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Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Particularly in the Bethlehem area, it is safe to visit. We have run this program, and many other pilgrimages and delegations for internationals in this area, for many years and participants have consistently reported that they felt safe and comfortable during their visit.
We provide participants with a cell phone for their use during the program so that they can keep in close contact with Holy Land Trust staff and other participants as needed. We brief all participants on safety during the introductory orientation session. We also encourage participants to work and travel in pairs or in small groups.
We are constantly reassessing the situation on the ground in terms of safety and, if we felt for any reason that it was unsafe for participants to join us, we would cancel the program.
Yes. Many of the countries we encourage people to visit in order to build relationships with its people have Travel Warnings from the U.S. State Department. Please be aware of these warnings and take them into consideration. You can check the most recent travel warnings, find visa/passport information, and obtain other travel information from the State Department website: http://travel.state.gov
Palestinians are extremely gracious and hospitable to guests. Culturally, it is considered a point of honor to treat all guests like kings and queens. In addition, Palestinians are almost always happy to see an international presence in the Palestinian Territories for a variety of reasons. For one, tourism is an important component of the economy. Palestinians are also eager to meet international travelers and share their views and their personal stories. Holy Land Trust is very well respected in the surrounding community and many local residents are aware of our goals and the services through volunteers that we try to provide.
Yes. We have had a number of Jewish participants on our programs.
Again, the Bethlehem area is an extremely safe place to visit, but, when traveling anywhere in the world, it's important to take precautions.
Theft and pick pocketing are not common, but it is still very important to keep your money and valuables somewhere secure. Sexual harassment is not an unusual problem for female travelers in many parts of the world–if any participant experiences sexual harassment they are encouraged to report it to the Holy Land Trust or Middle East Fellowship staff immediately. We recommend everyone, especially female participants, travel in pairs or in small groups.
Certain areas in the Palestinian Territories are at times not safe to visit. These are areas we avoid. (For example: the Gaza Strip, which is disconnected from the West Bank).
There are certain risks associated with attending nonviolent demonstrations. Participants who attend nonviolent demonstrations in the West Bank should be aware that, among other hazards, it is not uncommon for rubber bullets and tear gas to be used against protestors.
Yes. There are several ways to do this. Your friends and family, of course, can give you money directly to use toward the cost of your program participation. These gifts, because they are given to you and not to a 501(C)(3) nonprofit, are likely NOT tax deductible. We encourage you to thank your friends and family for their support in person or in writing and then make your payment in full for the program.
If your donors would like to make a tax deductible donation to the generalized scholarship fund for Palestine Summer Encounter participants they are free to do so. Checks can be made out to "Middle East Fellowship." Please also have donors write "Palestine Summer Encounter" in the memo of the check. In a letter or e-mail included with the check or payment, the donor should indicate that they want their donation to be designated for the Palestine Summer Encounter Scholarship Fund. Additionally, they can recommend that the funds be used on behalf of a specific participant whom they would like to support. Although the dispersement of these funds is under the prerogative of Middle East Fellowship, we will carefully track these donations and give full consideration to all donor requests and specifications. Please understand that, by handling donations in this manner, we are merely adhering to IRS rules and regulations. If you have additional questions about how this process works, please contact us.
If a parent, guardian or other friend or relative is making a direct payment for your program, and the tax deductibility of their gift is not an issue, they should just make clear that their payment is being made to cover your program fees. They need not (and should not) designate their payment as a gift toward the scholarship fund.
We strongly encourage donors on your behalf to consult with a tax advisor as laws are subject to change.
This is a question best asked in consultation with a financial or tax advisor. We encourage you to save all of your receipts, including correspondence and receipting from us and receipts from your purchase of airline tickets, expenses on the ground, etc. Bring a manilla envelope to safely store receipts in during your trip–and don't lose it!
