If you’re anything like us, you’re probably worried about the thought of travelling to Palestine without an organised tour group. If you’re wanting to do this, don’t worry. We’ve done the trip and it’s easier and safer than we imagined.
Below I’ll guide you through the process so that you have a clear perspective on what needs to be done before you start planning and booking.
Disclaimer: as we flew into Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport which is an airport within Israel, the tips below will be tailored around that. Also, this article has been updated in February 2022 to give you the most up to date information regarding COVID-related entry requirements.
First Things First
Booking Your Flights
Entry Requirements (PCR Tests & Vaccinations)
At Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport
Getting To Masjid al-Aqsa From Tel Aviv Airport
Safety In Palestine
Support The Local Palestinians
Other Ways To Support When Visiting
Currency, Money & Exchanging
Must See Sites
First things first…
Don’t believe what you hear! Many people out there are readily available to create fear by telling you that this is a trip that is filled with risks and that it’s dangerous to travel to the blessed lands and visit Masjid al-Aqsa. Don’t believe it! Many people have travelled there in the past, are still travelling and will always carry on going there regardless of the situation. We know people that travel there numerous times throughout the year and have never come back with a horror story. In fact, their stories were always pleasant and nice to listen to. So, before you start planning, rid yourself of any fear. Is it safe to travel to Palestine? Is it safe to travel to Jerusalem? Is it safe to travel to Masjid al-Aqsa? Yes, yes and yes.
Booking Your Flights
If you’re planning to visit Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, you have two options in getting there. You can either fly into Israel’s own airport, Tel Aviv Ben Gurion, or fly into Amman, Jordan and make your way by road to Masjid al-Aqsa by crossing the border (also known as the Allenby Crossing).
Tip: fly into Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport. This option is a lot easier, cheaper and quicker. Muslims travelling to Masjid al-Aqsa these days are opting to fly into Tel Aviv’s airport so that they do not have to wait around for long and can quickly and easily make their way to al-Aqsa.
If you do want to fly into Amman because you’d like to visit a few sites there, remember that it is a bit of a trek getting from Amman to al-Aqsa. As we did not travel via that route our understanding of how it works is limited. We do know this much; you’ll have to get a taxi to the border, wait at the border (could be a long or short wait), then get a taxi to al-Aqsa. On the way back to Amman for your return flight, you’ll have to do the same thing. This option takes longer and is definitely not cheap. There are of course PCR testing requirements once you pass through the border into Israel.
If you’re flying out from the UK, look for flights that fly out to the Tel Aviv airport (TLV) also known as the Ben Gurion airport. You can get direct and indirect flights from the following airports to Tel Aviv:
- London Luton
- London Stansted
- London Heathrow
- London Gatwick
If booked early, flights range between £200 – £300 but this can go up in the peak summer months from June through to August.
Entry Requirements (COVID Tests & Vaccinations)
Firstly, you must present a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours before the flight to Israel, or, a negative result for an antigen COVID-19 test performed 24 hours before the flight. Both negative results should be performed by a professional test lab in the origin country and should state the full name and passport number of the passenger. Self, home tests will not be accepted.
Secondly, you are required to fill out an entry statement form within 48 hours before your flight to Israel. On arrival in Israel, you must take a further PCR test before leaving the airport.
All passengers who stayed in Israel for over 72 hours must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test, or a valid Israeli vaccination or recovery certificate to leave Israel. All travellers must also complete an online passenger statement form within 72 hours of your departure to the UK.
UPDATE – MONDAY 21ST FEBRUARY 2022:
From March 1, both vaccinated and unvaccinated UK travellers will be allowed to enter Israel – after submitting two COVID-19 tests, a pre-departure PCR test (which proves a demonstrable negative result) and another PCR on arrival.
Once in the country, all travellers will be required to self-isolate for 24 hours, or until their PCR test comes back negative.
At Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport
You’ll get off the plane and walk a while till you get to customs. This part can be quite nerve racking but remain calm and positive. Remember, no matter what, in the end you will get through despite any waiting or questioning. The customs area where everyone waits in a queue to get their passports checked is surprisingly small and crammed with people. Again, remain positive and be patient. This is a must when travelling but especially here as you may be waiting longer than you do than in other countries.
Once you get to the desk to be checked by the immigration officer, if you look Muslim, have a Muslim name, or you are from the Middle East or India/Subcontinent, you may be directed to the somewhat small “waiting room” and then asked to wait for an officer to come and speak to you. It is quite usual for this to happen and you will find yourself in the waiting room for a few hours throughout which you will most likely be questioned once or twice. This is just something Israeli immigration police do. Just be patient. I would highly recommend you bring some form of entertainment with you as well as snacks as it can get boring and you will get hungry.
When we travelled to Masjid al-Aqsa, there were five of us. My wife and I, my younger brother and my wife’s two younger brothers. My wife and her two brothers were let through, but my brother and I were made to wait in the waiting room for further questioning for around 2 hours. I witnessed other Muslim families, which I had met in the plane, go through customs with their entire family without any further questioning whilst others were made to wait. I met other Muslims from different countries who did not come across as Muslims, but due to their Arabic name and where they came from, they were stopped.
Once your passports are taken by the customs police officer, he/she will perform their checks and may ask a few questions. You can expect questions about your occupation, any recent travel, whether you know anyone in the country, and several questions about your religious or family background. They may also ask whether you have travelled to Israel before, whether you intend to visit the West Bank, if you know anyone in the Palestinian Authority or other similar organisations. Security and questioning is pretty solid here so ensure that you give yourself enough time on your return flight.
Remember, they will not ask you every single question but just be ready to answer if they do ask any of the above. Be simple in your answers and do not raise your voice, attempt to be funny or be sarcastic. Do not be rude or overly friendly with the officers. Answer the questions with short responses and do not voluntarily give any information. At this time, to help with staying patient, either recite some Qur’an or recite Durood. The immigration officers may ask to access your email accounts, Facebook account or any other social media account, so ensure that you are ready to hand that over to them.
Tip: Make it clear to the officers and searchers that you are travelling to visit the Holy Lands and for general tourism. If it helps, mention some of the famous tourist sites such as Hebron, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem. Most importantly remember, that the entire process is nothing personal and simply part of their interrogation process.
There is a 3 month free visa for those coming from the UK. The visa is a tourist visa and will be completely free of charge as long as you do not over stay the 3 month limit. Once the customs officers have checked your passports and have asked their questions, you will be handed your passport back as well as a small slip which will act as your visa. Your passport will not be stamped when the visa is handed over to you.
Getting To Masjid al-Aqsa From Tel Aviv Airport
The distance between Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport to Masjid al-Aqsa is 57.8KM taking around an hour to get there. There are several ways you can get from the airport to your accommodation/Masjid al-Aqsa:
- Service Taxi (Shuttle Taxi): This is one of the best options for Muslim travellers. The service taxi, operated by a company called Nesher, transports 10 – 15 passengers from the Ben Gurion Airport to their hotel doors. The cost for this will be around 60 – 70 Shekels and will take an hour.
- Bus: this is the cheapest option. If you want to take the bus, take the 485 bus from the airport to Jerusalem Central Station/Yafo. From there take the 1 bus to Ma’ale HaShalom/Ma’alot Ir David. From there it will be a 3 – 4 minute walk to Masjid al-Aqsa. You will need to work out the distance from there to your hotel on Google Maps. The bus will cost you around 25 Shekels in total and the journey will take around 1 hour 30 minutes. If you like, from Jerusalem Central Bus Station, you can also get a taxi to your hotel.
- Taxi: this is by far the most expensive form of transport from the airport to your hotel. It will cost you around 300 Shekels but is the most private and quickest way to get to your hotel. It’s not recommended unless you are in a hurry.
- Hotel Transfer: aside from the above, you can contact your hotel to see if they have a service whereby they can arrange to pick you up and drop you off. This may or may not come at an extra charge.
