East Jerusalem, Palestinian Territories Report of what it's like to live there - 05/04/06
Personal Experiences from East Jerusalem, Palestinian Territories
1. How long have you lived here?
2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Direct flight to NYC from Tel Aviv or via connections in Europe.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing in East Jerusalem is mostly apartments in villas or small buildings. The apartments are spacious often with high ceilings and balconies or rooftop terraces. It seems most places are unfurnished, but often tenants can reach a deal with the landlord to provide furniture. American-style furniture is available and inexpensive -- just drive down the main Beit Hanina-Shuafat road and you will see a couple places, or there is IKEA in Israel. But the cost of housing itself in East Jerusalem can be high because there is a housing shortage, and many Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs who had been living in the West Bank are trying to move back into the city for fear of losing their residency rights because of the wall. This creates a housing crunch. Many foreigners live in Beit Hanina and Shuafat areas, which are relatively suburban and middle class. Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood downtown is more urban, but also harder hit by the housing shortage, so there are few apartments available there. The commute from East Jerusalem to work is about 20 minutes by car if your office is on the west side, less if you work in the east.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries cost about the same as in the US. There is one major supermarket in East Jerusalem -- Jaafar's. It has lots of western products plus some good Asian ingredients. But you will probably have to take a trip to a supermarket in West Jerusalem once a month or so to get some items.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mostly baby products. There is a terrific baby store in West Jerusalem, but some things I could not find. I would ship an excersaucer. I could not find one here. Also baby lotion/shampoo that you like.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are no name brand Western fast food outlets in East Jerusalem. But there is a burger place called Goodies that has hamburgers in Beit Hanina. There is a good pizza place at the Zahra hotel downtown that delivers. And there is Abu Shukris Hummus, which is a terrific hummus take out place for weekend mornings (Yes, Hummus is a breakfast food here). For regular restaurants, there is a strip near the Ambassador hotel in Sheikh Jarrah with a nice seafood place, two nice Arab grill and garden restaurants, and two Mediterranean fusion places. There is also the American Colony Hotel, which has a nice Saturday brunch buffet with bacon and ham. Pretty much all the hotels have restaurants, and there are a couple nice places in the old city, including an Armenian restaurant just inside Jaffa Gate.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available and cheap.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
It is hard to find international ATMS in East Jerusalem. You can either go to French Hill or to West Jerusalem to get cash. Credit cards are OK though. Most places take them.
3. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, but I don't know the details.
4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You can get Orbit or Showtime.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In East Jerusalem, you just need English, although Palestinians appreciate it if you speak Arabic. You can also get by with Hebrew as most Palestinians here speak it fluently.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We don't take public transport here because of the possibility of suicide bombings, even though there have not been too many recently. But there are people who do. Taxis are safe, but a little bit expensive (20-40 shekels in town).
3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
In East Jerusalem you will need to have a car, especially if you do not live downtown. Most foreigners buy new cars here, as anyone with a work visa can buy a duty-free car. It is generally not worthwhile to buy a used car unless you are buying a duty-free used car, which are in short supply.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We had our apartment set up for wireless, and it was extremely inexpensive and very easy to do.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have used both Israeli and Palestinian cellphones, and found it is best to get an Israeli phone. Israeli (Orange) is good but you don't get good reception in parts of the West Bank or Gaza. Palestinian (Jawwal) will roam to Orange so you can get service anywhere, but it is such a pain to pay the bills because you have to go in person through checkpoints to Ramallah, and cannot simply give them your credit card on the phone. It is simply too difficult and inconvenient.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We just use the regular phone line.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are lots of opportunities, but the pay is not great.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Very casual. Anything goes.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good, and as Jerusalem is on a hill there is always a nice breeze.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
To be realistic, there are not too many security concerns in East Jerusalem. In the East, you will not be a target of a suicide bombing, although you will still have to worry about that when you go to shop or out to eat out in West Jerusalem. There are Israeli army checkpoints, but the ones in Jerusalem are not dangerous, especially for foreigners, and you will learn to take routes that avoid them anyway.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
In East Jerusalem, you can go to a government (Israeli) clinic for minor problems. As a non-Israeli you will have to pay a nominal fee. The care seems OK, but the Israeli health care system isn't really set up for privately-insured patients. If you ask around in the expat community you will find references for doctors who treat private patients. This is how we found our daughter's doctor. If you have a serious illness then there are very high quality hospitals here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nice in summer and not too hot. We don't have air conditioning and we have never felt hot. Gets cold in the winter though.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We don't have school-age children but I know there is an American school in West Jerusalem. There are some good local schools as well, the best being Rosary Sisters, from what I have heard.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are lots of day care centers opening up in East Jerusalem. They will take young infants and don't charge too much (600-1,000 shekels/month for full-time). They vary wildly in quality and the quality seems to have little bearing on the price. But beware the best ones have waiting lists to get in (we learned this too late), so make sure you sign up well in advance of when you need your child to start. To find them, drive along the Beit Hanina-Shuafat road and you will see signs for a half dozen day care centers. This is how we found ours. We had tried asking colleagues for advice -- no luck that way. Beware that the day care centers will only stay open until about 4 p.m., although if you pay extra then one of the employees will probably be willing to stay late to look after your child. This is the best option we could find. Full-time nannies are not easily found in East Jerusalem -- at least we couldn't find one.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are lots of UN and NGO workers living in East Jerusalem.
2. Morale among expats:
No one really loves living here. But the pay is pretty good.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Barbecues on the terrace is the extent of our entertaining.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For adults, the entertainment options are not great. Slightly better for kids as there are lots of parks in the west and a few museums, plus the old city in the east. The restaurant scene in the East is limited, though improving. In the West, nearly everything closes for the Jewish Sabbath (Friday afternoon-Saturday evening), so on the weekends it is really boring. For entertainment, we go to either Tel Aviv or Ramallah.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, tons! Everyone is always trying to figure you out here. Whose side are you on? This can be determined in numerous ways. What language/s do you speak, what is your ethnic origin, religion, where do you live, who do you work for, what country are you from. You cannot escape it. And if you live in East Jerusalem, Israelis will either think you are crazy or a potential terrorist. But don't think that living in the East will make Palestinians love you either. After all, from their perspective you could have done better. You could have chosen to live in Ramallah. You will always be treated with suspicion, at least initially, by people on both sides of the conflict.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Drive to Tel Aviv or Jaffa to go to the beach and eat at some of the great waterfront restaurants. Or have a picnic at Yarkon park. Or, alternatively, cross into Ramallah to go to posh restaurants there. In West Jerusalem, there is the cinematech, which has good artistic films. Shop in the old city and around it, or go to West Jerusalem and hang out on Emek Refaim St. for shopping and a good cafe scene. (Just make sure the cafe has a guard and gate.)
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Armenian tile tables, beautiful Arab-style furniture, travel.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you are paid a hardship premium, which you should be for living here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I would not stay too long as it gets too stressful here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter coats.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
Make sure you get a Passia guide when you get here. It has a telephone directory that can be very useful and includes listings for hotels, restaurants, schools, etc.