It is possible for U.S. participants that at least a portion of your trip would be tax deductible because this is a volunteer program. Laws on tax deductions can change. It is ultimately the responsibility of each participant to determine for themselves to what extent their experience is tax deductible. We should be able to offer an itemized breakdown of how your payments were used at the end of the program upon request. Again we recommend: a) keeping all of your receipts and b) when tax season comes up, consult a tax advisor.
Palestine Summer Encounter is a relatively inexpensive program. Unfortunately, it simply is not possible to offer the program at no charge (otherwise we would!) Some of the many expenses include: salaries of the Arabic instructors; weekend excursions (tour guides, buses, hotels, etc.); compensation for host family expenses (room and board); and staff time (to set up volunteer opportunities, lead the orientation, help participants prepare for their trip, etc.) In spite of the many necessary expenses incurred, we make every effort to keep the program as affordable as possible.
For your time in Israel and Palestine you will be responsible for exchanging your own money. The currency generally used in both Israel and Palestine is the New Israeli Shekel. It's best to exchange at least some money at the airport so that you will have it to spend as needed in your first couple of days (on food, transportation, etc.). For currency conversions, try our currency converter widget or, if your prefer, refer to a respected online currency converter, such as http://www.xe.com/ucc/
It's really hard to say. Your main expenses outside of your flight and the costs of the program itself will be lunches and local transportation (taxis and services) which are both offered relatively cheaply in the Bethlehem area. On the other hand, a number of participants do go out to fancier restaurants on a regular basis, ordering large meals or maybe coffee and hookah, and also spend a considerable amount of money on souvenirs to bring back home. Shipping packages back home can also get pricey, so you if you plan to do this you might want to consider this expense in advance.
All things considered, previous delegates have found that $10-15 per day is more than sufficient to cover the cost of daily expenses including lunch and transportation. You could easily get by on less than this. You should probably bring some additional money for tips and if you plan to buy souvenirs and gifts. Cash and your credit card (Visa is the most accepted at ATM machines) usually work best. Please bring small bills (5s and 1s). It is very difficult to cash travelers checks in most of the places we will go so don't bother with them.
Yes. There is some flexibility. Please contact us for more details. We do, however, STRONGLY encourage participants to work within the dates already provided, which are already highly flexible, if at all possible. If you miss the orientation session at the beginning of each session, you may have a harder time adjusting to the culture as well as your volunteer placement and Arabic class. Any special travel arrangements, including early or late start dates, must be communicated to Middle East Fellowship at least two months in advance of your departure.
No. There are no fellowships available at this time. We do encourage all participants to fundraise for their trip.
Yes. This is an international program. We have participants from the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and many other parts of the world. As long as you are confident that your nationality will not prevent you from obtaining an Israeli visa, you are welcome to apply.
Yes, we have many alumni who would be happy to give you advice and answer any of your questions. We can provide you with contact information of alumni or you can post questions to the Middle East Fellowship facebook group where many of alumni are “friends” of our program.
Unfortunately we do not provide the contact information of other participants before the program starts. This is for confidentiality and security reasons.
For the current deadlines please refer to the Dates and Prices page. Typically the deadline is one month prior to the start of the program.
Participants must be at least 18 years old to apply.
Middle East Fellowship and Holy Land Trust reserve the right to reject any application submitted to us. We may, for example, impose a cap for a maximum number of participants. In this case any application submitted after we have filled all available spots will be returned. If for any reason whatsoever we feel that you may be a risk to yourself or others during the program, your application will be denied. We ask that people do not purchase their plane tickets until they have been formally accepted into the program.
If your application is denied for any reason or the program itself is cancelled, your $150 is fully refundable. If you cancel your participation, however, the fee is not refunded. Beginning the minute that your application is accepted we begin working on your behalf to set up a great summer program for you, and this fee helps cover a small portion of the costs incurred.
There are a number of crossings between Israel, the Israeli controlled West Bank, and Jordan. Knowing which crossing to use and the various requirements can be confusing.
