Entry, exit, and visas
For anyone coming to the West Bank for tourist purposes you will need to obtain a tourist visa from the Israeli government upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport or the border crossing from Jordan. There is no way to avoid this process as Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank.
Unless you are studying or working in Israel/Palestine you will likely be coming in on a tourist visa (which allows for up to a 3 month stay and is free). If you come for work or to study, your university or organization will explain that separate visa process to you. For example, I studied at the Hebrew University for one semester so that I could obtain an A2/1 year multiple entry student visa which has allowed me to live in the West Bank long term.
Your passport will not be stamped upon arrival to Israel/Palestine, instead the Israeli government gives a blue slip of paper which acts as your visa in the country and you must keep this slip and your passport with you at all times because it is required at checkpoints and upon departure from the country.
Visa Denial: tourists are typically denied visas because they are public supporters of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), they were a member of a pro-palestinian group in University, they admit to long term human-rights/volunteering work for Palestinians, they have a history of publicly speaking out about the Occupation, they have Palestinian heritage, or they have stamps from Iran or Lebanon. There are many people who get into the country despite having done one (or many) of the aforementioned activities; but these are the most common reasons for denial. If you are
worried about being denied entry and want to understand your rights, reference this website.
Departure: when leaving from Ben Gurion you will have a few questions asked before you check your bag or proceed to the
“normal security.” During these few questions they conduct basic profiling and will put a sticker on your passport.The first number of this long series will determine the intensity of the security which will follow (1 means not a threat, a 6 means intensive questioning, and a 4/5 means you might randomly be selected for additional questioning but it is unlikely).
Entry/Exit Do’s and Don’ts:
- When entering/leaving it is always best to err on the side of caution, particularly if you have stamps in your passport from other countries in the middle east, have a Muslim name, are Muslim, look Arab, and especially if you have any ties to the BDS community (yes, they profile, and yes their questions are usually extremely racist).
- If you were involved in SJP, JVP, or any BDS movements back home you should check the Canary Mission’s website because if you are profiled on this website you will definitely face questioning and very possibly not be allowed to enter Israel/Palestine.
- Do not admit to volunteer work in Palestine since they are known for denying people who they believe to be “too pro-palestinian.” Some people are allowed in after admitting to being volunteers in the West Bank but this is a risk–see what your organization recommends.
- You can admit to visiting the West Bank (I suggest only saying Bethlehem, Ramallah, or Jericho, not Hebron or Nablus because these are considered “extremist” by Israel). Make sure to say you will also visit Israel so again you don’t seem biased
- Do not lie if you do not feel comfortable with lying because being caught up in a lie will make the situation worse. I have never admitted to my activity in the West Bank but I have friends who tell the whole truth because they are too afraid to lie.
- DO NOT fly El Al: this is the main Israeli airline which has its own additional security which are known for very aggressive questioning, including of myself for 3 hours the first time I came to Israel.
- If you book a return flight before you come, do not try to lie about how long you will stay because they can see your return flight.
- If you do not have a return flight booked they will likely ask you to prove you have the finances to purchase a return flight as they do not want you to overstay your visa.
- If you plan to stay more than 1 month I suggest booking a return flight sooner with “flexible dates” so you can change your return date once you are in Palestine, or don’t book a return flight because they will heavily question what you will be doing in Israel for so long.
- Delete all pictures from your time in Palestine and upload them either to google drive, the cloud, or to an external drive.
- Delete all Palestinian contacts from your phone.
- Deactivate social media if you have been posting about your time in Palestine or have Pro-Palestine posts
- If you can have a fake social media account this is good because young people with no social media is a little suspicious.
- Delete emails about Palestine/with Palestinian organizations.
- When leaving the country it is best to mail pro-Palestinian paraphernalia to your home from a post office in Jerusalem (there are several including one on yaffa street) including keffiyehs or any “free palestine” sorts of items.
- My rule of thumb is that anything I could have bought at the souq in Jerusalem is okay in my luggage but if it is clearly from the West Bank then it is best to mail it, so I have flown home with keffiyehs, it just depends how cautious you want to be.
