Palestine is a small but beautiful territory in the Middle East. It holds important religious significance for all three major Abrahamic religions, but particularly Christianity as it was the site of Jesus’s life.
Thousands of religious pilgrims visit each year to see sights such as Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Palestine also has plenty of sights to entertain the secular visitor, from the natural wonders of the Dead Sea to the busy streets of Ramallah.
Visitors can also experience the delicious food and wonderful hospitality of local Palestinians. However, many people hesitate to visit because they are concerned for their safety.
Many people who keep up with current events and know about the conflict between Israel and Palestine are particularly concerned. But don’t worry — our travel experts created this guide to help you safely navigate any upcoming trip to Palestine.
Is Palestine Safe to Visit in 2023?
The answer depends on which part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (as they are known internationally) you are visiting.
You should avoid travel to the Gaza Strip due to the elevated risk of unrest, including terrorism, but the West Bank is mostly safe to visit. Wherever you go in Palestine, you will have to exercise increased caution due to the risk of crime and civil unrest.
The main source of caution when visiting Palestine is the legal and political situation, not concerns about crime. Before visiting Palestine, you should know a little bit about the political context.
After a war in 1948 established the state of Israel, many Palestinian Arabs were confined to two parts of Palestine. Israel also won the war of 1967, which gave its government more control over the two parts of Palestine, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Today, the conflict is still ongoing over which government controls which territory and whether Palestine counts as an independent country.
It is recognized by over 135 UN member states, although not by the United States and Israel. The borders of what would be Palestine are unclear and ever-changing.
The Palestinian Authority doesn’t have complete control over its territory — for example, there are many Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are under Israeli government authority, even though this is illegal according to international law.
This legal confusion translates to a complicated reality on the ground. There is frequent unrest in Palestine, including demonstrations, stone-throwing, and more violent actions by both Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
Travelers in Palestine and locals face frequent military checkpoints, which impedes free movement throughout Palestine. The Israeli government also issued restrictions on foreign travel in the West Bank in 2022 that were restrictive and unpopular.
This complicated security situation is the main reason why you may want to exercise caution when visiting Palestine, and why foreign governments issue travel advisories for this area.
The United States State Department advises citizens not to travel to Gaza at all and to exercise increased caution in the West Bank.
New Zealand also tells its citizens not to travel to Gaza and to avoid non-essential travel to most of the rest of Palestine except for the cities of East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, and Ramallah.
The primary reason most governments cite in their advisories for Palestine is the potential for civil unrest. Protests increase around holidays such as Ramadan, but they can erupt at any point in response to a security incident.
Before traveling, stay alert and read up on local news (Haaretz, Al Jazeera, and BBC are good sources for the situation on the ground).
Besides civil unrest, some other concerns when traveling to Palestine include:
- Bag snatching
- Passport theft
- Vehicle break-ins
As long as you are aware of the political situation, you will probably be able to navigate safely through the Palestinian Territories.
Crime in Palestine
Visitors and residents in Palestine have more serious problems than crime, and it is not one of your primary worries. However, any time you go somewhere new, it’s smart to know a little bit about the crime situation.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has a detailed breakdown of crime statistics for both the West Bank and Gaza.
In the statistics, we see that the rate of violent crime is fairly low in Palestine. The combined murder and attempted murder rate are 6.4 incidents per 100,000 people, and the kidnapping and rape rate is even lower.
The most common violent crime is assault, which has an incidence rate of 393.9 incidents per 100,000 people. Assault is also the most common crime overall, making up 24% of total crimes reported in the country.
Property crimes are more common in Palestine. The theft rate is 301.1 incidents per 100,000 people. Thefts make up 18.4% of total crimes reported in Palestine.
Other common types of property crime include fraud and crimes against public order. The public perception of crime in Palestine is also low. According to Numbeo, which collects responses from people living in Palestine, it scores a 38 out of 100 on the crime index, which is a low value.
The only crimes for which Palestine scores a moderate value are vehicle break-ins, assaults, and theft. The most common crime Palestinians and other residents worry about is corruption and bribery.
However, the crime statistics are not all positive. In 2021, the crime rate, especially the violent crime rate, increased. While the rate increased compared to the pandemic-era historic low rate of crime, it was still concerning.
Other articles raised concerns about the accuracies of crime statistics and about prospects for the future. Many Palestinians do not trust authorities to respond to crimes so are less likely to report when incidents happen.
Some Palestinian cities and neighborhoods struggle with the prevalence of organized criminal gangs that prey on disaffected Palestinian youth.
Keep in mind that most crimes that occur are more likely to affect Palestinians, not foreign visitors. As long as you use some common sense, you probably won’t be affected by any crime.
The most likely crime you will encounter as a tourist when you visit Palestine is petty theft. By no means is this a problem exclusive to Palestine, and you are likely to encounter pickpockets and bag snatchers wherever you go in the world.
