This section shall cover all essential aspects of travelling to Al Masjid Al Aqsa, including:
- Entry to Israel / Border Procedure
- Transport to Jerusalem from the Borders
- Transport to Other West Bank Cities from Jerusalem
- Accommodation in Jerusalem
- Tour Guides in Jerusalem
- Safety in Jerusalem
- Other Misc Points of Interest (Weather, Charity, Shopping, Tours)
1. Entry to Israel / Border Procedure
(please note: this section is only applicable to foreign travellers from Non Palestinian backgrounds)
Access to Jerusalem and the West Bank is controlled by Israel. Therefore in order to visit Jerusalem, one must enter “Israel” via either Tel Aviv airport or The King Hussein Bridge (also known as the Allenby Crossing) which is located in Jordan.
Entering via Tel Aviv:
- Most airlines fly to Tel Aviv; and the waiting area in the airport is relatively comfortable.
- Tel Aviv airport is prohibited to most Palestinians, which means that on arrival, most people you see are Israeli, and as a Muslim you are in a v small minority in the airport.
- You must aim to arrive at Tel Aviv airport at least 3 hours early when departing Israel to clear all the security checks. These start en route to the airport at checkpoints, and continue from the moment one steps foot in the airport.
- On arrival at the immigration desk, all travellers who look Muslim, have a Muslim name, or whose background is from the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent will inevitably be directed to the “waiting room” and asked to wait for an officer to come and speak to them. It is not uncommon to be in the waiting room for a few hours, and you will most likely be questioned once or twice.
Entering via King Hussein Bridge/ Allenby Crossing:
The King Hussein Bridge is located near the Dead Sea in Jordan, and is approximately 45m drive from Amman. From Amman, you will need to take a bus, service taxi or private taxi to the King Hussein Bridge. A private taxi costs approximately 15-25Jd, and a service taxi approximately 5-10Jd. Once at the Jordanian side of the bridge, you will need to clear security, pay an exit tax of approximately 10Jds, and then board a JETT bus, which is the only form of transport allowed to cross the bridge. This bus costs approximately 5Jd (plus extra charge for luggage of approximately 2Jd per bag).
- Almost all the travellers on this route are Palestinians or westerners who have visited Jordan (and are often sympathetic to the Palestinian cause), so you are in good company.
- Once you clear the border, the remainder of your journey to Jerusalem is through the West Bank.
- The waiting area is a bit chaotic and it is likely that you will spend several hours on the border.
- When leaving Israel and returning to Jordan via this border you have to pay an exit land tax of around 170 – 200 shekels [updated July 2014].
- Please also note:. If you arrive at Tel Aviv but are then going onto Jordan via Allenby Crossing, you must get a visa from a Jordanian Embassy abroad or at the Jordanian Embassies in Ramallah or Tel Aviv.
- The border is open Sunday to Thursday from 8:00am to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 8am to 3pm. These hours do not apply on public holidays where the border is closed.
- At the border itself, there are many different security checks and periods of questioning. The first questioning often occurs in the queue outside the Israeli border terminal. The second round occurs immediately on entering the terminal after personal body scans. The third occurs at the immigration desk. And thereafter subsequent questioning will be in the open waiting area.
Types of questions asked at the borders:
Regardless of which border crossing you choose to travel to, you will inevitably be questioned by security on a number of occasions. The questions usually include the following:
- Names of parents, grandparents, great grandparents?
- Ethnic background?
- Type of employment you work in?
- Any association to charitable or Human Rights organisations?
- Where do you give your zakat and sadaqah?
- Name of Mosques you attend in your home country?
- Reasons for visiting other countries (esp if Muslim countries)?
- Purpose of visit to Israel?
- Places intend to visit in Israel?
- Name of accommodation?
- Any contacts in Israel?
- Any contacts in Jordan (if travelling by King Hussein Bridge)?
- How much money travelling with?