- Create a fake itinerary of your time in Israel and if possible take photos if you spend any time in Israel to backup your story (check out our example of a fake itinerary below).
- Be prepared for any question about your trip:
- I find as a white foreigner, the easiest reasons for traveling Israel is to say you are here for christian pilgrimage, or as a young person say to party in Tel Aviv.
- Have a hostel booked for at least the first night, because if you get any significant questioning they will ask for a hostel confirmation and not having one will look suspicious (or a cheaper option is set up a couchsurfing account and arrange to couchsurf that first night and cancel once you are through security).
- The longer your stay the more questions you should be prepared for. If you are Jewish or have any family or friends in Israel your time being questioned will be much easier.
- They tend to rapid fire questions as a way to make you trip up or make a mistake but posture, eye contact, and body positioning are very important so do your best to remain calm and not look flustered.
- On the other hand, as a young woman, after 3 hours of questioning I broke down sobbing and they then released me, so sometimes playing on their sexism can help.
- If they say they know you are going to the West Bank, or they know you did this or that to support palestine, never admit anything, once you admit it you are done.
- They do have the right to refuse you entry to the country, but it is still your right to demand to speak to your embassy representative, speak to a lawyer, and they must give you a paper that says why they will refuse you entry: usually it is something vague like “security reasons.”
- Again reference this website for your rights and recourse in the case you are denied entry (again not very common to be denied entry).
Ben Gurion to/from Jerusalem:
Jerusalem is your best launching point to get anywhere in the West Bank after flying to Ben Gurion (reference our transportation page for specifics on getting from Jerusalem to other cities in the West Bank). Your options for Ben Gurion to/from Jerusalem are:
- Train: app. 10 NIS and takes about 30 minutes. It runs directly from the Airport to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem where you can take the light rail (which takes you to most neighborhoods in Jerusalem, including to Damascus Gate—where buses to the West Bank are).
- Bus 434: 16 NIS takes about 1 hour and runs every hour except during Jewish holidays and shabbat (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday). Best location is to be dropped around the corner from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem where you can use the light rail to reach most neighborhoods incl. Damascus Gate where buses to the West Bank are.
- Sherut: (large taxi) from Jerusalem direct to the airport (and vice versa), will pick you up at location of your choice, any hostel/hotel can help you order one, costs 60-70 NIS, and takes about 45 minutes. This is the best option for Shabbat since public transportation doesn’t run on Shabbat. When flying into Ben Gurion these taxis waits outside of Terminal 3.
Fake Itinerary for Israel:
- If you need help planning your fake trip to Israel consider buying a LonelyPlanet GuideBook since their Israel sections are extensive (unlike their portion on the West Bank).
- The focus of your fake itinerary should reflect why you will be saying you are visiting Israel—Christian tourism, basic Middle Eastern tourism, partying, visiting friends or family, studying Hebrew, volunteering at a hostel.
- Resources for planning your trip: Ordinary Adventurer, Tourist Israel, TimeOut.
3 Month Itinerary:
- 3 weeks in Tel Aviv: partying, beaches, great bars, restaurants, Jaffa, Israel Museum of Art,
- Places to stay: Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv or say you couch surfed
- 3 weeks in Jerusalem: visiting the Old City, Yad Vashem, Tower of David Museum, Church of Holy Sepulcher.
- Places to Stay: Abraham Hostel Jerusalem, New Palm Hostel, Citadel Hostel.
- 4 weeks up North: Haifa—Bahai Gardens, Akko/Acre, Sea of Galilee, Golan Heights, Nazareth.
- 4 Day hiking trip to Ein Gedi and Masada or to Mitzpe Ramon.
- Last week in Eilat, Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem depending if you want to say you traveled for religion/tourist sites or to party/go to the beach.
- Israel National Trail: If you have backpacking experience and can pass for knowledgeable you can say you are hiking parts or all of the trail and you can find information about it here.