Palestine is not somewhere one usually travels to ‘feel human again,’ but after suffering a severe case of ‘the Dexters’ in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the West Bank provided the ideal antidote.
Before arriving in Palestine I decided to implement my ‘supersize me’ travel theory. The theory is based on a rule in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary ‘Supersize Me,’ where if he is offered a supersize during his month of McDonalds he must automatically accept it. So the travel version goes, that when an opportunity or experience is presented to you, at least your first instinct should be, to accept it. Of course common sense dictates that not all offers are accepted, unless you want to spend your entire trip in a taxi, souvenir shop or gaol cell!
As I stepped off bus 21 at Bub Zukak in Bethlehem I did not have to wait long for the theory to be implemented. After a quick bite to eat at a street vendor (kofta sandwich, NIS10), I was wandering through the streets with some pages torn from a ten year old ‘Middle East Lonely Planet,’ searching for the only hotel they has listed. As I stopped to reassess where I was an elderly lady approached me,
‘Can I help you? Are you lost?’
‘I’m looking for the Casa Nova Hotel,’
‘Oh, you need somewhere to stay?’
‘You can stay with me, in my house?’
OFFER – ACCEPT!
‘Ok, that would be nice,’
‘Yalla, let’s go, I show you, nice house, nice house.’
Upon arrival at Mary’s house she fed me, served me coffee and cake, told me she would be cooking me breakfast every day and would even do my washing! Praise to the Travel Gods!
As I ate my welcome cake and drank my welcome coffee Mary smiled and said,
I did not know it at the time, but Zaaki means delicious in Arabic (Arabic speakers can correct me on the spelling). To my untrained ear however zaaki sounded like ‘sucked in’ and I half expected to keel over from being poisoned as her eyes turned red and she cackled hysterically and viciously stirred her pot of stew on the stove. Luckily, Mary was not so inclined and she was simply asking whether I found her food delicious, which of course I did and continued to throughout my stay.
Curing ‘the Dexters’
With a resting place taken care of and a full belly I decided to explore the streets of Bethlehem. It was not long before I came across this…
The separation wall runs in various forms along the entire border of the West Bank and Israel, approximately 700kms in total. Apart from being a tremendous waste of water in a region with none to spare, the concrete and wire wall has been globally condemned, as it displaced families, cut through farmlands and villages, confines communities, runs deeper than the ‘green line,’ is an eyesore and reminder that Palestinians are living under occupation and obstructs an eventual two state solution. It has become a tangible symbol of the Palestinian occupation. After feeling nothing at the Western wall, Haram ash-Sharif and Holy Sepulchre, my humanity returned as I gazed at the 8m high monstrosity, covered with pleas for freedom and peace. I challenge anyone to stand there, read the messages, quietly consider what it represents, explore it and then not be moved.
As I walked along the wall I came across Banksy’s shop – the famous graffiti artist, if you don’t know his work click here. Again my supersize me theory was employed when a group of local artists and tour guides invited me to share lunch with them.
With such a welcoming beginning to Palestine my ‘Dexters’ were completely cured.
From Bethlehem I visited Hebron, where the occupation is most evident, with a so called Israeli settlement dividing the town, physically, culturally, religiously and most of all, morally. Click here to read more.
In the northern town of Nablus, the morning mist rises from the surrounding mountains, hovers in cloud form for most of the day and resettles in the evening. I managed to find possibly the worst hotel in Nablus, the Ramsis Hotel. After having to insist I was requiring a room only for myself I wondered what sort of clientele they usually hosted. Nevertheless for NIS40 it was a risk I was willing to take.
Exploring the streets of Nablus there were further reminders of the occupation. A peaceful protest greeted me upon arrival, as Fatah supporters called for the release of political prisoners. Throughout the old town and market area martyr posters were pasted on walls and doorways, as Big Day Out or Comedy Festival advertisements would be in Australia.
Apart from what they represent – the wasted young lives of both Palestinians and Israelis – the most striking feature was the lack of conviction in the young men’s eyes. When I see Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu or Hamas supporters in Gaza on television, while I cannot agree with their politics or means, I can at least see conviction. They believe in what they are doing. Too many of the martyr posters showed the empty stares and unconvincing expressions of young men sent to murder and die. Another reminder of how important a peaceful end to this conflict is.
Luckily for Nablusians, martyrs and protests are not what it is most famous for. The town is reputedly home to the best knafeh in the region. I was told that a visit to Nablus would not be complete without sampling the honey sweet goat cheese delicacy. As a knafeh amateur I had little to compare it to, however would undoubtedly rate it amongst the highlights of the town.
No trip to Palestine would be complete without at least one ‘oh shit!’ moment and this came in my final hour.
From the oldest and lowest town on earth, Jericho, I was to cross the King Hussein / Allenby Bridge to Amman. Having broken one of my own rules of travel – waking in the country you departing from that evening – it would have been nobodies fault but my own.
At the first checkpoint I presented my passport and was told,
‘Come with me,’ words no traveller ever wants to hear.
The officers told me that I could not enter Jordan through the King Hussein crossing because I had entered Palestine through a different point.
I am flying from Amman tonight!
‘So,’ he began, ‘you can go to Ramallah and get a stamp or you can go to Sheikh Hussein Bridge and cross there, but it will be closed by the time you get there because today is Shabat, so you can go tomorrow.’
‘No, but my flight is tonight. I fly from Amman tonight.’
A cup of coffee is presented to me, a small condolence.
‘Or…’ and they chatted in Arabic.
‘Or… you can risk it, try on the Jordan side, maybe…’
‘Ok, I can try, I can try!’
‘Ok my friend, good luck.’
And I wished (prayed?), not because I disliked them, that I would never ever see them again.
After a marathon boarding and disembarking of buses, security scans, unbuckling and rebuckling my belt and smiling at everyone I saw I made it through the Israeli side. At the Jordanian checkpoint, on a bus full of Palestinians and Jordanians who were waived through en masse, the officer took my passport, wedged it in his belt and told me,
‘Go, wait, five minutes, ok?’
‘Ok,’ like I had a choice.
After seeing my passport move through several hands and then following it to its final destination, my only choice was to buy another visa. I gladly handed over the JD20 and all the mental images of re-entering the West Bank, a taxi to Jericho, a bus trip to Ramallah, last night rescheduling and rebooking of flights and another bus trip back to Jericho to do it all again dissolved like the morning dew on a sunny day.
Thank you Travel Gods!