A Palestinian’s guide to Palestine

I have just returned from a two-week trip to Palestine. I am quite sorry that I was not very active online during that time, but Palestine can really eat up one’s time. Family and friends took up about half of my trip. The other half was spent on hummus.

Let me make a quick note here. Even though most Palestinians live outside of Palestine, when we do go there, we don’t “visit.” We “return.” Israel, as you might have read, was able to expel many of us. However, if you do pay attention to numbers, you might realize that she did a quite terrible job of it. We are still a sizable “demographic threat,” getting more “demographically threatening” with every wedding. In any case, one “visits” a place if he is not from that place. He “visits” a place if he has no connection to that place. He “visits” a place that is foreign to him, where he doesn’t speak the language, know the food, or understand the customs. We Palestinians aren’t the “visitors” in Palestine. Someone else is.

Anyway, this particular “return” of mine has inspired me to put together a quick (though incomplete) guide for others who might visit. I will not speak of the holy sites and their beauty. Of course, those sites are magnificent, and I’m very happy that they are there. For whatever reason, God chose Palestine. That means our economy is safe. Oil, banks, and manufacturing might all disappear one day. But God isn’t going anywhere. It’s economic heaven.

Instead, I will be outlining the things (other than the holy sites) that you can’t find anywhere else. I’m hoping I can serve to prepare some of you for your visit, because if you are not fully equipped with the knowledge I am about to provide, Palestine could seem like some sort of alternate universe.

Don’t be surprised by what might seem like quite strange introductions to new acquaintances. It is not unusual for one of your Palestinian friends to introduce you to another Palestinian by saying something like, “Amer, this is my friend Sameer. He is a great person. I admire him so much. He was in jail for five years.” This might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal. You might even hear a Palestinian mom say something like, “My son Fawzi is a good boy, but he hasn’t been arrested yet. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Last week, Israel reopened a road out of Ramallah that had been closed for 15 years. She called the reopening a “good will gesture.” Yes, Ramallah is in the West Bank. Yes, the West Bank has been under an illegal military occupation since 1967. And, yes, Israel builds illegal settlements on that illegally occupied land, illegally transferring her population there. So, yes, I understand how it might be odd when the colonizer opens a road for the colonized and then calls the act a “good will gesture.” (By the way, they closed it again two days later.) This might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal. You might even hear Israel say something like, “We have decided to let a Palestinian town have access to water.”

And since we are talking about roads, don’t be surprised if you see some brownish-looking people driving on some roads (crappy ones), and more fair-skinned-looking people driving on others (well-kept ones). Many roads in the West Bank are Jewish-only, reserved for those illegal settlers in those illegal settlements under that illegal occupation. By the way, those illegal settlers (let’s call them “visitors”) are fully armed, both with guns and the authority to assault Palestinians without accountability.

Also, Israel has employed a few segregated bus lines in the past, and has just recently entertained a plan to segregate all buses in the West Bank (before canceling it at the last minute amidst intense pressure).

Even without the outright, blatant segregation, at any given time, about 500 checkpoints dot the West Bank, restricting Palestinian movement. Additionally, temporary “flying” checkpoints pop up at the whim of the Israeli military (and the “visiting” settlers). Oh, and if you’re wondering if 500 is a big number, remember that the West Bank is about the size of Delaware. And if you don’t know anything about the size of Delaware, that’s because Delaware is so small that you never cared. So, it might take you two hours to travel two miles, and it won’t be because of construction or traffic, or at least not because of the kind of construction or traffic you’re used to seeing.

This all might be peculiar everywhere else in the world. In Palestine, it is quite normal.

In more than one way, Palestine is a lens into the past. We don’t only possess ancient religious relics. We have the antiquated colonial remnants too. Armed visitors are in charge of the local residents. Public services are racially segregated. Movement and political expression are severely restricted. You can observe how black Americans were treated in 1935, how black South Africans were treated in 1975, and how Indians were treated in 1905. Why would you read history books? You can just visit Palestine, the living museum of colonialism, oppression, and apartheid. It’s like nowhere else the world. We look forward to your visit.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. I was in Cape Town, South Africa just after apartheid ended. We went out to see the famous Cape and on the way back stopped for fish and chips. (Chips = “french fries.”) Our friend who took us around told us that a couple of years before we could not have used that fish and chips shop because it was designated “Whites only.” As you know South Africa was well on the way to establishing tiny, poor, demilitarised mini-states for its indigenous majority when the boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions finally took effect and they had to go to a One State Solution. South Africa today isn’t heaven but it’s doing quite well considering its history. And its indigenous and non indigenous citizens are respected around the world.

  2. do you know that this year 2015 is the 67 anniversary of the 1948 occupation of Palestine , part 1, and is the 48 anniversary of the 1967 occupation of the rest of Palestine , part 2 !!!!
    last time I “visited” Palestine was in 1996 , I know all the cities , villages, roads, springs , trees, …..all the people there, alive and dead, just because I am a Palestinian, and Palestine is my home country whatever other Hebrew name they called it . It does not change the fact that it will remain Palestine , past , present , and in the future

  3. South Africa finally lifted the restrictions on the natives. Colonialism just was not as normal as it used to be. After thousands of years, it finally dawned on the colonist and the colonised that it was not acceptable for one group of heavily armed persons to invade and take over the land of lesser armed persons and act as if the land were theirs. Of course, South Africa did not have the excuse of the holocaust.

  4. Not going to leave my real name because I could be jailed..

    Palestine is under a dictatorship by another country.. WTF ..

    BTW the fight between us is not over religion!! It’s over land.. If your neighbor built his patio in your yard, torn down your fence and said if you come over to eat BBQ. we will scream terrorist and you will taken away.. That’s what happens everyday.

    Have a BBQ on my grass better believe I’m gonna get me some chicken or a burger!!

    Just my thoughts!!

  5. Palestinians should go to their true native country – JORDAN – and stop claiming a land which is not theirs. In my eye Palestinians are NOTHING BUT THIEVES and MURDERERS of BABIES.
    Search of the FOGEL’s family murder !!

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