Occasionally Israeli security will ask for access to your email account, facebook account and other social media – and may make this a condition of entry.
UPDATE 2017: In March 2017 Israel passed a law allowing it to refuse entry to individuals involved in BDS or other pro-Palestinian activism. For this reason, it is essential that all your email / social media accounts are free from any posts that may indicate activism.
If you mention that you will be visiting any cities in the West Bank, you will be extensively questioned on this, and will most likely have to spend more time at the border before an entry visa is granted. In addition – the Israelis may limit your visa to West Bank only which can be problematic.
Israeli stamp in the passport:
In the past the Israeli immigration authorities stamped passports, but would on request by the traveller, sometimes agree to stamp landing cards instead. This used to be problematic for Muslim travellers because the moment one requested a stamp on the landing card, this would result in further questioning as to the reasons why (even though the reason is always the same – i.e. Muslim countries may deny entry on future visits). However, since January 2013 a new scheme has been introduced whereby all visitors are given an entry card instead of an entry stamp on arrival. This is the case for all travellers now, so you no longer need to request the Israelies not to stamp the passport [this is the situation as at August 2015]. You should keep this card with your passport until you leave as this is evidence of your legal entry into Israel and may be required (particularly at checkpoints, and at any crossing points into the West Bank).
Citizens of the US, EU, Russia, Japan and most western countries are issued a free 3-month tourist visa upon arrival which may be extended by applying at a Israeli Ministry of Interior office. Visitors from most other countries require a visa in advance. Citizens of most Arab and predominantly Muslim countries can individually apply for a visa but it is difficult to obtain one in practice. The most commonly issued visas for these travellers is through organized tour groups, and the application is often handled by Palestinian tour operators based in East Jerusalem. For specific visa guidelines, check the information provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please visit: http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ConsularServices/Pages/default.aspx
2. Transport to Jerusalem
Transport to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv:
Tel Aviv is an Israeli city 37 miles from Jerusalem. From the airport there are several transport options available – including bus, train, taxi or service taxi (also called “shuttle taxi”). I would recommend using the service taxi for cost, timing and safety reasons. The service taxi is a taxi that transports between 10 – 15 passengers directly from the airport to their hotel door. The company that operates it is called Nesher and they charge approximately 60 – 70 shekels from Tel Aviv to hotels in Jerusalem. The journey takes approximately 1 hour. Buses are the cheapest option – but as Tel Aviv is an Israeli city, a Muslim traveller may feel uncomfortable using such service as all the passengers will inevitably be Israeli. Private taxis are the fastest option but will cost in the region of around 300 shekels. Since the journey is only slightly quicker than the service taxi, it is not recommended unless timing is essential.
Transport to Jerusalem from King Hussein Bridge / Allenby Crossing:
From the border there are two options available: Service / shuttle taxi, or private taxi. A service taxi costs approximately 40-50 shekels and a private taxi is negotiable and will cost around 300 shekels. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes.
3. Transport to Other West Bank Cities from Jerusalem
Buses to the main Palestinian cities depart from two bus stations near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The buses depart regularly and usually operate between 6am – 7pm, although often there is no formal schedule in place.
There are two types of bus: blue and green. The blue buses travel to the cities of Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and Hebron, and depart from the bus station next to the tram stop entitled “Damascus Gate”, which is located a few minutes away from the actual Damascus Gate. The green buses travel to Ramallah, Nablus and the northern villages, and depart from the bus station on Nablus Road (approximately 250m north of the blue bus station) next to the Garden Tomb.
Taxis are widely available in all Palestinian cities. Fares are negotiable. West Bank blue and green license plates are not permitted to enter Jerusalem. Israeli operated taxis (with yellow plates) may enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the driver’s discretion. If the driver declines it is easy to transfer to a Palestinian taxi at the checkpoint.[Information courtesy of www.visitpalestine.ps]
4. Accommodation in Jerusalem
Please visit www.palestinehotels.com for details of Arab owned hotels in Jerusalem and the West Bank. If you are looking for a small hotel in the Old City, then Hashimi Hotel and Hostel is often recommended due to its location very close to Al Masjid Al Aqsa (less than 5 mins walk), and its reasonable pricing. It also is known for having a great view from its restaurant.
