Exploring Gay Palestine

by Allister Chang

Though there are no laws in the West Bank that criminalize homo-sexuality, neither are there laws that protect LGBTQ persons from discrimination.

Public beaches at the Dead Sea

There are several public beaches at the Dead Sea. From Jericho, which is currently under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, I was able to take a Palistinian taxi to Kalya Beach. While transportation to Kalya Beach is not the most reliable (check the temperature of the politics if you are considering this option), Kalya Beach is less crowded than the more popular Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek beaches (under Israeli governance). Entrance fees are 55 shekels per person. For a day trip without the risks of road blocks, take the Egged bus 486 direct from Jerusalem Central Station to Ein Gedi. Entrance to the Ein Gedi Beach is free, though lockers and towels cost a small fee. If you are interested in a longer, more relaxing stay at the Dead Sea, take Egged bus 444 to Ein Bokek Beach. Here, you can stay at the familiar Crowne Plaza Dead Sea (off-season, a standard room costs $215 USD per night, and there is a minimum stay of two nights) or the more recently renovated Isrotel Ganim ($255 per night, no minimum stay requirement). This way, during the day, you can take showers, eat at the hotel restaurant, get a massage or mud wrap at the hotel spa (I personally prefer the Esprit Spa at the Isrotel), swim in the pool, and take a nap between refreshing dips into the Dead Sea.

Because the Dead Sea is the world’s lowest point on land (1269 feet below sea level), the temperatures are generally quite warm. Before you jump in, though, be careful not to get any of the salty water in your eyes. Watching unwarned tourists dive in and scream with pain almost kept me from rubbing any of the magical mud on my face. Made up of magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride, and bromides, lather your body with the gooey mud and you’ll immediately understand why Dead Sea minerals have been exported throughout the world.

Keep a Look Out For

The West Bank is a popular destination for bird watchers, with over a billion birds riding the hot air from the Jordan valley in their annual migrations. Look up to see swallows, storks, and 540 other bird species, particularly in March and April.

Banksy, a pseudonymous graffiti artist from the UK, has painted several famous and provocative images on the 26-feet-tall concrete walls of the Israeli West Bank barrier, including an image of a girl holding onto balloons and floating up, presumably over the wall.

Taybeh beer from the only local microbrewery, The Taybeh Brewery, was started in the mid-1990s by a former University of California Davis student. The five different styles of Taybeh are severed in many restaurants and bars in the West Bank.

Sufi shrines can be found throughout the West Bank. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation supports (www.sufitrails.ps), a non-profit that offers maps and guided tours of trails connecting the curiously abandoned Sufi stone buildings and tombs.

[Upcoming] PIVOT, a smartphone app for Palestinian travel, has just won $25,000 in funding from the Harvard Innovation Lab and will begin pilot stages soon. Depending on your GPS location, the app will allow users to look at a place through a tunnel of time in order to see exactly where the user is standing.

Thinking back to my two wonderful weeks in the West Bank, I most fondly remember this one particular gay couple that I met in Ramallah, one self-identified as Israeli and the other as Palestinian, and their Romeo and Juliet story of sneaking across military checkpoints in order to be together. To me, their love is true love, cutting across the various transections of hatred and fear. Their hope is now my hope.

*Note: The use of the word Palestine refers to what the UN calls the ”occupied Palestinian territories.”

EXPERIENCE

alQaws, 2 Hasoreg Street, Jerusalem. The Palestinean LGBTQ activist organization with information, news, and LGBTQ issues in the West Bank and beyond. www.alqaws.org

Jerusalem Central Bus Station, the central bus station for non-stop rides to Ramallah and the Dead Sea. Bus schedules and prices can be found online. www.mslworld.egged.co.il

US Department of State assesses how safe it is for American tourists to travel to the West Bank. Proper preparations should be made before traveling to and through the West Bank. www.travel.state.gov

LODGING

Crowne Plaza Dead Sea, Ein Bokek. Tel: 972-8- 6591-919. A standard room costs $215 USD per night, and there is a minimum stay of two nights. Operated under the bylaws of the Inter-Continental Hotels Group, the Crowne Plaza at Ein Bokek offers a familiar space to relax. www.ihg.com/crowneplaza

