Are you crazy? You must have a good reason! And to your benefit, there are plenty of good reasons…especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, or Christian! It’s the Holy Land for crying out loud!
We started off on our journey with the intent to make pilgrimmage. Here are several tips and hints we learned the hard way that will hopefully better your stay in the Kingdom of Heaven.
1. Shekels come in both coin and paper bill format. The 1, 5, and 10 shekels are coins, not bills, so don’t think that they are change. See Day 1: Journey to Ramallah for details.
2. You will be questioned by everyone–Arabs and Israelis alike. Where are you from? What’s your father’s name? Where is he from? Are you Muslim? Stay calm and realize that you may be an anomaly in their world. There isn’t that much tourism in Palestine/Israel these days, especially from Western Muslims. In addition, there is no such thing as a vague answer at the airport or the security checkpoint, they want to know your business. So make sure you have something else on your agenda besides just visiting the West Bank and Islam-related sites if you are a Muslim. In other words, don’t mention Palestine or Palestinians during the questioning at the airport.
3. Fridays are a very special day for both the Jews and Muslims. For Muslims, it’s the day of gathering, or jumu’a. Shops close early for Friday prayers. For the Jews, Friday night at sunset begins the Sabbath and all Jewish businesses will be closed until Saturday night at sunset. Plan accordingly. This especially impacts shopping and dining plans.
4. People don’t turn right on red, unless you’re in the West Bank…anything goes there.
5. Driving is extremely aggressive. Think of the worse driving situation you’ve been in, and triple it. If you can’t be equally aggressive, then you may want to leave the driving to someone else. New York traffic can’t compare. Driving, and for that matter, riding around Israel and Palestine is not for the weak of heart. There should be a sign akin to to the ones you see when embarking on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park before riding or driving there. Car seats and buckling up for safety are a must.
6. Always keep your passport on you and stay alert. Watch the news, listen to the radio, make some friends on both sides who can cue you in about what’s happening around town.
7. On Jewish holidays, basically everything is shut down. Don’t even attempt to drive unless you are in the West Bank. The roads are blocked and the stoplights are turned off.
8. Modesty is key. There are certain sections all around Jerusalem where your head and your skin must be covered whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Other. Going to the Noble Sanctuary, women should wear a jilbab, abaya, thobe, or prayer clothes. It’s the norm and you’ll get harrassed by the male guards if you aren’t wearing traditional clothes. Also see Day 1: Journey to Ramallah for details.
9. Learn some Arabic or Hebrew before you go. Not everyone speaks English…especially once you leave the Old City.
10. The cities are dusty and dirty. Don’t wear white or black for that matter. Wear khaki, beige, and blue jeans, and the dirt will disappear!
11. If you are going to the West Bank, you can be 99.9% sure that your trunk will be opened upon exiting. The driver will have to exit the car and open the trunk. Motorcycles are not exempted.
12. Anyone may enter the West Bank, but not everyone can leave. Make sure that you are someone who can leave.
13. If you are traveling with baby, bring a lightweight umbrella stroller with canopy! It’s hot, sunny, and you’ll need to carry it up lots of crowded stairs in the Old City. You don’t want a heavy stroller for that!
14. Better yet, bring sunblock and bug spray for everyone. Your skin will thank you immediately.
15. Wear comfortable walking/hiking/running shoes. This is not the place for high heels and being posh.
16. It’s normal for people to walk in the street. Kids get out of school in the West Bank around noon…somewhere in between 12 and 1. Watch out for them.
17. Don’t feel pressured to roll down your window for the begging kids at checkpoints. Once you do though, you better have some 5 shekel coins on hand, not bills. See Day 20: Saying Goodbye, or Ma’Salaama for details.
18. Ladies, wear some pants under those abayas, jilbabs, and thobes. You never know when you’re going to need to run! See Day 18: You and Michelle for details.
19. You can get a GPS….but it won’t work in the West Bank…see Day 1: Journey to Ramallah for details.
20. When the going gets tough and the tough get going, give yourself a break and go to Eilat. You won’t regret it and you’ll thank us later.
21. Don’t fret so much over your laptop being bugged, but whether or not you have the appropriate electric converters and adapter plugs. Your thumbs will thank you later.
So, if after reading this, you still decide to stick to your guns…I mean rocks…and go to Jerusalem and you are asked, “Why are you going to Jerusalem?” Answer, “why aren’t you going?!”
Did we miss anything?