For additional information the US Consulate has created this fact sheet with information on all the Israel-Jordan crossings: http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/pdfs/crossings_israel-jordan_2007.pdf
Most of the MEF and HLT staff have traveled extensively in the region and we can offer a lot of advice and provide some contacts.
If you have previously travelled to the Occupied Territories, especially with another organization, you must let Middle East Fellowship and Holy Land Trust know. Certain organizations have been blacklisted by the Israeli government and if you’ve traveled with one of these groups, you might be barred from entering or cause damage to the program.
It is often best to simply not mention your plans to enter the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or, if leaving Israel, not mention that you have been. We do not advocate being dishonest, as that can often cause more trouble than it will avoid, but do not feel obligated to volunteer information. This will be covered in more detail in the Orientation Packet.
The group meeting place is in Jerusalem. The first day of each session is a travel day allowing participants time to arrive at the group meeting place. We will provide transportation from the group meeting place to Bethlehem where participants will be placed with their host families. The next day (2nd day of the program session) Orientation begins. Details about the group meeting place will be provided prior to the program start date. If you have problems at any point in your travels you should contact the Holy Land Trust staff. This information will also be provided prior to the program start date.
All participants are expected to find their own transportation to a group meeting place in Jerusalem. Most participants fly into the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv and take a shared taxi to Jerusalem. However, if you plan to do additional traveling in the region you may want to be aware of other points of entry. Please be aware that if you plan to visit countries with bad diplomatic relations with Israel we strongly advise you to fly into Amman and request that the Israeli visa stamp be placed on a separate piece of paper.
+ Rafah Crossing into Gaza is often closed and we do not advise using it
+ The Tabah crossing in the Sinai is the most common border crossing
+ Most people don’t know there is a ferry from Nuweiba in the Sinai to Aqaba in Jordan.
+ If you are going from Amman, Jordan to Israel and Palestine you will most likely use the Allenby Bridge crossing. This is known as Jisr al-Malek al-Hussein (King Hussein) bridge in Arabic. Do not get this crossing confused with the Sheikh Hussein crossing farther North.
+ You can also cross between Eilat in Israel to the neighboring city of Aqaba in Jordan.
If you are a U.S. citizen you do not need to apply for a visa to travel to many countries in the Middle East including Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. If you are not a U.S. citizen you may need to apply for visa to travel any where in the region.
Finding cheap flights is often one of the most difficult tasks of traveling to the Middle East. Prices can range from as little as $900 to as much as $2000. Below we provide links, tips, and other information as well as contact information for two travel agents we recommend using.
A few hints:
1. Spend the extra time to compare prices.
2. Buy tickets as soon as possible. The longer you wait the more $$ you spend.
3. Try leaving a day later or arriving a day earlier to see if changing your departure days significantly reduces the price. Keep in mind if you do arrive early or stay late you will need to find housing.
4. Compare flights to neighboring countries. For example if you are going to Israel and Palestine compare both Bun Gurion Airport and Amman.
5. Check with the non-western airlines directly to see if they have travel deals.
And check with other major airfare sites:
www.sidestep.com/ - One of the least known and best online travel tools. It requires a small fee to purchase your tickets. However it often finds the cheapest flights and searches many non-western airlines that other travel websites don't.
Pack light if possible. You will be able to do your laundry so overpacking clothes is unnecessary. But definitely bring layers of clothing, extra money for souvenirs and gifts, a camera (if you have one), a jacket or coat, and a notebook. Be sure that the clothes you pack are MODEST. Sleeveless shirts and short skirts are best left at home. Shorts are usually okay (though long pants are better) and you should probably pack a towel and a swim suit or swim trunks. Laptops can cause delays in airport security so we recommend that you don't bring one unless you really need it (it may be useful for your volunteer opportunity depending on where you are placed). Make sure you bring all critical items (medication, toothbrush, contact information, etc.) on the plane-the airline probably isn't going to lose your luggage but better safe than sorry. Don't forget a gift for your host family!
