A pickup truck drives through the town announcing watermelon for sale over a loudspeaker. The breeze carries the scent of jasmine through the summer air, and fireworks celebrate a wedding. This is the side of Palestine that isn’t seen on TV. It’s easy to forget the struggles that Palestinians encounter every single day. Travel restrictions cripple economic growth, and water scarcity is an ever-present concern. Traveling to the West Bank is not easy, but as a volunteer abroad in Palestine, you’ll appreciate one of the most complex, misunderstood, and beautiful regions of the world.
Where to Volunteer in Palestine
The West Bank is located between Israel and Jordan and borders the Dead Sea in the southeast. Though taxis are available, walking is the easiest mode of transportation once surroundings become more familiar. Here are the best places to volunteer in Palestine.
Bethlehem. You’ll find this ancient city in central West Bank, which is home to 25,000 people. While the city is not a typical Christmas card image of a manger and small village, you’ll come to quickly discover that it’s covered with holy sites, like the Church of the Nativity. If you’re not into the spiritual scene, you can still visit the Old City to see the Herodium, a palace fortress. With an aim to conserve Palestinian history, you can also explore one of the many museums.
Jerusalem. On the plateau of in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean Sea and Dead Sea lies this pilgrimage destination for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Being the capital of both Palestine and Israel, Jerusalem is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there is still much to explore here, such as the Israel Museum, the Symphony Orchestra, and the Biblical Zoo in your down time.
Hebron. Nestled in the Judaean Mountains in southern West Bank sits this large city, which is in need of volunteers for cultural preservation and restoration. Home to one of the most famous historical sites in the world, the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is said to enclose tombs of biblical matriarchs and patriarchs. Even as a city that experiences a lot of unrest, the city is flourishing with its skilled traders and artisans from pottery to glass blowing.
How to Volunteer in Palestine
For volunteers interested in learning more about the effects of the current conflict on communities, many organizations offer community program placements as well as humanitarian-focused volunteer opportunities. Volunteers can also learn some Arabic along the way. Here are popular volunteer projects in Palestine.
Teaching English. This is a very common choice for volunteering in Palestine, whether working informally with refugee students or formally in schools that lack the resources to educate the local students. These placements are a great way to brighten children’s days and put a smile on their faces. Not only will you be able to teach English, you’ll also have opportunities to teach other skills, such as music, art, and sports.
Agriculture. Learn about environmental sustainability as a Palestine volunteer, where you’ll help promote creative solutions to recycling, gardening, irrigation, and construction. You’ll have hands-on opportunities to help the local communities with use alternative forms of energy.
Human Rights. If you’re interested in increasing advocacy for human rights and learning how to keep track of legal situations to benefit those in need, you could find programs in this area as well. You’ll be empowering the lives of many local citizens.
Costs of Volunteering in Palestine
While not exceedingly cheap, the cost of living in Palestine is relatively affordable for a developed area. While some program fees can be steeper than other depending on how long you stay there, it’ll cover the cost of food and housing in most cases. You will likely need to cover the cost of your international airfare round trip. For a little extra assistance in covering the expenses for this good cause, you could apply for scholarships and reach out to friends and family using FundMyTravel.
Accommodations in Palestine
Depending on your program placement and location, the options for housing arrangements vary widely while you’re volunteering in Palestine. You could be sharing a house with other international volunteers, where you’ll live as a small community with housekeeping duties and sharing bathrooms and bedrooms. In most cases, you’ll stay with a host family, where you’ll immerse yourself in the culture.
Visas for Palestine
If you’re staying fewer than 90 days, and most Palestine volunteer programs are only a couple weeks, you won’t need a tourist visa, but you will need a passport that is valid for 6 months beyond date of entry. However, with so much political unrest in surrounding areas, U.S. travelers may be subject to security screenings and physical searches. For more detailed information about visa requirements, GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory and the program coordinators are helpful resources.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
The most important thing to be prepared for when traveling to the West Bank is the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Although location is usually the easiest way to describe a country, defining what land is “Palestine” invariably sparks debate.
It’s important to understand the perspectives of the locals. For example, “Arab” and “Jew” are not mutually exclusive traits. “Arab,” “Arab Jew,” “Israeli Arab,” and “Israeli Jew” are all distinct and legitimate ways that people in this region define their identities.
The political situation may be fragile, but you’ll make a rock hard contribution as a volunteer in Palestine.