I made this podcast episode in the last week of the final semester of the tour guide program at the Bethlehem Bible College. During the last two years I studied with local Palestinian students to receive the tour guide diploma. We studied history, archaeology, geology, theology, flora and fauna and topics related to Palestinian cultural heritage.
We studied right through the Corona pandemic. It was definitely not easy to study to become a tour guide in Palestine while tourism came to a complete halt. But the world seems to be opening up again slowly and we are hopeful that in the near future, visitors will start coming back!
We hope that listening to this podcast episode will inspire you to decide to travel to Palestine.
Tourism in Palestine
The tourism sector in Palestine suffered the most. Especially in the Bethlehem area where most people rely for their income on tourism. The hotels were empty, souvenir shops closed, tour guides were sitting at home. Many people tried to find jobs in other sectors.
Generally it is not easy for Palestinians to work in tourism, because the business is dominated by Israeli tour operators. They decide where the tourists go and when it comes to places in Palestine they only offer a few options. A visit to the Nativity Church, maybe including a visit to the Shepherds fields in Beit Sahour and the obligated visit to one of the big souvenir shops.
Other sites in Palestine that sometimes visited are the ancient city of Jericho, Tell el Sultan and the Dead Sea. But with Israeli tour buses and Israeli tour guides doing most of the work and making most of the money.
And there is so much more to discover! What you really need is a well educated guide that can make a tailor made program for you. This way you will see the best places, learn about the history and heritage of the land and you are supporting the native population of Palestine. They deserve tourism. They know their country best. The Palestinians are very hospitable and they take good care of their guests. But they also have to live and to feed their families. So don’t take advantage of their hospitality. Find a good tour guide, discuss the itinerary according to your wishes and agree on a price.
Off the beaten track in Palestine
Palestine has three officially recognized UNESCO world heritage sites: The Nativity Church and pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus. The city of Hebron (Al Khalil in Arabic) with its historic center full of Mamluk and Ottoman buildings. And the Land of Grapes and Vines, south of Jerusalem, Battir.
Furthermore there are thirteen other sites that are on the tentative list to be nominated. For example Tell el Sultan, ancient Jericho, the old city of Nablus, the Mount Gerizim and the Samaritans and the excavations of Roman Sebastiya close to Nablus.
These are some of the sites that are definitely worth a visit.
Other favorites of Palestinian tour guides are the monasteries in the Jerusalem wilderness. In the first centuries after Christ the desert was inhabited by many hermits and monks who lived either in separate caves or in a coenobium together, with strict rules of celibacy and hard work. The desert as a city. Until the Persians came in 614 AD and destroyed most of the monasteries and churches. Some of them remain, like Mar Saba monastery and the Saint Theodosius monastery. These are absolutely worth a visit and can be combined with a hike in the desert.
Hiking in Palestine is becoming more and more popular and there are several trails and initiatives. Check out the Palestinian Heritage Trail if you love hiking.
Many visitors come during the olive harvest season between mid October and mid November to join at least a day or more of olive picking in Palestine.
Palestinian tour guides
In order to obtain the tour guide license, Palestinians have to successfully complete a two year diploma program at one of the accredited Colleges. This allows them to apply for the exam at the Ministry of Tourism. There are several categories to choose from. Tour guides who want to work only in one site, like the Nativity Church or Tell el Sultan in Jericho, can apply for the site exam. Usually tour guides opt for the local Bethlehem exam or the Westbank exam. With these licenses they can work in the Bethlehem region or all over the Westbank. The general category includes all of historic Palestine, that means it also includes the sites inside the Green Line or what is now the State of Israel.
In the Oslo agreements the parties agreed that only a limited number of Palestinian tour guides will actually be allowed by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to work with an Israeli license. That means that there are many Palestinian tour guides who do have a general license but who can not work in Israel. Their names are on a waiting list, until one of the guides with the Israeli license drops off for one reason or another.
Plan your trip to Palestine with us
If you are planning to travel to Palestine then plan your visit to Palestine with us. We have a large network of knowledgeable tour guides. We first try to understand who YOU are and what YOU want so we can tailor make your program to your wishes and interests. Of course we can suggests all sorts of visits, meeting people, trying food and going out to the right places to experience the real Palestine.
Listen to the podcast to get a better idea and just drop us an e-mail so we can start the conversation about your visit to Palestine!