I have personally stayed at the National Hotel which is located approx. 10m walk from the Old City, and am happy to recommend that hotel. It’s a 4 star hotel; rooms were clean and staff were friendly and helpful. Pricing was v reasonable. I am also happy to recommend the Golden Walls Hotel which is located approx. 3m walk from Damascus Gate.
Most importantly – please make sure that you stay at an Arab owned hotel, so that the money supports the local Palestinians.
5. Tour Guides in Jerusalem
There are two tour guides in Jerusalem that I am happy to recommend:
- Abdul Maajid: +972 52 295 1397
He is a specialist in delivering tours of Al Masjid Al Aqsa. His tours can be tailored to suit your time requirements. However just to illustrate how much history is contained within the walls of Al Masjid Al Aqsa, the most extensive tours by Abdul Maajid can take close to 5 hours. However if you would like a shorter tour of 1-2 hours, please just let him know and he will be happy to cater for that. I have personally done tours with him and been very impressed with the quality & his knowledge.
- Shaykh Saleh: +972 52 257 2121 or +972 26 284 410
He is from the Hashimi Hotel and does tours that can cover Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Lud etc. I believe these tours have to be pre arranged with Shaykh Saleh and are only for guests of the Hashimi Hotel. Although I have not done a tour with him, I have heard from many others that his tours are good and that he goes out of his way to ensure everything is covered well.
Alternatively – it is normally possible to arrange tours from your hotel. Each hotel usually has the contact details of a few tour guides that they recommend.
6. Safety in Jerusalem and the West Bank
Entry to Jerusalem is very strictly guarded, and so one can assume that the city is safe for foreigners. Within the Old City, it is usually even fine for foreigners to wander through the Jewish quarter and have a look at the Wailing Wall – but outside the Old City, it is best to stay in East Jerusalem which is Arab.
I personally have visited many cities in the West Bank and never had any issues. Hebron is worth visiting esp due to the Islamic history there and the graves of many of the Prophets (pbut) – for more information please click on the “Other Islamic Sites” tab at the top of the website. Ramallah is often calm and reminiscent of a European city.
7. Other Misc Points of Interest
Weather in Jerusalem:
The weather in Jerusalem is warm, dry and sunny between May – November with temperatures averaging 20 degrees. Between December – April the average temperature is 10 degrees. The wettest month is January with an average of 90mm of rain.
Shopping in Jerusalem:
The best advice I was given regarding shopping in Jerusalem – is that if you see anything you like in a shop owned by a Muslim or Arab, then buy it. The Palestinians face many hardships and one is related to the restrictions on their business activity. These restrictions have been very effective in stifling their ability to grow a prosperous economy, and therefore any money you spend amongst the Palestinians, if done with the right intention can be a source of sadaqah for you as you will be spending the money to earn the pleasure of Allah by supporting the ummah (and those within the ummah who are very much in need of financial support). The Palestinians are an immensely strong nation, and despite their indescribable hardships can rarely be seen asking for hand-outs. So spending money at their shops etc is a great way to benefit the people and help them support their large families, without them feeling shy or embarrassed.
Many visitors to Palestine make a point of visiting the refugee camps as it opens ones’ eyes to the appalling conditions the locals are forced to live in, and the poverty they experience as a consequence of the occupation. If you would like to visit the camps, please speak to your tour guide who can arrange to take you.
Al Zakah Committee of Jerusalem:
On the sanctuary of Al Masjid Al Aqsa (near the Chain Gate and Ablution Gate entrances) there is a small office which collects sadaqa and zakaah to help Palestinians. The office supports over 6,000 orphans and 11,000 families. If you wish to donate money, please visit the office.