Israeli authorities control all border entries to Palestine, and visitors arriving at all these border stations have been denied entry by the Israeli authorities in the past. However, visitors, including ISMers have also been allowed to pass though all these border entries.
Though the Israeli authorities deny having a policy of denial of entry to all people associated with ISM, visitors who identify themselves as ISM volunteers to Israeli border staff are almost uniformly denied entry by Israeli authorities. Israeli authorities also often deny entry to other human rights activists, NGO staff, and individuals expressing an interest in visiting Palestinians and the Occupied Territories or expressing sympathy for the Palestinian plight.
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, and admit 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 (not mentioning visits to Palestinians).
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.
There are a number of ways to travel to Palestine:
- via the Ben Gurion airport – Tel Aviv
- via Jordan (Allenby Bridge, Sheikh Hussein Bridge or Aqaba)
- via Taba, Egypt
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.
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 are denied entry coming via Jordan or Egypt, the Israeli border authorities merely send you back to Jordan or Egypt. You are not forced onto an airplane, but are rather free in Jordan or Egypt to decide on your next steps. Which way you decide to come is your decision.
If you come via Jordan, you will have to travel to one of the three border crossings with Israel:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 busses. The other option is to arrange to have a taxi meet you. This option will also cost you approximately $50-$60, but it will drop you off exactly where you need to be. 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.
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.
Once you get to Jerusalem and are in touch with ISM, we will arrange your attendance at the next training session.
In addition to the cost of your airline ticket, you can expect to spend approximately $150 – $170 per week of stay in Palestine in the first four weeks. This will include food, accommodation and travel. As of the second month of your stay you do not need to pay for accommodation costs, so the cost of living reduces to around $95 per week.
- Purchasing a mobile phone: The cheapest costs $20 – $30.
- Mobile phone cards: $5 – $ 15 per week on average.
As a rule of thumb, pack light. Some type of interior-frame backpack is recommended, and bring a smaller day pack 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 ask all our activists to respect the culture within which we work. This means not wearing any revealing clothing. For women, we suggest long sleeved tops which do not show your chest or midriff. Trousers are best – short skirts are inappropriate, long skirts make you look like a settler. For men, t-shirts are ok (though you may wish to stand in solidarity with your female colleagues and choose to also keep your arms covered). We don’t wear shorts. If men have any piercings, expect to receive a lot of attention, particularly from children here.
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 which mark you out as clearly interested in the Occupation.
Where you’ll stay
International activists will be staying in towns and villages in the West Bank. Accommodations will be arranged by local coordinators in ISM housing or with Palestinian families. For the first month a hosteling fee of 40 NIS ($ 11) is charged for each night spent at an ISM apartment, a family’s home or at a community-provided facility. Please factor this into your finances. This money goes directly to either the upkeep of the apartment, as a gift of support for the family or as a donation to the community hosting volunteers.
For volunteers who plan to be in Palestine working with ISM for more than a month, they will need to expect to pay the hosteling fee for the first month only.
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 traveling. However, we do strongly recommend that prior to joining us in Palestine you contact any one of our international support groups (right), many of whom also provide pre-travel orientation and training and who will help to answer your questions.
There you go. You decide what’s best for you as far as getting to Jerusalem. If you have any more questions, please let us know.
See you in Palestine!