According to the Canadian government, the crime rate is actually lower in Palestine than in Israel. The UK government explains that “crime is generally not a problem in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
However, it can occur, and you should take basic precautions to protect yourself from pickpocketing.
ID theft is particularly prevalent as a Western passport is a valuable commodity on the Palestinian black market. Crowded streets in busy Palestinian cities are places where you can expect to encounter pickpockets.
Popular tourist destinations such as Palestinian-controlled parts of Jerusalem see a high prevalence of pickpockets, bag snatchers, and scammers looking to target tourists.
You should also take precautions on public transportation such as buses or “servees” which are shared taxis, as pickpockets sometimes take advantage of the crowds. You don’t have to be completely on your guard in Palestine, but some basic precautions are enough.
Never leave your valuables unattended, even somewhere where you feel safe such as on the bus or in a hotel lobby. You don’t need a money belt, but opt for a safer location for your valuables, such as a zipped bag over a tote bag.
Palestine isn’t one of those destinations where you need to keep all your valuables out of sight so feel free to take photos, but don’t be ostentatious with expensive jewelry or watches.
One of the most common crimes in Palestine is the vehicle break-in. This crime is increasing in prevalence in many locations around the world, including in Palestine.
The Australian government warns about the prevalence of theft from vehicles in its travel advisory. It highlights certain areas that are hotspots for theft, particularly beach areas.
Thieves will target cars parked by the beaches, which in the West Bank means the beaches along the Dead Sea. They take advantage of carefree tourists looking to enjoy a day of sun and fun.
Luckily, the most basic of precautions are usually enough to deter would-be vehicle thieves.
Lock your doors and roll up all of your windows when you are parking your car. Never leave any valuables in your car, and definitely don’t leave them somewhere visible. Don’t leave anything visible in your car, including loose change.
It’s also worth examining if renting a car in Palestine is worth it. Vehicle theft is one issue, but so is the ease of getting around.
Cars with Palestinian plates have trouble in Israeli-controlled areas, with some checkpoints not even allowing them past, and vice versa for cars with Israeli plates. A bus or shared taxi may be a safer option.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Certain parts of Palestine are safer than others. Most governments advise their citizens not to travel to the Gaza Strip at all. The risk of terrorism and civil unrest is higher here.
Plus, there are frequent rocket exchanges between Gaza and Israel, and Gaza has little infrastructure to protect civilians from rocket attacks. In the West Bank, exercise increased caution in the cities of Hebron, Nablus, and Jenin.
These cities have higher levels of civil unrest and protests can break out at any moment.
Avoid going to any of Palestine’s refugee camps. These camps have been in place for decades for people displaced from Israel but living conditions have not gotten any better.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when traveling to Palestine:
- The only legal way to cross into Palestine is through Israeli border crossings. Expect extra scrutiny and questioning if you have stamps from many Arab countries in your passport or have Middle Eastern ancestry.
- Try to keep off of social media while you are in the country and avoid commenting on local events as there have been situations of travelers getting in trouble.
- The weather can get very hot in the summer, so the best time to visit is during the shoulder season.
- Palestine is a conservative society, so follow social norms in areas such as dress and unmarried couples cohabitating. However, don’t assume that Palestinian society is Islamic — it is actually multiconfessional and Palestine has a thriving Christian population.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you might want to know the answers to before you go to Palestine:
Can tourists visit Palestine?
Tourists can visit the West Bank, which is one region of Palestine, but not the Gaza Strip. Not only is it unsafe to visit Gaza, but you also won’t be let in through the checkpoints. Tourists cannot visit Palestine without crossing through Israel first.
What is the safest part of Palestine?
The safest parts of Palestine are the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jericho. These cities are often parts of tours for religious pilgrims and receive many visitors each year. The Palestinian-held part of Jerusalem is also safe, although it has high rates of petty theft.
Can anyone enter Palestine?
To enter Palestine, you have to pass through Israeli military checkpoints. While tourists can enter freely, the Israeli government imposed restrictions on people wishing to stay in Palestine longer, including for the purpose of work, volunteering, and family reunification.
Is Gaza safe for tourists?
No, Gaza is unfortunately not safe for tourists at all. Due to frequent rocket strikes, civil unrest, and other violent incidents, most governments advise their citizens to stay away.
Is it easy to visit Palestine?
Visiting Palestine is safe, but it is not always easy. You will have to negotiate getting there from Israel since Palestine doesn’t have airports, long waits at border crossings, and frequent checkpoints.
So, Is Palestine Safe to Visit?
Palestine is a beautiful destination, but a place with a complicated reality due to tensions with Israel. The security situation can change at any moment and travelers should stay aware of local news, but a trip should still be rewarding. Happy travels!