So you’ve found yourself in the Middle East. More specifically, the West Bank. Even more specifically, you’ve landed your hiney in the oldest inhabited city on Earth.
Welcome to Jericho.
Before you go, do, or plan anything, here’s some basic tips:
Safety: The West Bank is currently nestled inside of Israel’s borders. If you look at a map, decrease the size of the West Bank by 75%, and that’s the actual land that’s available for Palestinian use. The rest is monitored or occupied by Israeli forces. Most of the violence that occurs in the West Bank is between IDF soldiers and Israeli settlers and local Palestinians. Most of the violence occurs at checkpoints. Most of the violence is directed only at Palestinians. Crime against foreigners in the West Bank is low; in the three months I was there, I never had one incident. (Okay, you caught me. Some little kid slapped my butt and then ran away to hide after I turned to yell at him. So, beware.)
It’s easy to get lost, as there are literally ZERO maps for the West Bank. Google Earth doesn’t even include most of the roads. I had to manually put a star on Google Maps to keep track of where my hostel was. The good news is that Palestinians are seriously the kindest, most generous people I have ever met in my entire life. If you’re lost, just ask: “Wein _______?” [tip: Funduk is hotel. So, if you’re asking where your Best Western is, simply say: “Wein funduk Best Western?” If you’re asking what something is, ask: “shu hada?” These should be enough to either (a) get a response or (b) have the nearest school-aged child shooed to the front to help you in English.
Socially Conscious Travel: Listen, we have to address the elephant in the room:
“Israel or Palestine?”
Politically speaking, you’re going to have to make that determination yourselves. I think I’ve made my stance pretty clear through some of my other posts, but that’s neither here nor there.
Jericho is an old, old city. Its people have resided there for years. Some of them only live there because their families were displaced after ’48. Be conscious of the fact that you are a foreigner on native land. Be conscious of the fact that you are a foreigner on native land that has been traumatized by years of conflict. Be conscious and, please, do your research. You cannot visit Palestine without understanding the historical, political and social consequences of the West’s involvement in the region, and you cannot understand the consequences until you dig deeper.
Please remember that you’re in someone else’s land, taking picture of someone else’s city, walking among someone else’s neighbors. Dress respectfully. General rules: no shoulders, no cleavage, cover your knees.
For my blondies: you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. I always kept my hair up/back, and sometimes “covered” my hair by using a thick headband, but it was mainly for protection against the sun. If you have darker hair, you’re still going to be noticed, but less so than redheads and blondes. Just ignore it. Who knows, you might come out with a village nickname like I did when I lived in Hebron.
Before You Go:
Jericho is HOT. Like, eating a jalepeño in Louisiana August sun at 89% humidity hot. Please bring sunscreen. Please bring water. Please dress in layers (linen, y’all). Please eat a good breakfast. Please don’t stay out in the noon sun. Please feel free to disregard this and do whatever the heckin’ heck you like.
But really, sunscreen.
Stay: Sami’s Hostel
Sami is the owner of this great little hostel right outside of Jericho. It’s located at the heart of Aqabat Jabr (مخيّم عقبة جبر), a Palestinian Refugee camp just outside the main city. (Look for the key statue at the entrance symbolizing the Key of Return.) Established in the Jordan Valley in 1948, the camp was set up to help shelter displaced Palestinians. Pre-1967 War, there were almost 30,000 refugees living in the camp. After the war, many families fled to Jordan, which now hosts a huge number of Palestinian refugees. Aqabat Jabr is quiet and quaint and the perfect place to experience Palestinian hospitality. If you visit during Ramadan, make sure you’re around for iftar, made by Sami and his family!
Note: You’re in a refugee camp. This is not a 5-star hotel. Your bed is small, the sheets are old (but clean) and the bathroom is low-tech. If you’re looking for a cushy, luxury oasis, this isn’t your spot. If you’re looking for some authentic travel, look no further.
Extra Note: Sami will hook you up. Want an all day tour for a fraction of what you’d pay a company? Tell him, and he’ll set you up with one of his family members who lives, breathes, eats and sleeps in Jericho. They’ll bring you places you never even thought to ask about.
Do Find Hisham’s Palace, Don’t Pay for the SkyTram to the Mount of Temptation
Listen, I didn’t do the SkyTram (which, unexpectedly and interestingly, was funded by the Japanese), so I can’t tell you what’s at the top, but my “tour guide” did tell me this: The Mount of Temptation is a mountain. If you’re been at the top of a mountain, you don’t need to go. Honestly, with the views we found at Hisham’s Palace, I figured my panoramics were pretty spot on.
Instead, we went to some ruins.
Hisham’s Palace was built in 734 CE (!!) Listen up, it’s just outside of Jericho in Khirbat al-Mafjar. Grab a taxi. Go. It’s phenom.
You’ll find a quick little inside movie as you enter the ruins. It’ll give you some background to the archaeological site, and you’ll appreciate the brief interlude of air conditioning. While the movie is pretty informative, it won’t tell you that the true name and context of the ruins is still pretty unknown. The name “Hisham” was found on a piece of pottery during 19th century excavations and it was just assumed that it was built under the direction of caliph Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, while others claim it was built by Walid Ibn Yazid, whose family was known for over-the-top estates. Either way, the awe remains the same, amirite?
Regardless of who built it or why, just promise me this: look to the sky and revel in the amazing detail that these 8th Century architects crafted.
Do Eat Like a Local, Don’t Expect a Crazy Night Out
Listen: Jericho is an, arguably, immensely popular tourist destination. Despite this fact, remember that you are still in a Muslim country. Alcohol is tough to find (although it can be found at some stores behind curtains; just ask) so give up on ideas of a wild night out in the driest, hottest city you’ll ever be in. Stick to the basics: eat some amazing Palestinian food (maqluba or mansaf, anyone?) and maybe smoke some shisha.
The little town square comes alive at night. Take a seat and enjoy all the magic that unfolds as the sun goes down. My advice? Take a quick walk around the surrounding city as the sun sets. You’ll find yourself awash in a golden oasis with simply stunning views.
Do Stay Awake for the Drive in, Don’t Miss the Dead Sea
I traveled to Jericho from Hebron, which, thanks to detours and roadblocks and checkpoints, turned into a decently long drive. Please make sure that you’re awake as your reach the outskirts of Jericho. I don’t care how sunburned or sandblown you are, you need to see the dunes and the Dead Sea from this vantage point. It’s remarkable.
Getting to the Dead Sea is pretty simple. Most taxi drivers in Jericho are happy to bring you and wait around as you frolic (for an extra fee, of course). If you’re coming from another West Bank city, you should be able to take a shared taxi or a bus. Ask the locals for the best route, as road closures and check points may cause the journey to become a little more complicated. Please note that there are different entrances and that many Palestinians cannot bring you to the Israeli-designated entrances. You’re free to choose which “part” of the Dead Sea you go to. [Political Note: If you’re socially conscious, make sure you’re buying from local brands and merchants that do not source their Dead Sea mud from pillaged sites. Feel free to reach out to me personally if you want more information!] There are taxis everywhere that are usually pretty reasonable. If someone charges you a flat fee, be sure to haggle a little bit. Otherwise, demand that they use the meter.
Do Jericho. It’s a weird little city nestled in the valley of ancient ruins and sand dunes that you don’t want to miss.
Are you planning a trip to Jericho? Let me know so we can chat!👇