ARTAS, West Bank (Reuters) - Two Palestinian travel bloggers are promoting local Palestinian tourism in the West Bank as an act of defiance against Israeli occupation.
The West Bank is scattered with sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, and its mountainous landscape offers breathtaking views from the hills of Hebron and Nablus down to the hypersaline Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.
But after its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, the West Bank has also been home to Israeli military bases and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian movement, as well nearly 430,000 Israeli settlers who live among 3 million Palestinians.
Israel cites security concerns for the checkpoints in a volatile area it calls by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.
Hoping to allay the fears of Palestinians who avoid visiting remote sites, Malak Hasan and Bisan Alhajhasan founded "Ahlan Falasteen" - meaning "Hello Palestine" - a blog and Instagram page offering travel destinations and advice.
"The idea of two young female Palestinians who visit places that people feel are too far, or that might be closed, or are scared because of settlers or Israeli soldiers, we go there to show them that we should not abandon those places," said Alhajhasan, 32.
"This is part of our struggle as Palestinians," Alhajhasan said, taking Instagram videos at a 19th-century monastery in Artas village, south of Bethlehem.
Driving to Artas from the Palestinian hub city of Ramallah involves crossing at least one Israeli checkpoint and bypassing several others, an approximately 50-km (30-mile) route that without restrictions would be around half the distance.
The bloggers' Instagram page features dozens of sites including several hillside springs popular with Palestinians and Israelis alike.
They have gained more than 5,600 followers since launching the app in May. They say it aims in part to show Palestinians new local destinations while international travel is restricted.
"We hear from shop owners that lots of people are visiting them after hearing about us," said Hasan, 31. "We feel like we filled a gap."
(Reporting by Saed Hawari, Mohammad Abu Ganeyeh and Ammar Awad; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)