aware that your consulate most likely will not be able to help if something goes wrong (for example, if you end up in jail or in the hospital).
If you leave Israel by a land border, you will be subject to an exit fee; check the website for the border crossing by which you plan to leave to find out how much you will be charged. If you fly out of the country, you may be subject to questioning and searches (as upon arrival). Another thing to keep in mind before leaving is that electronics may be held for inspection and then returned later; the British consulate warns that personal items have been known to be damaged in this process.
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.