Now, 2000 years later, the modern-day city of Bethlehem - home of the Millennium - invites you to make a symbolic and historic journey commemorating that event by walking Palestine's Nativity Trail.
The carefully researched route-a 11-day journey is the first leg of the new Palestine Trail.

The Nativity Trail RouteImage
(I am from Bethlehem)
You will have place in our Homes and Inn
 
 
Day one: Arrival
Upon arrival to TLV airport or any crossing borders, participants will be picked up and transferred to Nazareth.  Dinner and overnight in Nazareth
 
Day two: Nazareth and Mount Tabor
After a tour of Nazareth including the church of the Annunciation and the house of Mary, drive to the foot of the mount tabor. Ascend tabor and visit the monastery of the Transfiguration..  Dinner overnight in Jinin city north of the West Bank.
 
 
Day three: Faqu’a to Zababdeh.20km
Early morning, drive to the village of Faqua.  Start walking towards Zababdeh.  Across the rolling Eastern hills of Palestine, through the village of jalbun and Mughayir to Zababdeh, a Christian town on the ancient Roman trade route. Overnight accommodation in community centre (modern facilities).
 
Day four: Zababdeh to Nablus.21km
Through olive groves and forests on the fertile hills of the west bank, descending to the spring of Ain Fara’a. Relax at the café and swim in the pool before continuing through the orange groves to the broad sweep of Wadi Bidan, a picturesque valley system rich in mountain springs. While in Nablus, we will  visit Jacob’s well and Tel Balata.  After checking in our hotel in the old city of Nablus, we will tour the old city and enjoy bathing in the Turkish Bath.  We will enjoy a Palestinian traditional meal in the Turkish bath in addition for a traditional Palestinian music.  Overnight: in the old city of Nablus.
 
Day five: Nablus to Duma
Walk through the Huwara checkpoint and continue from the village of Huwara to Awarta, enjoy the beautiful ancient old buildings in the village, visit the famous Maqams and continue to mount Awrma.  Before arriving to Aqraba, rest at Mount Awrma and enjoy the scenes of Palestine and the ancient archeological site.  Continue to Aqraba, Majdal Bani fadil.  
The trail follows the escarpment separating the fertile highlands from the arid slopes of the Jordan valley, offering the first views of the desert and Jordan before reaching the agriculture hilltop town of Duma with it’s olive groves. Overnight : village accommodation with families

Day six: Duma to Ain Auja.18km
Across deep valleys and over high hills inhabited by shepherd’s before descending a rocky gorge to sea level at Auja Spring, one of the largest water sources in the Jordan valley. Overnight: camping with Bedouin shepherd’s near Al Auja.
 
Day seven: Auja to Jericho.13km
Desert terrain gives way to orange groves as the journey continues to the mount of temptation with its orthodox monastery clinging to the cliffs, then to Jericho, the oldest city on earth. Drive to the dead sea and enjoy swimming in its salty water.  Overnight: orange grove camping or hotel in Jericho.


Day eight: Jericho to Nabi Musa.14km
Up the spectacular canyon of Wadi Qelt to St. George Koziba monastery, then over the arid mountains of the Bethlehem wilderness to the remote and dramatically situated Nabi Musa. Overnight: Nabi Musa guest house or camping.
 
Day nine: Nabi Musa to Mar Saba.8km
The original Nativity trail from Nabi Musa involved walking along the road, then taking tracks directly through the desert to the legendary orthodox monastery of Mar Saba in its wild canyon setting. The preferred route is now to drive the road, then follow desert tracks via Hyrcania, one of Herod’s mountain-top fortresses. Much more interesting! Overnight: camping outside the monastery, or with local Bedouin.
 
 
Day ten: Mar Saba to Bethlehem.9km
The trail’s final segment ascends the hills of the Bethlehem wilderness to the hilltop suburbs of Bethlehem. The way then descends on foot or by vehicle through Beit Sahour to Manager Square in Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity on the site where the original journey ended-and the Christian faith has its beginning. Dinner and overnight with local families. 
 
