RAMALLAH, West Bank – Every year, more and more backpackers are choosing a destination off the beaten trail – a place thought to be, until recently, unconventional: Ramallah, where local hostels help tourists experience Palestinian culture and also learn about its political reality.
“Welcome to Palestine!” echoes through the streets as the “ajnabi,” Arabic for foreigner, takes in the life of the city-full of traffic, shouting street vendors and the strong aroma of coffee.
Due to the political and cultural circumstance in the Palestinian territories, and despite security warnings, it is very common that after spending a few days in Israel, tourists visit the West Bank and see the reality of the place with their own eyes.
Over the last few years, two modern hostels in Ramallah have attracted tourists to the city with accommodation for those on a limited budget and cannot afford to stay in a luxury hotel.
“Every day, new guests are pleasantly surprised by the reality of the West Bank and how different it is from their expectations. They expect to see cities filled with rubble and heavily-armed militia everywhere,” explained Mike, the European co-owner of the hostel Area D.
According to Chris Alami, Mike’s Palestinian business partner, most tourists who arrive in the West Bank are young adults with a strong interest in culture, language and politics.
“From the traveler’s point of view, Ramallah has a lot of potential. It’s fun, cheap and safe. We provide a great variety of cultural and political tours, almost all of them for free,” Alami said.
Some Ramallah citizens are reticent to tourists’ behavior due to some conservative local traditions, but in general, visitors are welcomed as “they spend money and experience Palestine first hand,” as Alami put it.