- For other places with the same name, see West Bank (disambiguation).
The West Bank is an area located between in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. It forms the larger half of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories, the smaller being the Gaza Strip. It is known as the West Bank because it lies on the western bank of the Jordan River. This part of the world is steeped in biblical history and contains many sites of religious and archaeological significance. It has been under Israeli administration since 1967 with future status uncertain and still to be resolved, between Israel and the PNA.
- Hebron (الخليل/חברון)
- Beit Jala (بيت جالا / בית ג'אלה)
- Bethlehem (بيت لحم/בית לחם) – an ancient city much like many others in the West Bank, Bethlehem is also the site of Christian holy places such as the Church of the Nativity; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Jenin (جنين /ג'נין) – the West Bank's northernmost city, only 26km from Nazareth. Its name's meaning is The spring of gardens.
- Jericho (أريحا/יריחו) – the "Oldest City in the World", around 400m below sea level and great starting point for the Dead Sea
- Nablus (نابلس/ שׁכם) – considered the commercial capital of the West Bank, and known for its old city, its furniture trade and the delicious kunafa/kenafeh
- Qalqilyah (قلقيلية/קלקיליה)
- Ramallah (رام الله/רמאללה) – the administrative capital of the West Bank and temporary host to the PNA, Ramallah is a magnet for Palestinians seeking work as well as foreign activists
Major Israeli settlements
- Ariel (اريئيل/אריאל)
- Betar Illit (ביתר עילית)
- Gush Etzion – closeby Herodium Park is stunning
- Efrat (أفرات/)אפרת) – known for its nearby wineries
- Ma'ale Adummim (معاليه أدوميم/מעלה אדומים)
- Modi'in Illit/Kiryat Sefer (موديعين عيليت/קריית ספר/מודיעין עילית)
- Dead Sea – one of the top destinations in Israel and Jordan
- Judaean Desert – great for hiking and nature
- Judaean Mountains
About 2.5 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). As far as the traveler is concerned, Jewish and Arab sites in the West Bank are essentially separate travel destinations, since Jews and Arabs have separate bus networks, and rental cars can generally be used in either Arab cities or Jewish settlements but not both.
The West Bank did not exist as a concept before 1949. Its border is the cease-fire line between Israeli and Jordanian troops in 1949. Even though both sides specified at the time that it was not a permanent border, nevertheless, nowadays much of the world assumes that the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state will be based on this line.
In 1967, due to the Six-Day War, the West Bank came under Israel control. Israel did not annex the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem) due to its large Palestinian population, but Israelis did establish civilian settlements in the West Bank. West Bank Palestinians often resisted the Israeli occupation, most notably in the First Intifada of the late 1980s. The Oslo Accords in 1993 began the "peace process" and established Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank. This autonomy was extended in several steps in the 1990s, but in 2000 the Second Intifada broke out and negotiations halted. Since then, there have been some attempts at negotiations, but no more concrete progress towards an agreement. Around 2002, Israel reentered the autonomous West Bank cities in order to wipe out terror cells that were carrying out bombings in Israel. In 2005 Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, but they remain in the West Bank.
Currently, the West Bank is divided into three noncontiguous areas based on the Oslo Accords:
- Area A (18% of land) - Full Palestinian military and civil control, but Israel sometimes launches raids here to capture suspected terrorists. This includes most Palestinian cities.
- Area B (21% of land) - Israeli military control, Palestinian civil control. This includes most Palestinian villages and the farmland between them.
- Area C (61% of land) - Full Israeli control. This includes uninhabited areas, all Israeli settlements, and most major roads. Just 4% of West Bank Palestinians live in Area C.
There are no fences or other physical boundaries between areas A, B, and C. However, the Israeli military has put checkpoints on many roads, generally at crossings between Area C and areas A or B. Because areas A and B are noncontiguous, Palestinians going from place to place often have to transverse these checkpoints. Israel's West Bank barrier (physically a wall and a fence depending on where you are and labeled by either term depending on political sympathies) is entirely within Area C.
Temperate; temperature and precipitation vary with altitude, warm to hot summers, cool to mild winters.