Day eleven: Jerusalem
Spend a day visiting the old city of Jerusalem, walking via dolorosa, visiting Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, and the Western Wall.  Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem 
 
Day twelve: Hebron
We will drive to Hebron.  We will hear about and observe the culture of Abraham, the father of the prophets, in a city still commemorating his name.  We will hear a lecture by the Hebron Rehabilitation committee about the history and the current situation of the old city.  We will tour the old city and visit the Ibrahimi mosque.  After enjoying a nice traditional lunch, we will visit a traditional glass factory in the city.  In the late afternoon, return to Bethlehem for farewell dinner and party.  Overnight in Bethlehem.
 
Day thirteen: Departure
 
What to bring with you:
1-     Flash light
2-     Hat
3-     Sun screen
4-     Back bag
5-     Walking or hiking shoes
6-     Modest clothes
7-     An Open mind and heart
 
Accommodation:
Accommodation will vary between, guesthouses, family stay and camping with Bedouins.
 
Support vehicle will be available for the duration of the Walk.  The support vehicle will transport your bags to every location you will be staying overnight at. 
  
 
Health Information
No vaccine mandatory
Ensure that you update your routine vaccinations. The vaccine against Hepatitis A is also recommended.
Beware of the sun. Make sure you cover it with clothes but fuller length, wear a hat and you rehydrate very often.

You can find pharmacies in the West Bank but nonetheless we recommend you bring the following medications, often helpful:
* intestinal antiseptic.
* Antibiotics broad spectrum.
* Sunscreen high protection
* Aspirin or pain usual
* disinfectant.
* Antihistamine (allergies, bites)

 

Whilst Palestine has been a destination for travellers for many centuries, the development of a tourism industry that provides services to a large number of tourists is still rather recent. Indeed, the development has not yet been completed and new capacities are being added. Despite this, we believe that the time has come to work towards a more sustainable development of the sector. Therefore, as representatives of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and private companies, associations and civil society organisations, we call on all tourism stakeholders in Palestine to commit to the practices and policies introduced in this Code of Conduct.

Your behaviour towards tourists: treat them honestly and with respect

1. Respect the religious belief of visitors and the freedom of religious worship. Appreciate cultural diversity. Respect ways of dressing and food preferences of visitors.

2. Tour guides: Provide accurate and useful information to tourists that covers the religious, social and cultural dimensions of Palestine. Do not just tell stories that visitors want to hear and do not repeat stereotypes. Instead of doing this, challenge the visitors by presenting different interpretations. Be aware of your unique role as a tour guide: visitors will draw conclusions about Palestinians from your behaviour.

3. Local communities, tour guides and employees in the tourism sector: Help tourists when they are in need. Be hospitable. Interact with visitors on a human level, do not limit your interactions to economic/financial exchanges.

4. Authority: The tourist police and other official bodies should deal with tourists in a respectful way.

5. Authority and local communities: Undertake efforts to prevent negative and irresponsible behaviour like begging from tourists and exploiting them.

Your responsibility towards local communities. Bear in mind that local businesses have a responsibility towards the people they employ and the communities whose resources they use.

6. Pay fair wages.

7. Distribute the income fairly amongst product producers, providers, sellers and intermediaries.

8. Sell national and local products and handicrafts to tourists. Consider adopting fair trade standards.

9. Develop means of communication and opportunities for interaction between Palestinians and tourists.

Engage in human and cultural exchanges for these can increase the benefits from tourism to Palestinian communities.

10. Create opportunities for local communities to participate in tourism.

11. Increase networking amongst churches and international organisations to explain the Palestinian narrative to complete the picture of people who are familiar with the more well-known Israeli narrative.

Improve Palestinian tourism opportunities by creating new and unique itineraries. In addition, research and develop special Palestinian package tours that can be promoted locally for visitors after they have arrived in the country.

12. Develop the competence of the workforce in the tourism industry and their knowledge of Palestinian identity and history. Further, train tour guides in contemporary issues. Develop the awareness of people interacting with tourists (guides, taxi drivers, host families, etc.).

