UPDATE: If you are looking for ways to help the Palestinian people following the recent violence in Gaza, consider donating to a trusted charity. The following well-established organizations are currently operating in the region to provide food, medical care, and psychological counseling to those affected:
In June 1967, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights were occupied by Israel as a result of the Six-Day War. The territories have been under Israeli control since then despite numerous UN resolutions proclaiming the illegality of the occupation. In 2002, Israel began the construction of a security barrier in the West Bank. Opponents of the project argued that it is an attempt to effectively annex land from Palestinians and limit their social and economic freedoms. Despite a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice declaring the wall illegal, it still stands to this day.
Undoubtedly, the political situation in the region is extremely complicated. Volunteers in the Palestinian territories will quickly begin to realize just how deep this historical conflict runs.
Learn More About the History of Palestine:
Refugees and Human Rights
The Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank have numerous NGOs working on improving the conditions of refugees and promoting human rights. As a volunteer, you could either choose to combine this project with studies as part of a service-learning project or work directly with an NGO to assist in their mission.
Depending on the time of year, volunteers may be involved in leadership and sports programs (summer) or maintaining the local community center by gardening and construction (winter). Administrative tasks such as updating websites and assisting with fundraising applications are also very helpful to the locals.
During school terms long-stay volunteers can teach local Palestinian children English. The Palestinian education system is generally very good and children increasingly have a basic understanding of English. Native English speakers can help these children improve their skills.
Palestinian farmers work in some of the most difficult conditions in the world. Limited water supply, scorching summers, barren land, and economic restrictions imposed by Israel mean that Palestine is increasingly reliant on foreign food aid. Permaculture programs help educate farmers about growing sustainably and maximizing yield and quality with minimal inputs.
Planning Your Trip
When traveling around Israel and the Palestinian territories, you should carry identification at all times, in case the local authorities ask to see it. You should carry photocopies of the date and entry stamp pages of your passport to avoid losing the original.
As a foreigner you are likely to be noticed and many people will call to you as you walk around. This is almost always friendly and well-intentioned although you should be cautious at night, as in any city. Common sense goes a long way.
Women should be aware that they may attract unwanted attention on the street. Generally, this is good-natured and being polite but firm is the best solution. It is important to remember that agreeing to meet someone of the opposite sex for coffee or tea may seem rather casual to western sensibilities, but can mean the beginning of a serious relationship in Middle Eastern cultures. If you are unsure, invite a friend along to avoid misunderstandings.
Establishing and maintaining good relationships with your colleagues and friends is central to getting things done in Palestine. Difficulties can be improved by good relationships.
Volunteers should be aware that during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan eating, drinking, and smoking between sunrise and sunset are forbidden. Although alcohol will be available in some hotels and restaurants, drinking alcohol elsewhere may cause offense. As a courtesy, you may wish to avoid drinking, eating, and smoking in public places in the Palestinian territories during Ramadan.
Be sensitive about taking pictures of people in Muslim and Orthodox Jewish areas and take care not to photograph military or police personnel or installations. Show respect at places of worship - take off your shoes. Women should not enter a mosque without covering their hair. The Arab culture is a very modest culture. Women should not wear shorts or tank tops in public. Public displays of affection are frowned upon by orthodox Jews and Muslims alike.
Health & Safety
Because of the ongoing occupation and the resulting tensions, volunteers should take note of travel advisories issued by various embassies before traveling to Palestine.
For the most up-to-date information, visit the U.S. State Department's travel advisory page for updates on the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.