For a full range of Hotels in Palestine, visit www.palestinehotels.com. All the hotels on here are Arab owned and by staying at one of these hotels you will be supporting the local Palestinians.
However, if you want a recommendation and a hotel close by to Masjid al-Aqsa, go for Hashimi Hotel. With it’s super close distance to Masjid al-Aqsa (5 min walk), it’s breathtaking view from the hotel balcony, reasonable rates and friendly Muslim Jerusalemite staff, this hotel will definitely meet all your needs when coming to visit Masjid al-Aqsa. This was the only hotel we stayed at when visiting and is the one we are recommending.
What’s great about this hotel, apart from everything I’ve mentioned above, is that they have their very own Tour Manager; Shaykh Saleh. Shaykh Saleh took us on a remarkable and breathtaking trip around Palestine including all the sites that one would want to visit. If you do choose to stay at this hotel, they also offer transfers from and to the airport.
You can book your stay at Hashimi Hotel by clicking on the button below
Getting There: The hotel is located on Souq Khan ez-Zeit Street through the Damascus Gate. Follow the market path until you reach a fork, take a right and follow on through the market and look out for signs.
Final word on hotels; stay at an Arab owned hotel, so that the money supports the local Palestinians.
When looking for food in Jerusalem one doesn’t have to search very far as there are plenty of restaurants, cafe and shops selling delicious food. You will find traditional foods such as humous, falafel, shawarma etc and modern fast food such as burgers and grilled chicken etc. The narrow streets of the old city are brimming with shops and stalls selling fresh and dry fruits, sweets, juicy Medjoul dates and plenty more.
Hashimi hotel provides a buffet breakfast and there’s an in house chef who will whip up a delicious fresh omelette for you every morning if you want. For an extra charge you can also have lunch and dinner included within your stay. What’s more, if you bring your own ingredients, the staff will allow you to use the hotel kitchen to make your own food. They just expect you to clean up after yourself. We noticed a South African family do this and it’s a great way to save and have fun!
As for prices, Jerusalem can be a little pricey. A chicken shawarma wrap with fries and a drink can set you back around 40-45 NIS (approx £10).
As we stayed in Hashimi Hotel and loved Shaykh Saleh’s Tour, we are going to recommend him. He will take you on a tour around Palestine’s most famous Islamic & historical sites including a detailed tour of Masjid al-Aqsa and the Old City in Jerusalem. His tours are spanned across two days with day one covering Masjid al-Aqsa and the Old City and the second day covering the famous sites of Palestine including Hebron. Contact details for Shaykh Saleh are below:
+972 52 257 2121 or +972 26 284 410
Just add him to your contact list and then send him a message via WhatsApp. I believe you have to prebook the tour and you have to be a guest of Hashimi Hotel to go on these tours. But do contact him to make sure. Shaykh Saleh really goes the extra mile when taking people for tours by giving extra commentary and taking his time to relate to his group.
Alternatively, if you are staying at another hotel, the staff there should have contact details of reputable tour guides.
Another recommended tour guide is Abdul Maajid who is an expert when it comes to Masjid al-Aqsa. As far as I know, he mainly does tours of the Masjid complex. His tours can range from 1 – 5 hours depending on the depth of knowledge and understanding wanted from those on the tour. His number is +972 52 295 1397.
Safety In Palestine
Jerusalem and the West Bank are both safe places for visitors whether Muslim or not. As the entry into Israel and Jerusalem is strictly guarded, you will have no worries when roaming around the streets in both places.
Tip: when in the Old City, feel free to roam around the different quarters. More on the quarters can be found here. Do read about it as it really helps to understand the people and place before you visit. It is quite common for Muslim visitors to enter the Jewish Quarter within the Old City and get a view of the Wailing Wall. When we were there, a friendly Jewish man approached us and offered to take us to the Wailing Wall. However, outside the Old City, it is advisable to remain in East Jerusalem as that is where Arabs are predominantly.
Jerusalem weather differs throughout the year. See below for details:
- May – November: usually warm, dry and sunny with average temperatures reaching 25 – 30 degrees celsius.