13. Integrate culture and heritage into tourist programmes. Improve the image of Palestine through organizing festivals, conferences, workshops and use these cultural events to encourage tourists to spend longer periods of time in Palestine.

14. Improve marketing of local handicrafts and national products.

15. Raise awareness that programmes of Palestinian travel agencies should include all different aspects of Palestine, i.e. religion, politics, economics, cultural heritage and leisure.

Our responsibility towards the environment

16. Introduce environment-friendly principles to the operation of hotels, guest houses and restaurants and inform your guests about your standards. Increase the environmental awareness among Palestinians and provide a tourism that respects the environment.

Responsible business practices in the tourism industry

17. Increase transparency in business practices and engage in ethical competition which does not harm the value of tourism.

18. Tourists have the right to fair prices and full enjoyment of their trips.

Preparation

To prepare your trip to Palestine, we encourage you to consider including the following in your preparation:

  1. Choose an inclusive and balanced itinerary that allows you to visit and stay in different places.

  2. Educate yourself by reading guidebooks, travel accounts and articles about current news and events.

  3. Establish contact with Palestinians to get up-to-date information about the current situation, safety, local history, culture and customs.

  4. Approach travelling with a desire to learn rather than just observe. Leave prejudices behind.

Your trip

1. Adopting a considerate attitude towards the people you encounter, the environment, and host communities when traveling in Palestine helps to make sure that your trip is beneficial both for you as a tourist and for the hosts.Your attitude:

  • Respect and learn about the local culture. Although taking pictures is in general welcome, be aware of people's sensitivity about being photographed: always ask first for their approval.
  • Observe local customs. Respect local dress codes and dress modestly.
  • Interact and spend time with local people. Be aware that your cultural values may differ from theirs. They may, for example, have different concepts of time, personal space, communication and society. Other values are not wrong or inferior, just different.

2. Your behavior:

  • Be aware of short-sighted emotional reactions, such as giving money out of compassion. This can be offensive.
  • Make sure that you encounter and engage with the local communities who are struggling for the respect of their dignity.
  • Support communities in a responsible way, without encouraging them to change their customs in order to adopt yours.
  • When visiting holy sites, allow members of the respective religious community to guide you.

3. Your use of natural resources:

  • Co-operate with locals in conserving precious natural resources. Commit yourself to a moderate use when possible.
  • Be open to experience local standards rather than expecting to find the same conditions as in your home town and/or country.

4. Support the local economy:

  • Appreciate local expertise by paying adequately.
  • Buy local products.
  • Contribute to ensuring that tourism has a beneficial outcome for the local community.
  • Use local transportation, guides, accommodation, restaurants and markets to benefit the local economy. Consider giving tips where customary.

5. Remember that the people you encounter have lived under military occupation for many years. Be sensitive when discussing related topics and listen to their points of view.

6. Be inspired by the pilgrim's journey: take your time to live and experience the daily life of the local people.

Returning home

When you return from Palestine do not hesitate to share your experiences with friends and relations. Your Palestinian hosts will be very happy to know that you keep them in your mind and that you tell their and your stories. In this way, you can strengthen the human side of tourism and enhance its benefits to communities and individuals.

1. Share your experience:

  • Think of creating links between your community and the community you visited.
  • Tell the stories of the people you met.
  • Discuss and debrief with other members of your group (if you travelled together with others).
  • Share with your family; inform your community; write articles.

2. Stick to the commitments you made during your trip:

  • Remember the promises you made to the local people you met and honour them.
  • Keep the people in your thoughts, pray for them and act when your actions are needed.

3. Allow yourself to be enriched by learning experiences:

  • Question your stereotypes/generalisations, both the ones you had before the trip and the ones emerging from your experience abroad.
  • Address prejudices and injustice where you meet them.

4. Take action:

  • Learn about the involvement and responsibilities of your home country in the Middle East. Expose and confront them when they have been unfair.
  • Address statements you do not agree with, such as inaccurate tourism brochures, stereotyped views of Palestine in conversation and inaccurate or biased media portrayals.