The US Consulate in Jerusalem has useful information that all travelers should be aware of.
Most Arab countries in the region will not allow you to enter if you have an Israeli visa stamped in your passport. You can ask the Israeli visa to be stamped on a separate sheet of paper. Most people don't know you can apply for a second passport. A second passport is invaluable especially if you plan to travel a great deal in the Middle East.
Because Israel effectively occupies and controls the West Bank you will receive an Israeli visa not a Palestinian visa. Palestinians have no control over their borders. The general entry and exit requirements for Americans traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are as follows: A passport valid for six months beyond duration of stay, an onward or return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds are required for entry. A no-charge, three-month visa may be issued upon arrival and may be renewed. Please note that you may receive a one month visa if you enter Israel and Palestine by land from Egypt or Jordan. Palestinian Americans may be subject to special restrictions.
For more information visit: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1064.html
Many people coming in to the Ben Gurion airport request to NOT have their passport stamped with an Israeli entry visa. Usually the visitor is traveling on to an Arab country where the law does not permit entry for people who have first been to Israel. So, on request, the Israeli authorities stamp a piece of paper which is kept inside the passport and removed on departure from the country, enabling the traveler to arrive in the Arab country without 'evidence' that they have been in Israel.
However recently many people have not been given the stamped paper at the airport or one of the land crossings to Israel which is causing problems at West Bank checkpoints and police inspections. One of our tour groups to Hebron was recently stopped by the police and everyone had to produce a passport. One of the participants had no stamp and was detained at the local police station for 45 minutes. It was all sorted out once the police contacted the Ministry of Interior and determined that the person was in the country legally. However the situation could have been avoided.
Please remember to ASK the immigration police to give you a stamped paper for your visa that you can keep in your passport. DO NOT give the paper away at the inspection point after the immigration station. Sometimes the inspectors who double check the passport keep the piece of paper. Don't let them and this avoid problems later.
No. There are a number of other academic options available, including tracks on the history of Palestinian nonviolence and Theology and the Land. For more info. please refer to the academics page.
The arabic class will be taught by a teacher (or teachers) from the Bethlehem Bible College. Bethlehem Bible College is accredited by the Palestinian Ministry for Higher Education as a four-year college. It is also accredited by MEATE (Middle East Association of Theological Education).
Because the goal of our program is to build relationships and because most of our participants are beginner students our beginner Arabic class uses transliteration.
Usually class is 2 – 3 hours several days a week. Additionally participants are expected to practice their arabic outside the classroom.
Our summer program is not an academic program. Most or our participants are students but they do not want the expectation and demands of homework and tests an academic program would require. Thus the majority of our participants do not receive Academic credit. However academic credit can be obtained and transcripts are available for an additional fee.
Yes. Internet cafes are common in the Bethlehem area.
Generally speaking Bethlehem is safer and more stable than other
places in the Occupied Territories but the security situation on the ground can change abruptly due to Israeli incursions and closures. If you have special or
specific concerns than you should contact the Holy Land Trust office.
The geography of Israel and Palestine is very diverse and hence weather and temperature can fluctuate. The weather below sea level at the Dead Sea can be very different from the weather in Tel Aviv on the coast, or in the hills around Bethlehem. You should plan clothing in terms of layers, especially if you plan to travel around a great deal. The summers are very hot and winters are very cold and can be surprisingly damp.
Palestinian society is a bit conservative, although Bethlehem is slightly less conservative than most of Palestine. You might find restaurants in Bethlehem that serve alcohol, as well as bars. Still, Internationals should be careful to be culturally sensitive and respect the cultural norms; especially male/female relations. It is very important to pay attention to Palestinian culture and traditions in terms of acceptable behavior. Its important to respect your family and their beliefs and not offend them.
Yes, it is possible. There will likely be an additional charge involved so if you are interested please contact us.
Each host family is different. Most have at least one family member that can speak good English. If this concerns you let Holy Land Trust know when you arrive and they might switch your housing.
