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Join us in Palestine

Thank you for your interest in joining the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine. This is a big decision which is greatly appreciated. In order for our teams to work effectively in Palestine, we ask for a commitment of three weeks minimum and for volunteers to work within our principles and ethos which are outlined here.

Before you come, it is really important that you take the time to read the material posted in this section, which hopefully should answer most basic questions about costs, training and travel tips. If you still have unanswered questions, please contact us and we will be happy to answer them and if possible put you in touch with the closest support group to you.

If you do contact us, many people find that it is wise not to share information such full names and exact day of arrival by email or on the phone for security reasons.

The following information covers:

Travel Information

Travel Issues
The Israeli authorities control all border entries to Palestine and visitors arriving at all the border points have been denied entry by the Israeli authorities in the past. However, visitors, including ISMers, have also been allowed to pass though all borders entries. Although the Israeli authorities deny having a policy of denial of entry to people associated with Palestine solidarity or the ISM, visitors who identify themselves as ISM volunteers to Israeli border staff are almost uniformly denied entry by Israeli authorities.

Visitors coming in solidarity with the Palestinian people and/or to support Palestinian non-violent resistance therefore face a difficult situation. If they admit the goals of their visit to Israeli border staff or to any association with ISM, they will most likely be denied entry. If they state other reasons for their visit, they can also be accused of lying to Israeli authorities and denied entry for this reason.

Faced with this dilemma, some activists choose not to talk about their activist goals and instead explain other reasons for their visit, such as visiting the Holy Land, visiting an Israeli friend, tourism, etc. These activists generally articulate a clear plan for their visit, including places they will stay within Israel and the names, addresses and phone numbers of people they will be visiting if this is the case (not mentioning visits to Palestinians).

The Israeli border authorities now often check the online accounts of people arriving into Israel, including Facebook and email. So bear in mind that at any border they can ask you to open you email or Facebook accounts. Some people choose to deactivate their Facebook account while travelling to Palestine and delete all Palestine related stuff from their emails or even create a new account, meaning that you can provide a ‘clean’ email at the border if requested.

Carrying ISM material with you will most likely cause the authorities to refuse you entry. It is likely that your luggage will be searched when you arrive at the airport or border. Even just carrying materials related to Palestinians and Palestine makes you far more prone to prolonged interrogation, and ultimately denial of entry. Carrying a computer or online device which include Palestine related documents and internet history can also cause problems.

There are a number of ways to travel to Palestine. We include advice below about each of these, but which way you come is your decision:

  1. via the Ben Gurion airport – Tel Aviv
  2. via Jordan (Allenby Bridge, Sheikh Hussein Bridge or Aqaba)
  3. via Taba, Egypt

Arriving via Tel Aviv

After passing through the border control and into the country at Ben Gurion Airport, you can find a shuttle to Jerusalem right outside the airport doors, to the right. This is a van that waits until it fills up (10 passengers) and then heads to Jerusalem for 40 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) per person (approximately $10). It’ll drop each person off where he/she wants to go in Jerusalem. You should ask for Damascus Gate, though some drivers will refuse to take you there. If this is the case, ask for the New Gate which is closest to the Damascus Gate and within easy walking distance. Depending on which order you’re dropped off in, the ride to Jerusalem can take anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour.

Arriving via Amman, Jordan
If you decide to come via Amman, Jordan, you will be questioned by Israeli authorities when you arrive at the border. They will ask you about why you are coming to Israel via Jordan. If you go from the Queen Alia airport in Amman to the border on the same day, they will ask you why you did not fly directly to Tel Aviv if you’re not spending time in Jordan.

If you come via Jordan, you will have to travel to one of the three border crossings with Israel:

1. Aqaba/Eilat: This is the farthest and not really recommended unless you want to visit Aqaba or Eilat (on the Israeli side). This border crossing is about 4 hours from Amman by taxi or bus and then once you are on the Israeli side, another 4 1/2 hours to Jerusalem by bus.

2. Allenby Bridge: This border crossing is the closest to the Amman airport and closest to Jerusalem on the other side of the border. It’ll cost you about 20 Jordanian dinars (about $30) for a taxi to the Allenby Bridge border crossing. This is where Palestinians cross back and forth into Jordan and it’s usually crowded. It makes sense to travel this way if you say you are visiting Jerusalem. Once you cross over, you should not have a problem getting a service (shared taxi) to Jerusalem. If you are going to use this bridge to travel to and from Palestine, find out about getting a multiple-entry visa for Jordan at the airport or even in your home country before leaving. This is important because Allenby is not an official border crossing, so you CANNOT get a Jordanian visa at the Allenby bridge when you wish to return to Jordan at the end of your trip. If you don’t have a valid visa for Jordan, you can’t use this bridge to return to Jordan. The other options are to arrange to go to the Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv to get a visa to Jordan before you leave Palestine, or to return to Jordan when you leave Palestine via one of the other two border crossings.