A Palestinian Initiative

Responsible and just forms of tourism offer communities opportunities to share their cultures, tell their stories, request solidarity and foster tolerance and greater understanding. This is the principle that has shaped this Code of Conduct which has been developed to inform pilgrims and tourists of the reality of Palestine and Palestinians and to seek their support in using tourism to transform contemporary injustices. At the same time, the Code aims to raise awareness amongst Palestinian tourism stakeholders of how tourism in Palestine can be transformed and enhanced to truly benefit both hosts and visitors.


The Vision of the Palestinian Initiative for Responsible Tourism

The Palestinian Initiative for Responsible Tourism (PIRT) is a network of organisations, associations and public bodies committed to work for responsible tourism to the Holy Land and to act as advocates for this approach to tourism. We are committed to transforming the current tourism patterns in the Holy Land by encouraging pilgrims and tourists to include Palestinian cities, towns and villages in their itineraries in order to achieve a more equal distribution of tourism revenues to all people in this land. Based on our belief that both tourists and hosts can be enriched by human encounters through tourism, we invite travellers to meet the Palestinian people and explore their culture. We strive to create opportunities for local communities to become involved in tourism activities and to earn a fair income from the process. We believe that protecting and preserving the environment is of utmost importance, and thus we are searching for less harmful ways of providing tourism services. We call on all service providers to commit themselves to responsible business practices and to renounce exploitative behaviour. Our objective is to promote a just and responsible tourism in Palestine that benefits the Palestinian people, pilgrims, tourists and all other stakeholders in tourism in the country without harming local communities.

The establishment of just and responsible tourism for Palestine and Palestinians requires an understanding of political context and history, for it is these that set the constraints and barriers within which Palestinian tourism has to operate. The Code addresses these directly – and, by doing so, attempts to overcome them.

Palestine is a unique tourist destination – its long history, religious significance and natural beauty make it an amazing place to visit. Palestine's importance derives partly from the fact that it is home to the three monotheistic and Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Every year it attracts many pilgrims, people of faith and scholars who visit the holy places. Secular tourists come to explore the historical sites, Palestine's vibrant cities, rural life and nature reserves.

However, since the beginning of the 20th century Palestine has seen complicated changes in its political circumstances. These have included the creation of Israel in 1948 and the 1967 war. As a result of the latter, Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives. Despite the fact that Israel signed the Oslo Agreements with the PLO in the 1990s and recognised the establishment of the Palestinian Authority to administer some of the Palestinian territories, namely the West Bank and Gaza Strip, many areas of life in those areas are still under Israeli control. For example, Israel controls all access to Palestine (land and sea borders as well as access from the airport), most of the Palestinian water resources, and all movement of people and goods from, to and within Palestine. These facts have significant impacts on the development of tourism in the Palestinian territories and the dissemination of information to tourists. Jerusalem – the heart of tourism in the region – has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city's isolation from its social and geographical  surroundings.

Despite all this, the touristic, historic, and holy places found in Israel and the Palestinian territories are united. They cannot be separated from each other. In this regard what we are asking tourists to do is to visit both Israel and Palestine rather than choose to visit just one or the other. This is the route towards more fairness and justice. 

Tourism in Palestine provides visitors with a particularly rewarding and enriching experience. Not only may the tourist discover the beauty, spirituality and hospitality of the country but also come to encounter some of the political, economic, and social facts on the ground that shape the daily lives of Palestinians. This is as it should be for much can be gained – both by tourists and by their Palestinian hosts – from a proper relationship between the two. Too often the contact is very slight, consisting of rapid, coach driven visits to the Nativity church in Bethlehem (with a souvenir shop on the way) – a style of tourism that derives from the fact that much of the itinerary is controlled by Israel and the processes of the Israeli tourism industry. Our Code, on the other hand, seeks to contribute to a more general effort to re-engage the tourist with Palestinian land and people in such a way that will benefit local communities, reduce over exploitation of a small number of iconic sites, and also reduce the pollution that results from coach driven mass tourism in the Palestinian towns and cities (especially Bethlehem).

