Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Chapter 17 This land

About 20 km north east of Nablus you enter the Palestinian section of the Jordan Valley. You immediately notice the change in the scenery. It is lush; flowers and greenery coat the ground.

A few kilometers west of the Jordan River, it is one of the most fertile pieces of land in all of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. And it shows.

Agriculturally, this should be a big money maker for Palestinians. However it is a Zone C area, under complete Israeli control, and settlement building added to severe restrictions on Palestinian farmers have drastically affected their ability to grow and sell their produce.

We are on our way to visit with an American pediatrician who has spent the week visiting camps and schools in the area.

The area is littered with check points and they are not friendly. Our taxi drops us off ahead of one which we have to cross on foot before he picks us up again on the other side.

We are called over one by one. I make my way through the medical detector forgetting to put my bag on the little table alongside and am startled by the loud buzzing sound. Three IDF soldiers with M4s stand to one side checking passports.

A blonde with a buzz cut and a harsh accent takes my passport. I stare down the barrel of his rifle which is pointing straight at me about 2 inches from the top of my abdomen. I wouldn't put him at older than 19.

'Ah, you are from England.' He laughs, though I’m not sure why.

Many foreigners come to this area as volunteers, building houses and sleeping in camps that are in danger of being bulldozed to make way for settlement building.

'How is it?' I have some trouble deciphering what he’s saying.

'Cold.' I reply with a smile.

Check points are generally manned by young people going through Israel's compulsory military service. They are posted around the territories and have to stand around all day with very little to occupy their time and minds other than passers through.

Bored young people with guns. Never a good combination I think.

Nevertheless, we are allowed through without delay and continue on our journey.

We stop off at what is the oldest building in the West Bank dating back to the Ottoman Empire. It is being rebuilt by volunteers in association with a local solidarity charity. It will one day be a community centre, free for all.

It is beautiful. The rebuilding is being done in the traditional way and I hope they achieve their goal.

The volunteers who come here also spend their days making bricks out of mud and clay. The idea is that these bricks are easy to make and easily replaceable. So when cities and camps are knocked down, they can be rebuilt again quickly and at little cost.

We make our way to a small city to visit one of the schools. A number of children with learning disabilities and health issues have been marked out by teachers for Dr. Barbara to examine.

The kids are friendly and boisterous. We sit them down at a table and I throw each one my sunglasses as we try to ascertain if any have any severe difficulties with motor abilities.

Dr. Barbara says that most of the children she has seen in the area are quite healthy and most of the cases she sees that day are related to children whose learning difficulties are related to untreated hearing and vision problems.

As we make our way back to Nablus I am taken by the beauty of the landscape that surrounds us. It looks so different to anywhere else I have been in the West Bank. Flowers grow untamed and the quiet roads are surrounded by farms and trees.

So many facets to this place. Not only its history and people but also the land itself. So much promise to this land.

The things it could be...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. so i found this post interesting.. u describe the checkpoints as unfriendly.. but then you described a guy who sounded quite friendly.. even chatty and your passage you described as expedient..

    i by no means wish to diminish the hardship suffered by the palestinians in the territories but is there a chance that your perception is being heavily shaped by your cause and purpose?

    please dont confuse this comment for cross-examination :) as i am genuinely curious.. blogs like yours focus on personal experience which i generally find much more fascinating than try-hard political analysis that i inveitably disagree with.. i just found a disonnace between the idea you described and the attaching event..

    for obvious reasons i have friends who have manned checkpoints and some have reported witnessing bad behaviour.. however most as you describe aptly are bored and yet are very well educated and would much rather pursue a life of fullfiling activities rather than being bogged down for three years by making poor palestinians miserable..

    out of curiosity do you have an opinion as to whether a one or two state solution is preferable?

  3. Hi Lirun, thanks for the comment for which my response comes in two parts.

    The first is I was describing checkpoints in the Jordan Valley as being generally unfriendly - the situation there is fraught as you know.

    Secondly, regarding our own experience, even if a conversation is absolutely lovely, it's difficult to forget that there's a gun pointed straight at you throughout. It makes for somewhat awkward conversation.

    But to be honest it was a little bit intimidating as well. Apart from the gun that is. Just being so keenly aware of how disempowered you are. That the person in front of you, even though they could be great, holds so much sway over you in that moment. Your ability to make decisions and act on them is taken away from you by the situation.

    I don't think this type of situation could ever really be described as friendly.

    I hope that clears things up. I appreciate your comment and your openness in exchanging ideas so thanks for that :)