ARTAS, West Bank (Reuters) – Two Palestinian travel bloggers promote local Palestinian tourism in the West Bank as an act of defiance against the Israeli occupation.
The West Bank is dotted with sites sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews, and its mountainous landscape offers breathtaking views from the hills of Hebron and Nablus to the hypersaline Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.
After it was conquered by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, the West Bank was also home to Israeli military bases and checkpoints that constrain the Palestinian movement, as well as nearly 430,000 Israeli settlers living among 3 million Palestinians.
Israel cites security concerns for checkpoints in a volatile area it calls Judea and Samaria by its biblical names.
Hoping to allay Palestinians’ fears of avoiding visiting remote locations, Malak Hasan and Bisan Alhajhasan created “Ahlan Falasteen” – meaning “Hello Palestine” – a blog and Instagram page with travel destinations and advice.
“The idea of two young Palestinian women visiting places that people think are too far away, or that may be closed or scared because of settlers or Israeli soldiers, we go there to show them we are Places shouldn’t be left, “he told Alhajhasan, 32.
“This is part of our struggle as Palestinians,” Alhajhasan said, making Instagram videos at a 19th-century monastery in the village of Artas, south of Bethlehem.
Driving to Artas from the Palestinian hub of Ramallah will require you to cross at least one Israeli checkpoint and bypass several others, a route roughly 50 km long and about half the distance without restrictions.
The bloggers’ Instagram page features dozens of websites, including several mountain springs popular with Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Since the app launched in May, they have gained more than 5,600 followers. They say it partially aims to show Palestinians new local destinations while restricting international travel.
“We hear from shopkeepers that a lot of people visit after hearing about us,” said Hasan, 31. “We feel like we’ve closed a gap.”
Reporting by Saed Hawari, Mohammad Abu Ganeyeh and Ammar Awad; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Adaptation by Angus MacSwan