Mostly rugged dissected upland, very hilly and mountainous, heavy vegetation is very common in most places.
- lowest point: Dead Sea -408 m
- highest point: Tall Asur 1,022 m
- See also: Palestinian territories#Go next for details on the travel between the West Bank and Jordan.
There are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the nearest major airport is Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. From Ben Gurion Airport, it is possible to take a 50-minute taxi or shuttle ride to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to continue on to the major West Bank cities of Bethlehem or Ramallah.
Alternatively, one may fly to Amman Queen Alia International Airport, and enter the West Bank at the Allenby crossing near Jericho. When using the Allenby crossing, you won't get a Jordanian exit stamp because of Jordan's role as a care-taker of the West Bank, so there is no "proof" of exiting Jordan (and therefore entering Israeli-controlled territory) on your passport. For more on this issue see our coverage on Visa trouble.
Note that Palestinian ID card-holders must fly through Amman because the Israeli government prohibits them from entering Israel at Ben Gurion Airport. It is best for people who may be listed under the Israeli census as having a Palestinian ID card (by birth to a card-holder, etc.), or who once had a Palestinian ID card, to just use the airport in Amman rather than risk being sent back home on a flight from Tel Aviv for using the wrong airport.
You can rent a car in Israel and travel with it in the West Bank. However, this is only a good idea if you are not entering Arab cities. Israeli car insurance usually does not cover travel in Palestinian areas of the West Bank (Areas A and B). Check with your car rental company to see exactly where you can drive. Also, Palestinians often attack cars with yellow Israeli licence plates traveling in the West Bank, believing that there are Jews inside.
To rent a Palestinian car, first get to Ramallah or other cities, by public transportation or taxi. Then you can rent a car and take it to any Arab area in the West Bank. However, you will not be allowed to enter most Israeli settlements with it.
Palestinian car-hire companies located in East Jerusalem will rent you Israeli cars which can travel in most parts of the West Bank and throughout Israel. The aptly named Good Luck Cars have great service.
Bus service to Jewish settlements in the West Bank can generally be found in the major Israeli city which is closest to each settlement. Egged (אגד) bus company runs buses from Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Netanya, and Beit Shean. Egged Ta'avura runs buses from Jerusalem. Afikim bus company runs buses from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva. Due to ongoing terror attacks, the Israeli government has installed enhanced security on buses such as bullet proof windows (on certain routes) and crash barriers at bus stops.
There are also Arab bus companies going into the West Bank from the bus depot in East Jerusalem, for prices comparable to service taxis, theoretically running on schedules. The main bus station is across the street from the Damascus gate. These buses reach Bethlehem and Ramallah, and from there you can connect to other locations.
For reaching other Palestinian cities, service taxis (shared taxis, pronounced Servees) are preferable over Egged buses. They are extremely cheap, and travel quite fast on the road. The service taxi is a great place to mingle with the locals.
Roads used by Israelis (in Area C) are generally in very good shape. However, within Arab areas the quality of roads varies.
Numerous Israeli roadblocks greatly impede and slow the movement of Palestinians between Palestinian cities in the West Bank and also between the West Bank and both East Jerusalem and Jordan. Visitors who travel to Arab areas of the West Bank should also expect to encounter Israeli checkpoints, and those of Palestinian origin may be subjected to strip searches or other intrusive procedures.
Taxis are often your best bet. If you're part of a tour, your tour bus is even better.
Driving in the West Bank is relatively safe and has some wonderful scenery, particularly along route 90. Just remember, if you have a yellow Israeli license plate, to stay away from populated Arab areas.
Hitching through the West Bank is easy and enjoyable — local Palestinians are happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly pro-Israel. Similarly, Israelis are generally happy to offer a ride to anyone who is not visibly Arab, though they are more wary these days, as in recent years some Jewish hitchhikers have been kidnapped and killed, and one Jewish driver killed by a hitchhiker with a bomb.
Shared taxis (sherut/servis) are common between Palestinian cities.
