On Day 4, TP and I fulfilled our long time secret desire of traveling to Palestine when we visited Nablus in West Bank(Palestinian Authority). We were part of a guided tour with a company called 'Alternate Tours' (managed by Abu Hassan).We highly recommend him and the tour company.
To give a brief background, Nablus is an olive-rich PA territory, famous for its Olive soaps, communal ovens and Kunafeh. It also gained notoriety as the hub of the second Intifada, early last decade and ever since has been under strict Israeli (Jewish) control. Our tour group consisted of 12 people - 2 Spaniards doing social work in Ramallah, 8 trade unionists from Norway (who had broken off their ties with an Israeli trade Union and were doing a recce of Nablus to decide if they wanted to affiliate with them) and my TP and I(2 Indians, with sketchy knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian politics, but high on enthusiasm).
Our first stop was at Balata.
Our tour group then met the Mayor of Nablus (what an honor, what a wonderful insight into Palestinian politics). The building was very similar to any Indian beaurocratic building (not surprising considering Palestine was a British Mandate).Stavanger, Norway being a twin to Nablus. Nablus's mayor shared his plans to invite Stavanger's Mayor and some school children on a cultural-exchange program.
The Mayor talked about the current peace process, Norway's role and narrated some ground-level realities that sent chills up my spine.
Recently (just a couple of days before we visited Nablus), an Israeli settler’s 4 year old kid had been killed.
The Mayor said something that still resonates in my ears. He said “I only own the land I stand on. If I want to buy my neighbor’s house, I have to take permission (from the Israelis). If I want to build an extra storey for my newly married son,
We walked around the market later.
My hotel manager (a LOVELY guy called Sammy) hails from a place near Nablus. When he saw our gift of a plate of original Nabulsi Kunafeh he almost kissed us(no he didn’t though!). He said something that shocked us.
My take at the end of the trip? I think the Western media has got it all WRONG. I think more than half the world has got it wrong. At a political level, the Palestinian land belongs to the Arabs too.
Moral of the story: Hope reigns supreme. The defining picture of my visit to West Bank is this one -
a lovely green shrub smiling at the world,enjoying the sun,despite growing in a stone building....reflective of its caretakers, its country. Despite all the violence and political unrest, the hope and love in the country is incredible. A must visit.