Isrotel Ganim Dead Sea, Ein Bokek. Tel: 972-8-6387797. Ask for one of the recently renovated rooms with a view of the lake. The Esprit Spa includes an indoor sauna and mineral water pools. From $290. www.isrotel.com

Mövenpick Hotel Ramallah, 10 Emile Habibi Street, Ramallah. Tel: 970-2-298-5888. The first and only five-star hotel in the West Bank, with a 100-square-meter Presidential suite and standard rooms starting at $180/night. New, clean, gym, with a out- door pool. High-quality breakfast buffet. www.moevenpick-hotels.com

NIGHTLIFE

Cubes Pub and Khozama, Tokyo Street, Ramallah. The newest bar and night club in Ramallah, they keep a pretty low profile and their parties have a certain feel of underground house parties. Cubes is indoors, and Khozama is outdoors (not open in the winter). The website is a private Facebook page (look up QPub), and the management and name changes rather regularly. Your taxi driver should know where to go!

La Vie Café, 5 Qastal Street, Ramallah. Tel: 970-5- 296-4115. Restaurant and lounge with fresh ingredients from the rooftop garden. An exciting meeting place for ex-pats and progressive locals. Very community centered, with regular updates on their Facebook page regarding daily specials and events. www.facebook.com/cafelavie/info

Snowbar Garden Pool Restaurant and Bar, Ein Musbah, Ramallah. Tel: 970-2-296-5571. Pool, bar, and lounge surrounded by pine trees. Free Wi-Fi. Open May through October. Family-owned, and opened in 1994, SnowBar is a summer favorite for the Palestinian elite. www.al-snowbar.com

Musakhan

Musakhan

 

DINING

Al-Falaha, Tel: +970-2-290-5124. Rightfully famous for their musakhan, Al-Falaha is a little ways outside the center of the city and they have a few English-speaking staff members, Darna, Al Sahel St. near the Ramallah Municipality. Tel: 972-2-2950-590. Upscale Palestinian restau- rant, suggested for business lunches. They are also have a private VIP room for up 30 guests, and set menus for select holidays. www.darna.ps

Orjuwan, Tel: 970-2-2976-870. Upscale Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant and lounge. Orjuwan offers a 150 shekel per person experimental dining experience. This off-menu culinary creation requires a reservation made at least 24 hours in advance. www.orjuwanlounge.com

SIGHTS & ATTRACTIONS

Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron. Burial sites of sev- eral Biblical figures. Large stone walls protect the colorful interior. Security is quite intense. Take the 160 bus from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. www.machpela.com/english

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Basilica over the birth place of Jesus Christ. Renowned also as the oldest complete Christian church. A constant stream of visitors duck to enter the 1.2-meter-high doorway. www.whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433

Dar Zahran Heritage Building, Old City, Ramallah, opposite the Al-Balad branch of the Arab Bank. Tel: 970-2-2963470. The family home of the Ramallite Dar Zahran Jaghab family, the Dar Zahran Heritage Buildling includes an art gallery, a photo gallery of Ramallah from 1850 to 1979, and a souvenir shop. Very friendly English-speaking staff. A good starting point for your trip to Ramallah. www.darzahran.org

Dead Sea, the salty lake bordering Jordan and earth’s lowest elevation on land. There are several access points into the Dead Sea, including Kalya Beach (55 Shekels) under Palestinian governance, and Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek under Israeli governance. The most convenient way to get to the Dead Sea is via bus from Jerusalem.

Garden of Gethsamane, Old City Jerusalem. Where Jesus is said to have prayed for the last time. On the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. You can’t actually enter the garden itself, but if you go early enough in the morning when there are fewer tourists, it is a peaceful and serene walk around. www.gethsemane-en.custodia.org

Monastery of the Temptation, West of Jericho. Tel: 970-2-2321-590. The gravity-defying Orthodox Christian monastery on the cliffs of the Mount of Temptation. Spectacular views over Jericho at the top. Take the Jericho Cable Car. www.jericho-cablecar.com

Solomon’s Pools, Artas, near Bethlehem. Three ancient cisterns around three miles southwest of Bethlehem. A taxi from Bethlehem should cost around 30 shekels. The pools are a wonder to be seen, even if just in passing.


Belvedere Hotel, Mykonos, Greece

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