3. The Sheikh Hussein Bridge in the north: (Be careful when asking for a taxi to this bridge in Amman. Make sure that the taxi driver is clear that you want the SHEIKH Hussein Bridge and not the MALIK Hussein Bridge. MALIK Hussein is another name for the Allenby Bridge). This option will cost you about 35 Jordanian dinars ($50) from the airport to the bridge. When you cross over, the only practical option is to take a bus to Jerusalem (about 2 hours ride). Though we usually don’t usually recommend people ride Israeli buses.  This border crossing is usually less crowded than the Allenby crossing, but is otherwise more troublesome just because it’s further away from Jerusalem. This is an official crossing point so you will not need a visa ahead of time to cross back into Jordan.

The Taba Crossing via Egypt

Taba is an Egyptian tourist town located in the North of the Sinai peninsula, about eight hours by bus from Cairo. Relatively inexpensive buses travel a few times a day from Cairo to Taba. Consult a tourbook for more details. The situation at Taba crossing is similar to Aqaba and Sheikh Hussein, with the only difference being that a large number of Israelis pass daily through the Taba crossing to vacation in the Sinai. From Taba, the closest Israeli town is Eilat. Once again, it is a 4 1/2 hour bus ride from Eilat to Jerusalem.

If you decide to identify yourself as an ISM volunteer at the border
Those activists who choose to identify themselves to Israeli authorities as ISM volunteers should arrive via Ben Gurion airport. They should be prepared for immediate detention upon arrival, and then to resist efforts at deportation while a legal appeal against deportation is launched in the Israeli courts. You should consider notifying a lawyer, and/or ISM in advance of your arrival if you plan to state to Israeli border authorities that you will be joining ISM.

Anyone stopped at the airport and denied entry will be put into a holding cell until the authorities can put them on a return flight back to their point of origin. This is generally done within 24 hours, unless the activist refuses to board the plane, and/or tells the flight crew that they will not comply with their instructions for takeoff.

If you identify yourself as an ISMer and arrive via to Jordan or Egyptian land crossings, you are likely to be forced back to Jordan or Egypt without any opportunity to appeal your denial of entry, but also gives you a chance to spend more time in the region if you are denied, rather than being sent home.

Wrap Up
All in all, it’s simpler to fly right into Tel Aviv. The main benefits of coming through Jordan or Egypt is that some people believe they are a bit less stringent at the land border crossings, and if you are denied entry, you are not put on a plane back to your country of origin, and can still spend time in the region. They’re pretty strict and suspicious at the airport, though quite a few people get lucky and most of our activists do get in. After you have arrived into Jerusalem you can travel to the West Bank and Ramallah (where the training is held) by taking the number 18 bus from the ‘Arab bus station’, situated near Damascus Gate. This takes around one hour and will take you through Qalandiya checkpoint – there is usually no problem for people to enter the West Bank from Israel.

Upon Arrival

Upon arrival to Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem or Ramallah please contact the Training Co-ordinator at 059 763 4521. It is best to do this on the Monday or Tuesday of the week that you wish to attend training. You can also email palreports@gmail.com to let us know that you have arrived and wish to join the ISM. See the training section below for more information.

We currently have apartments in the cities of Nablus and Hebron, where ISM activists live and work. The accommodation is dormitory style  A fee of 40NIS per night is charged for the first month – after this time accommodation is free. We also sometimes stay in other villages or in Palestinian homes if requested as a protective presence.

ISM does not have a formal registration process prior to the actual training in Palestine. You do not need to officially “register” in your home country or with ISM Palestine prior to travelling, so unless you have questions, there is no need to contact us before you enter the country. However, we do strongly recommend that prior to joining us in Palestine you contact any one of our international support groups (a list of which is visible on the right hand side of this page), many of whom also provide pre-travel orientation and training and who will help to answer your questions.

What to bring

As a rule of thumb, pack light. You can buy many items that you may need in the West Bank. Some type of interior-frame backpack is recommended, and bringing a smaller day pack is useful too. Sturdy shoes/boots are best with a healthy supply of socks. A cheap pair of flip-flops to use in showers is recommended. These are available throughout the country so if you like you can buy them here.

We advise that activists wear long trousers. Sleeveless tops such as vests and singlets are not advised, nor are transparent, tight fitting or low cut shirts. Women will need to cover their head only when visiting a mosque. If you have any piercings and tattoos, expect to attract a lot of attention.

Depending on the season that you plan to arrive, the weather can vary greatly – in the summer months (June-October) it is very dry and can be very hot – it. During winter there is a lot of rain and there can also be snow. It is advised to bring waterproofs and plenty of warm clothes if you are coming between November – April.