If you are unhappy or uncomfortable in your home stay or volunteer work for any reason, please notify a member of the Holy Land Trust or Middle East Fellowship staff and we are happy to discuss making an adjustment. The more information you give us of your preference prior to departure, the more satisfying your experience will be with a family and in your volunteer position.
Most participants are placed with Palestinian Christian families. However participants also stay with Muslim families and on a case by case basis have been allowed to stay in refugee camps. Guest houses and apartments are also available if participants desire more privacy.
Families are expected to provide two meals a day which usually includes breakfast and dinner. Most participants eat lunch at or near their volunteer sight. Because most Palestinian families eat their largest meal in the afternoon (lunch) when you return in the evening you may have a light meal with the rest of the family as the evening meal or you may eat what the rest of the family ate at lunch.
All participants in the Palestine Summer Encounter should expect the possibility of sharing rooms with members of the host family or with other Internationals from the program. However, depending on the family, there will be some rooms that are not shared.
We have yet to have a single participant diagnosed with illnesses that could have been prevented with vaccinations. However this does not mean you should not obtain vaccinations. Your health is your responsibility before during and after the program. For information on vaccinations and other travel tips regarding health visit the Center For Disease Control website at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/israel.aspx. Many vaccinations require boosters or multiple shots so please plan in advance and accordingly.
No. We provide each participant with travel insurance. This offers basic medical coverage. It does not necessarily offer insurance coverage for trip cancellation, lost luggage or other potential losses. We will send you your travel insurance statement once you have been accepted into the program.
Our program focuses on the life of Palestinians and the impact the Israeli occupation. Thus the majority of the weekend excursions take place in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. We do not take participants to Gaza. Participants will also visit West Jerusalem and other cities within Israel which usually include Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Nazareth. If the program does not plan to visit a desired destination during a participants' session we encourage participants to travel independently but check with Holy Land Trust staff before they go.
Every weekend of every session of PSE has an educational travel day with one over night (2 day) excursion usually to the Galilee. The day long travel days usually include: Hebron, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, and many more. Our program is designed ideally for two month participants. Thus two month participants will be able to participate in two overnight excursions and participate in approximately six other weekend day trips. This means that participants in only a one month session will not be able to participate in every weekend trip possible and may wish to visit some sights on their own.
Participants are encouraged to travel in the region before and/or after the program. Flying to the Middle East is expensive and we encourage people to spend as much time as possible in the region. During the program participants often travel throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories especially during their days off. We do require that participants discuss their travel plans with HLT staff on the ground before adventuring off and then that they follow any instructions or advice that HLT or MEF staff provide.
We ask that participants DO NOT leave the country during the course of the program without the express consent of Middle East Fellowship and Holy Land Trust staff. You can, of course, visit other countries before or after your stay with us, but, for the dates that you are a participant in our program you are our responsibility, so please keep this in mind. Anyone who leaves the country during the Palestine Summer Encounter without express permission runs the risk of being ejected from the program.
Please refer to the Volunteer Opportunities page.
Each year the list of volunteer options changes slightly. In addition every year we have participants who we have created customized volunteer work for. For example participants have used their volunteer work to conduct research for a Masters or Doctoral thesis and we have helped them find volunteer work that will help them with their research. If you do not find information about the kind voluteer work you are interested in please contact us.
If you have specific requests regarding volunteer work please email HLT with specific questions. Please also inform the MEF office of any requests.
Holy Land Trust is responsible for arranging volunteer opportunities based primarily upon the information from your application.
When we set up your volunteer opportunity, we take three factors into consideration: 1) the expressed needs of the organizations in Bethlehem, 2) Your skills and talents (based on an assessment of your application) and 3) Your preferences and interests. We will work hard to to find a volunteer placement that is right for you. And please feel free to contact us regarding any strong preferences. We won't, however, guarantee that you will automatically get your top choice.