See & Do
- Ancient Susya, ☎ 1-599-500037, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 9am-4pm Su-Th (9-5 summer time). An ancient city which was populated by Jews and Muslims from the 3rd to 14th centuries. The most impressive relic is a synagogue from the Byzantine era which contains some beautiful mosaics. There are explanatory signs, pamphlets, and an education video on the site, and you can also order an organized tour. The site is located near the Jewish settlement of Susya, at the very southern edge of the West Bank. There is no public transportation to the site - and only a few buses to the road junction outside Susya settlement, which is a possibly-dangerous 30 minute walk to the ruins. So best to drive there. ₪26 (₪17 for elders).
Currency is Israeli Shekels, though US dollars seem to be widely accepted at tourist shops in Jericho and Bethlehem.
Ramallah has a number of good restaurants, including Darna (Palestinian and Lebanese food—there are pictures on the wall of many famous people who have visited, including Kofi Annan, Richard Gere and Jimmy Carter), Pronto (excellent pizza and Italian food), Ziryab (relaxing place with a fireplace), Stone's and Sangria's. There is an excellent ice cream shop in downtown called Rukab's. The locally-made ice cream is a real treat on a hot day, in addition to the fresh juice shops around the central square, Al-Manara.
Falafel, Shawarma, Hummus, Musakhan, Tabouli, Kofta, Knafeh, Kibbeh, Maqluba, Baba Ghanoush, and other delicious cuisine is widely available.
The settlement of Beitar Ilit has a great bar that serves Kosher Chicken soup with harif. The settlement of Ariel has many fast food restaurants and other tasty kosher treats.
Birzeit University, just outside of Ramallah, has a long and illustrious history, and offers Arabic immersion classes for foreigners. In addition, there are simillar programs at the Bethlehem Bible College and Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, the Palestinian-American University in Jenin and An-Najah in Nablus. There is also the Palestinian-American University of Jenin located in the Christian Palestinian village of Zababdeh. Alternative travel agencies like Green Olive Tours , as well as NGO's such as the Holy Land Trust  and the Alternative Tourism Group  in Bethlehem offer day and multi-day tours, as well as enticing summer programs for internationals that combine homestays, culture and language classes with volunteering and site-seeing.
Ariel University is the largest Israeli-run educational institute in the West Bank. For religious education, many Yeshivot are located in various Israeli settlements in the West Bank If you are interested in learning about the social, political and cultural facets of life in the West Bank, there is a first hand experience tour, run by the All Nations Cafe  from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where you can get to know Palestinians and Jews who promote coexistence in the Holy Land.
The main languages in the West Bank are Arabic and Hebrew, although English and French are also understood. Many Palestinians understand Hebrew, due to business and governmental contacts over the last 40+ years. But avoid speaking Hebrew in Palestinian cities and Arabic in Jewish settlements, as it may arouse suspicion. Russian is also common among students who have gone to university in Russia or Eastern Europe. A few Israeli settlements contain Hasidic Jews who speak Yiddish.
The West Bank is less 'religious' than most Arab nations, so women travellers don't need to be completely covered. But it is still a good idea to dress fairly conservatively.
Be very wary of bringing up politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for obvious reasons.
Watch the news and check the situation before you go. It isn't a good idea to visit if fighting between Hamas and Fatah, or between the Palestinians and Israelis, happens to be intense at the given time. However, violence in the West Bank tends to be very localized. Violence in Nablus, for instance, shouldn't necessarily hinder travel to Ramallah. Still, use discretion.
While non-Israeli Jews are generally left alone, symbols associated with the State of Israel or Zionism, such as the Star of David, are best left at home. Espousing blatantly pro-Israeli views will highly offend many Palestinians and is not recommended.
Israeli company Bezeq and the Palestinian company Paltel provide communication services in the West Bank. Many retailers in the West Bank offer cell-phones to rent. Popular companies to go with are: Jawwal (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), Wataniyya (only able to be used in the Palestinian territories), and Cellcom (an Israeli company that is able to be used in both Israel and the Palestinian territories).
When exiting Palestinian areas, delays may occur at checkpoints unexpectedly, especially if there has been recent violence or political events. Sometimes it may be quicker to walk through a checkpoint on foot rather than on a vehicle, and then take a taxi to your destination once you get through.
- See also: Palestinian territories#Go next for leaving into Jordan.