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AhlanPalestine: Meet the duo creating tours to showcase Palestine’s natural beauty

Two friends have founded a tour group in an attempt to show a different side of Palestine, outside the frame of Israeli occupation
Malak Hasan, 32, and Bisan Hajasan, 33 sit on top of a 4x4 vehicle during one of their travel tours (MEE/Supplied)

Tired of the stereotypes surrounding Palestine, and the lack of coverage of Palestine’s natural beauty, diversity, and rich culture, travel enthusiasts Bisan Alhajhasan, 33, and Malak Hasan, 32 decided to take matters into their own hands. 

The pair, both of whom are Palestinian, have been cycling, trekking, and driving around the West Bank’s hidden corners since 2019, eager to uncover new places and enjoy the lush landscapes and natural scenery. 

After being stuck in Ramallah during the Covid-19 pandemic, the pair couldn’t sit still at home. They would regularly meet up to walk and cycle, where they discovered some unique destinations which even locals didn’t know about. 

And that is how AhlanPalestine was born. 

Noticing a gap in the market, and putting their travel blogging and journalism experience together, the pair founded an Instagram page that creates customised tours for people around Palestine. 

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Adventure seekers

The adventure seekers first met on a cycling trip from Ramallah to Aqaba, a city located on the Red Sea in Jordan.

From this point on, they would often take trips together. 

“We realised that even locals don’t know about these places. Some live in Ramallah but don’t know the surrounding villages, hiking trails, or local products. And foreigners only know the top 10 places, while there is so much more. Someone needed to show that,” Alhajhasan told Middle East Eye. 

Malak Hasan (left) and Bisan Alhajhasan (right) are photographed during one of their tours (MEE/Supplied)

With several years of travelling around Palestine behind them, both had a wealth of information on the roads, places to sleep, where to eat, and what activities to do. 

This was particularly important in the West Bank, where freedom of movement is heavily restricted by the Israeli occupation through a complicated road and checkpoint system.

The restrictions prevent Palestinians from reaching certain areas, so knowing how to get around and reach specific locations is valuable information.  

Personalised tours 

Alhajhasan and Hasan formally established their Instagram tour page in May 2020, after years of operating informally. Today, the page has around 26,000 followers.

Soon, their page started filling up with photos and videos of their trips to olive and date farms and hiking trips. 

For them, the page was more than just allowing people to explore more of Palestine’s rich landscapes. It was a way of documenting Palestine’s changing seasons, history, music, folklore, dance, and food. The page gradually turned into a way of archiving Palestinian heritage.

Alhajhasan says that this aspect of their work was important in light of the constant attempts at erasing the Palestinian existence by the Israeli occupation. 

Today, the pair offer personalised tours, with prices depending on the tailored experience and if it includes overnight stays. The average price for the tours ranges from $100 to $250.

To book a tour, people will send a request through their Instagram page, and the pair respond by gauging the kind of experience they would enjoy, through learning about their age and interests. 

“Some people are very open-minded and say: we just want to see Palestine. That is my favourite part!”

Based on the information provided, Malak and Bisan then design a tour. 

tour ahlan palestine
Each tour is personalised to suit the travellers' needs and expectations (MEE/Supplied)

One of the most common tours is one around Bethlehem which starts with a traditional Palestinian breakfast in the city centre followed by a visit to the Church of Nativity. 

The "nature trip" includes a hike around Ramallah or Bethlehem, lunch in nature, and a refreshing swim in the freshwater springs.

Some of the more adventurous tours include a sleepover in the desert near Bethlehem and an early morning 4x4 trip along the dead sea. 

“There is so much adventure around Palestine, you wouldn’t expect it,” Alhajhasan says. 

During special seasons, Palestine’s famous olive harvest season, for example, trips will include a visit to an olive field or an olive oil press.

Travel restrictions

Despite being able to explore many parts of Palestine through the tour group, one challenge remains not being able to move freely.

From blocked roads to checkpoints and attacks from settlers, the impact of the Israeli occupation is felt everywhere and is sometimes impossible to overcome. 

olive harvesting season
Some tours allow travellers' to take part in the olive harvesting season (MEE/Supplied)

Alhajhasan maintains that the coverage of Israel’s persecution of Palestinians is immensely important, particularly in showing the crackdown on ordinary citizens. However, she believes that showing the nature and culture of Palestine is also key to dismantling preconceived notions about the country.

“There are already great platforms that write about the occupation, we want to show something else”, she says.

“When we go somewhere and meet the locals, everyone is generally very generous and very kind, welcoming,” she added. 

So far, the project has been largely successful, with locals and people internationally showing interest. 

“For the diaspora who are waiting to see their homeland, from Latin America, the US, the Gulf, all those that have never been here, it’s not just information, it’s actually very emotional,” Alhajhasan explains, describing how the tours mean a lot to the people who go on them.

Dreams of expanding

The Israeli occupation coupled with sudden events that can immediately put a halt to tours has put some limitations on expanding the tour group so far. 

For the duo, organising the tours at times can be a frustrating experience. 

'We are Palestinian and cannot reach half of Palestine'

- Bisan Alhajhasan, co-founder

"We are Palestinian and cannot reach half of Palestine," Alhajhasan says. "We'd love to tour Gaza and Haifa, for example, but cannot do that, just because we are Palestinian ID holders."

Her dream trip is a 30-day hike, stretching from the top to the bottom of historic Palestine. However, currently, both Alhajhasan and Hasan hold other jobs, while balancing tours for AhlanPalestine.

Bad news, sudden events, attacks, or politics can also put tours to a standstill and lead to last-minute cancellations.

For now, Alhajhasan and Hasan are enjoying balancing working on the tours as well as other projects. But for the duo, who both hope to one day expand the tour group and make it their full-time jobs, it's peoples' reactions that make it all worth it. 

"Many tourists around the world hesitate in visiting Palestine because of what they see in the media, but we will change that," says Alhajhasan. 

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