- December – April: usually colder and rainier with January being the wettest month. Average temperatires range between 10 – 15 degrees celsius.
Support The Local Palestinians
Whatever you choose to spend your money on, whether it may be accommodation, transportation, food, gifts and souvenirs, ensure that you are buying from an Arab. This way you are supporting the local Palestinians who have a very difficult time operating their businesses. Throughout the Old City you’ll find many Arab owned restaurants, gift shops, date shops, perfume shops, cloth shops, coffee shops and more. Walk in, browse through and buy your self something. Even if you do not buy something, have a chat with the Palestinians and lend an attentive ear to their stories.
Other ways to support the local Palestinians when visiting
Visit Refugee Camps – speak to your tour guide to have this arranged for you. By visiting a refugee camp you get to witness how the Palestinians live and how poverty has had a devastating effect on their lives.
Visit an Orphanage – this is truly rewarding! Not only is this a fun and enjoyable experience (getting to play and hug orphan children!), it is also very rewarding and satisfying knowing that you’ve touched their lives by simply visiting them. Though the kids are left with no mother and father, they are all exceptionally energetic and ready to sing you a song or recite some Qur’an. Speak to your tour guide or hotel staff about arranging this.
Donate At Al Zakah Quds Committee of Jerusalem – this is where we donated some funds. If you would like to donate some money towards any orphans, widows and Palestinian families living in poverty, visit their Zakah office. They have two offices; one within the Old City, located near the Chain Gate of Masjid al-Aqsa (close by to the Ablution Gate Entrances and Suq El Qatanin Street). Alternatively, you can visit their secondary office (which we did), which is located on Nablus Road next door to the Saad and Saeed Mosque. From the Damascus Gate, this will take you around 10 minutes by walk. If neither options can be fulfilled, this can be handed to the Imams of Masjid al-Aqsa. Just remember to specify what the donation is for (zakah, sadaqah, lillah etc.).
Donate To The Maintenance of Masjid al-Aqsa: there are a couple of ways to do this. Inside the Masjid there are donation boxes which you could put money in. Alternatively, you can hand money over to the Imams of Masjid al-Aqsa. We donated money in various ways when we there and on one occasion donated some money directly to one of the Imams who said he will put the money towards the development and maintenance of the Masjid.
If you have some spare time, you can also lend a helping hand towards basic work in the Masjid, such as cleaning and vacuuming the carpets of the Masjid. It’s an awesome way to show that you care.
Currency, Money & Exchanging
In Israel, as well as the Palestinian territories the currency that is used is Israeli New Shekel (ILS). Each shekel is divided into 100 agorot (singular: agora). You can get 20, 50, 100 and 200 Shekel denominations. Cash machines are widely available and credit/debit cards are accepted around the country. Contact your bank prior to travelling to see if there are any charges you need to be aware of.
To exchange your money, head over to Salah ad Din Street and Damascus Gate; there are exchange places along both these places which offer decent rates. You can also get your money exchanged before your trip.
Tip: Avoid getting money changed at banks as they charge very high commission rates.
To find the latest exchange rates, click here.
Must See Sites
- Masjid al-Aqsa
- Dome of the Rock
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre
- Via Dolorosa
- Wailing Wall
- Masjid Omar, Bethlehem
- Masjid Omar, Jerusalem
- Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron
- Gold Market
- Four Quarters of the Old City, Jerusalem
- Maqam Musa in Wadi Tih
- Dead Sea
- Mamilla Cemetery
- Mount Olive
If you do end up going, make sure to share your experiences with others when you return, whether that be through writing or speaking. Visiting the blessed lands is possible and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A place you can go that is filled with history, various religious traditions and more importantly a place where it’s people made huge sacrifices. Jerusalem is one of the most holiest places in the world with Masjid al-Aqsa being the third most scared site in Islam. By travelling to the blessed lands you also guarantee to be immersed in history, hospitable Palestinian people, playful children, delicious foods, adventure and a memory that will never be forgotten.
My final tip to my readers is this; go now whilst you can!