ISM does provide blankets, but some people prefer to have their own bedding; in winter we would recommend bringing a sleeping bag and in summer a sheet sleeping bag or your own sheets.

If you’re going to be here for a while, bring books, instruments, music players – whatever will take your mind off things. It’s best not to bring any books or other items that are related to Palestine or mark you out as clearly interested in the Occupation.

Costs

Volunteers are required to cover their own airline ticket costs, as well as living expenses in the West Bank. The main expenses are accommodation, food and travel. The cost of accommodation in the ISM apartments is 40NIS per night for the first month – after this month, housing is free. Food is bought communally in the apartments at a cost of around 10NIS a day. There are also travel expenses to the various villages and towns that we work in, which can amount to around 30 NIS a day.

Therefore, during the first four weeks for food, accommodation and travel you can expect to pay around 560NIS a week (around $150). From the second month onwards, as you no longer need pay for accommodation, the cost of living reduces.

Other costs can include:

  • Purchasing a mobile phone: The cheapest costs $20 – $30.
  • Mobile phone cards: $5 – $ 15 per week on average.

Training

When people volunteer with ISM we require that they go through a two-day training in nonviolence strategies and philosophy, group decision making and cultural considerations for living and working in Palestine which helps prepare them for demonstrations and actions that ISM participates in against the ongoing Israeli occupation. You will get updates about the current situation in the West Bank, what work we’re doing at the moment and about how we do our media work. We also look at legal, security and safety issues in relation to the Israeli military, police and courts. Trainings are every Wednesday and Thursday on weeks when we have at least four people attending. You must call the training coordinator by Monday to confirm your attendance at training for that week.

In Palestine you can call the training coordinator at 059 763 4521.
From outside Palestine the number is +972 59 763 4521.

You should try to arrive on a Sunday or Monday before the training so that you can optimize your time here and not have to wait for the training. Arriving on Tuesday may not allow you enough time to get a good night’s sleep and adjust to the time difference before you start training, whilst arriving on a Friday or Saturday means that you will need to wait nearly a week before you can receive training.

The training costs 100 shekels, which includes a place to stay for three nights and the training itself. This money helps to pay our rent, electricity and water expenses.

If you are a trainer of non-violent direct action at home and you will be coming to Palestine for a few months please let us know. We always need more trainers!!

The training will include the following sections:

Hopes and Fears
We will discuss what are our hopes and fears of coming to Palestine are and with working with ISM. Throughout the training we will try to make sure that everyone’s fears are addressed.

ISM Principles and Structure
We ask everyone who works with ISM to commit to our three principles: Palestinian led, non-violence, and working in groups. We will talk about what these three principles mean and also the structure of ISM in the core group, the ISM regions, the ISM working committees (legal, media, training, financial, problem solving, and campaign coordination), and with international volunteers.

Culture
Palestinian culture can be very different from the western cultures that many international volunteers come from. In this section we will talk about how internationals can respect the culture and what cultural considerations to keep in mind while living and working in Palestinian villages and cities.

Non-violent Spectrum
We will use a spectrum to talk about what people believe are violent or non-violent actions and if these actions are effective or ineffective in context of the Palestinian resistance. We will discuss what the long-term effects of our actions are on Palestinians living in the regions we work in.

Sexual Harassment and Assault
Sexual harassment and assault happens all over the world and can happen to anyone. We have included this section to address how people can hopefully avoid sexual assault and harassment, what to do in case it happens, and how we can all help to stop this and support people that it has happened to.

Responding to Violence
If you go to demonstrations you will most likely encounter weapons from the Israeli military such as tear gas, sound grenades, rubber bullets and much less frequently live ammunition. We will discuss how we can non-violently protect ourselves and others from these weapons, and also from violence we may encounter from settlers.

Media
This section contains two parts. The first part will discuss writing press releases, eyewitness reports, journals, and letters-to-the-editors and how to use our language and words effectively. In the second part we will speak about giving interviews with friendly and unfriendly media and talking with sound bites.

Legal
This section will cover the different types of Israeli law enforcing officials (military, police, border police, secret service) you may encounter and their authority, what you should do if you are arrested or detained, what legal options you have if you arrested, and about returning to Palestine in the future.

Looking after ourselves and each other
Coming to Palestine can be a traumatic experience for many people and can be very emotional for most. However, with the right kind of care for ourselves, we can aim to come out of this experience without trauma and with new inspiration. This section will include ways we can emotionally prepare ourselves before we come to Palestine, what we can do while we are here and when we go back home to take care of ourselves and others working in ISM. Self-care is an area many people in the activist community all over the world have begun to explore more in depth, aiming for many joyful and effective years ahead of us.

Regional Updates
We will provide updates on all the regions that ISM works in, so people can decide which region they would like to stay in while they work with ISM.