Therefore, we urge you, the tourist, to consider visiting the Palestinian cities, towns and villages and to allow time for encounters with the population living in these places. We believe that in this way, tourism will realise its potential for both you and us. At the same time, we call on the local community to interact positively and in a respectful way with pilgrims and tourists, and to renounce small-mindedness and exploitation of visitors. We should all remember that visits by tourists to the country are an opportunity for cultural, social and human exchange.

Image My experience with the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies began when the director of the stateside non-profit agency I work with, Playgrounds for Palestine, brought the program to my attention.  I'm in the West Bank to explore potential playground build sites and initiate builds at Osh Ghorab Park and at the Bet Jala Arab Orthodox Club.

I often travel abroad for work and study and was prepared for the usual complications of making contacts, finding a place to stay, and spending countless hours trying to find the right people to show me the historical sights and features around my new home.  Siraj remediated all of these impediments.  George Rishmawi and the staff at the Siraj Center immediately began setting up contacts to help with my playground project.  Furthermore, they recommended that I spend my time volunteering at a local organization beyond the scope of my normal work.  I mentioned that I am certified emergency medical technician.  Mr. Rishmawi went out of his way to get me an interview with the volunteer coordinator and public affairs director at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Ramallah.  I received a placement at the Bethlehem Red Crescent working with an ambulance crew.  Working with the medics at the Red Crescent provided me with a means of meeting people far outside the normal scope of the expatriate experience.

Image Immediately upon my arrival in Bethlehem, the staff at the Siraj Center welcomed me to my new family - the Siraj family - with a shared meal and introductions.  I was immediately impressed by their professionalism as well as their honest desire to integrate me into the community of Beit Sahour without delay.  I was introduced to my host family, the Salsas, and discovered another world of cultural exposure opened before me.  The two months I spent living with the Salsas - eating together, meeting their friends and extended family - has provided me with insight and an understanding of the local culture that is oftentimes precious and rare for Westerners traveling abroad.

The guides and drivers provided by Siraj are of the highest caliber - university educated historians and teachers - who themselves live in the Bethlehem area and can oftentimes take a simple tour of a historical site far beyond the bounds of a textbook experience.  By introducing the Siraj students to local business-owners, laborers, educators and others, they succeed in making relevant historical locations that date back many thousands of years.  Any tour guide can explain the various architectural, archaeological and cultural traditions associated with, for example, the Church of the Nativity.  Siraj guides introduce their students to the church's relevance to the people of Bethlehem today.  They discuss the intricacies, difficulties, and celebrations that face the population charged with caring for this ancient structure.  The teachers and guides from Siraj sought to bring these incredible sights into a contemporary context - something invaluable for a student of the 21st century.

Image Finally, I would like to emphasize that the Siraj Center also provided me with something I have rarely found with organizations that provide similar services.  It provided flexibility.  Siraj creates a full, meaningful itinerary for its students without locking them into courses, tours or volunteer experiences that aren't interesting or engaging for each student.  The Siraj coordinators were constantly engaged in discussion with each student regarding their new interests.  I remember - at one point I wanted to deviate from the program to visit a potential build site north of Jenin.  The director of Siraj, George Rishmawi, arranged the travel and even accompanied me up to Jenin, showing me the sites along the way.  I was surprised and touched by his commitment to my West Bank experience - to go so far out of his way to make sure that I was able to visit the places I wanted to.  This personal attention to each student is the primary reason I recommend Siraj to my peers and coworkers back in the U.S.  Every Siraj student lives, works, and learns in the Holy Land, but the staff at Siraj guarantees that this is not a homogeneous, boxed, cookie-cutter experience.  Everyone here seems to have their own unique Siraj experience, whether it is for a week, a month, or a summer.

Image

Nathan Dannison pictured in center

I will continue to recommend Siraj to students I meet here in Palestine, as well as my peers back home.  I have accomplished my goals here in the West Bank - new doors have been opened to me - and I cannot wait to begin planning my return to my new family and friends here in Beit Sahour.

Nathan Dannison, Grand Rapids, Michigan.