Quick Guide to Palestine: Visa-free for South Africans

2018-06-18 11:13 - Saara Mowlana
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palestine map

Plan your trip to Palestine with this Quick Guide. (Photo: iStock)

As much as Palestine has been steeped in an ongoing, war-torn land conflict, it is a country rich in history, culture and life changing tales.

Adventure-seekers, lace up your hiking boots and take to the desert and rough landscapes for an educational hike through the region.

Serious running enthusiasts need to have the Palestine Marathon on their to-do list, it takes place annually in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and lets participants soak-up some sun and culture around the city's streets and infamous wall.

Or find yourself moseying around on a mosaic tour of Jerusalem where you can learn about Jerusalem's minorities such as Copts, Armenians, Africans, Afghans, Gypsies and Indians. You'll get to understand the cultural background of the city and the historical development of education in it over the centuries, especially throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, where educational development was at its peak.

SEE PICS: SA's Madiba stands proud in Palestine as Saffas celebrate #FreedomDay 

Here's all you need to know when planning a visit to Palestine: 

  • Visas: No visa is required for South Africans - the visit period is not specified - granted you have a valid passport - arrival by sea along the Gaza strip is not allowed
  • Population: About 5 036 322
  • Capital CityEast Jerusalem
  • Flight time: About 11 hours and 50 minutes at best with one stop over
  • Currency: Shekel (ILS) Current Exchange Rate: 1 ILS = R3.49
  • Medical and health: To avoid illness and dampening your trip experience, be sure to heed the warnings and get the appropriate vaccinations beforehand - at least 10 days in advance. RecommendedDiphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Yellow Fever, Typhoid. Longer than 6 month stay: Same as the recommended, but with Tuberculosis, Meningitis and Rabies vaccinations added to the list.
  • Religion: Palestine is a predominantly Muslim population. However, there are also Christian and Jewish Palestinians - read more here
  • Country code: +970
  • Emergencies: Dial 100 - for more emergency numbers: click here.
  • Public Transport: A network of widely available taxis, service taxis as well as buses provide transport and travel within Palestine's territories. Read more here.
  • Best time to go: Taking into consideration the climate, the best time to go is between November and April or during the spring and autumn months.
  • Popular Cuisine: Must try dishes include: Kibbeh, Kaftha b'thine, Qidra and Bamia to name a few, check out more here & here.

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Useful phrases to know: 

Arabic is widely spoken around Palestine. However, you may encounter some locals who speak Hebrew, French or more commonly English. Learn a few key phrases in Arabic to make your stay more enjoyable. Since Arabic is written in symbolic script - we've provided the transliteration and pronunciation of these phrases for you below.

Useful app to download - Duolingo and Google Translate makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

  • Greeting - Marhaba (pronounced: murr-ha-baa - Hello), sabaaH alkhayr (pronounced: sub-aah ull-ghayr -Good morning), masaa' alkhayr (pronounced: mus-aa ull-ghayr - Good evening), tuSbiH äalaa khayr (pronounced: toos-bih aa-laa ghayr - Good night)
  • Yes - Naäam (pronounced: nah-am)
  • No - Laa
  • Please - min faDlik (pronounced: mean-fod-lick)
  • Thank you - Shukran (pronounced: shook-run)
  • You're welcome - Äafwan (pronounced: aahf-one)
  • Excuse me - aIäafw (pronounced: a-eye-foo)
  • How much is it? - addeesh ha’u 
  • What is your name? - ma ismak? (male) ma ismik? (female) (pronounced: maa is-mok / mick)
  • My name is... - ismee (pronounced: is-me)
  • Where are you from? - min ayna anta? (male) min ayna anti? (female)
  • I'm from... - ana min... (pronounced: anna-mean)
  • Where is the toilet? - ayn al-?ammam? (pronounced: ayn-al-hamaam)
  • Do you speak English? - hal tatakallam al'iinjliziati? (pronounced: hull tutta-kull-am al-inglizeeyati?)

Practical Tips

When travelling to Palestine, make sure you have the following on your packing list:

  • A valid passport, arrival ticket, return ticket, adequate funds;
  • a camera;
  • basic essentials;
  • light, loose-fitting, mix-and-match clothing is a tourist or pilgrim standby here. Think convenience before fashion. Wear layers of clothing that can be shed or replaced at will (cardigans or stoles are handy). Even in summer, a jacket or sweater will be needed in the cool evenings;
  • Colour is also important. White clothes will not stay white long in the Middle East. Black will absorb the heat and cause discomfort. Light colours or mid-tones are best;
  • comfortable and strong shoes or boots if you decide to trek the rougher landscapes;
  • a brimmed hat;
  • sunscreen;
  • insect repellent;
  • formal / occasional wear (depending on your reason for travel);
  • basic toiletries;
  • hand sanitiser;
  • prescription medication;
  • diarrhoea and indigestion meds;
  • sunglasses (and a spare pair);
  • a medical kit (for exploration);
  • a flashlight (for exploration);
  • video camera and accessories;
  • binoculars;
  • vaccination certificates;
  • insurance documents;
  • your credit / debit cards;
  • sandals or flipflops;
  • Palestine maps - city / town maps and travel guides;
  • a notebook, tablet or smartphone.

Other

  • Travel light. One suitcase of up to 20kg (to check in free) and one cabin bag of up to 7kg will satisfy most airlines' requirements for economy passengers. Some travel companies supply pilgrims with appropriate cabin bags and day bags.
  • Get a waterproof cover / pack for your phone or tablet - rain or sea water, sand and electronics is not a fun mixtape.
  • Get a Palestinian sim card quickly and easily when  you arrive - it will save you a lot of data roaming charges!
  • Always carry a lightweight and powerful powerbank to ensure you've always got juice on the move - snapping pics and navigating Google maps tend to chow up battery life rather fast. Make sure you have your charger and a universal adapter too while you're at it.
  • As much as the urge to take as many pictures of the beautiful country as possible is strong, be sure to ask permission before you begin to snap pictures of houses or people. In some cases, you may be required to offer a tip for those pictures.
  • Watch your money - Make sure that, when changing currency you do so in a reputable hotel, foreign exchange bureau or bank.
  • Zip-lock plastic bags in case you want to take home olive oil or holy water.
  • Drinking water - it is urged that you only drink purified water from trusted sources or bottled water.
  • Tipping ranges between 10% - 20% depending on the service provided.

Top attractions in Palestine

This infamous monument spans over 700km. The wall is a staggering 8m high - blocking off the occupied West Bank settlements. The Wall attracts artists and visitors the world over who oppose the structure through protest art. 

Founded by the iconic British artist Banksy. The hotel is decorated in iconic protest artwork from Banksy and sits beside the infamous wall. The hotel decor is greatly inspired by the struggle faced by those on this side of the wall.

This Greek Orthodox Monastery sits just 15km from Bethlehem. The Monastery was built in 484 AD by 5 000 monks, followers of St Saba (Mar Saba in Arabic). Clung to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, expect a thrilling shock in the midst of a desert landscape. 

This site holds religious importance in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It is dominated by three structures: al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain. Its striking architecture and position of inter-religious significance makes it a great sight to see. 

Located in the southern West Bank, 30km south of Jerusalem. Weave through the quaint streets of Hebron that run thick with stalls selling fabrics and fruits. Mingle with the locals as you bargain over Palestinian woven and crafted goods.