A friend of mine is visiting from the US and I decided to take her on a trip to Nablus. It is her first visit to Palestine so I thought it would be nice to take her to a few cities to give her a taster of what life is like here. The girl grew up in Oceanside; a town on Long Island, New York where Orthodox Jews make up the majority of the population and so I knew being here was going to be a huge shock for her.
On our way to Nablus, we passed two Israeli border crossings guarded by soldiers that looked no more than our own age. They were carrying huge guns and looking suspiciously at all the cars driving past. The first question my friend asked me was, “Why are there Israeli checkpoints between Palestinian cities?”
Thankfully we were not stopped, although this came as no surprise considering I was sat in the front and both my friend and I could easily pull off being European tourists. Once we had gotten through the checkpoints and arrived in Nablus, I took a picture of one of the very first things we saw.
Nablus is a city entirely enclosed by settlements on both the East and West side. The Palestinians live within the U-shaped valley and on the tops of the two hills are settlements. These illegal settlements are placed strategically so they can close in on the Palestinians and most of the settlers hold weapons for ‘safety’ purposes. Wow do I just laugh every time I hear someone justify Israel’s actions using the term ‘safety’.
The apartheid wall? Oh, that’s for ‘safety’ purposes.
Palestinians banned from riding motorcycles outside of cities? Oh, that’s for ‘safety’ purposes.
Settlers required to hold guns? Oh, that’s also for ‘safety’ purposes.
For those of you that have been to Nablus or decide to go, when you’re in the city just look at the very tops of the hills around you and you will just about make out the settlements. I can’t help but feel sad and frustrated whenever I see these illegal settlements.
Did you know the settlers in the Yitzhar settlement in Nablus are known to be one of the worst and most aggressive settlers in the whole of the West Bank?
Settler attacks in Nablus happen on a regular basis because the settlements are built close to Palestinian communities, but the Israeli authorities rarely prosecute these attacks. Just last week, Jewish settlers attacked a school in Nablus, smashed the glass, destroyed 5 Palestinian-owned cars and burnt down olive trees in a local village. Funny how they choose to destroy olive trees right before the olive harvest season when Palestinian villagers go to pick olives in preparation for Eid celebrations.
On our drive to Nablus, we had to pass more than one checkpoint guarded by Israelis. We were driving in a Palestinian car (you can tell these cars because the number plate has a white background and green numbers) and so we are not allowed to drive on the ‘Israeli’ roads. Israel built by-pass roads to connect Israeli settlements in the West Bank, separate from the roads the Palestinians use. Why?
Well of course, it is for ‘safety’ purposes.
Having spent the whole day walking through the Old City and seeing some of the old historical sites in Nablus, I couldn’t help but notice the two Palestinian refugee camps we walked past. Balata refugee camp, the one by Jacob’s Well and Joseph’s Tomb (two Jewish sites) is the biggest camp in the whole of the West Bank and is home to over 30,000 Palestinians. Most of these refugees were kicked out of their homes in Jaffa and Lydd in 1948 – these cities are now part of Israel.
Do you know a small portion of the refugees in Balata do not even hold any identification papers? They do not have refugee status neither do they have Palestinian ID. Legally they are citizens of no country, they are nobodies. People with no land and no identity.
The camp they live in is so overcrowded that people literally live on top of one another. It makes me sad to see the dire conditions that these people live in, especially when you contrast it with the living standards in Israel and the settlements around the West Bank.
The refugees in Balata are human beings, who once had beautiful homes like you and I in cities by the sea. Can you imagine one day being kicked out of your own home without warning and never being allowed to return?
Having been in Palestine for almost 2 months now, I still cannot seem to grasp how people think the occupation is a controversial topic. I cannot tell you how many times my American friend mentioned to me, “I cannot believe what I am seeing, this is crazy!” I should probably also point out that she has no attachment to the land; she is neither a Palestinian nor an Arab and yet she is still outraged by what she has seen.
There is barely any controversy at all when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This ‘peace process’ that everybody keeps talking about is just a distraction while Israel finishes its ethnic cleansing process. Don’t believe me?
Then why is that you will not find one Palestinian who is pro-Israeli, but many Israeli Jews stand against the actions of their own state? Doesn’t that say something?
Palestine is a beautiful place and its people here are even more beautiful. I can only hope that one day the truth will get out in time to change these horrifying circumstances.
On a side note, I had the BEST knafeh of my life in Nablus. Hope the picture doesn’t make you too jealous.
Eid Mubarak everyone!