Tag Archives: Nablus

Nablus

In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. The Scarlet Letter

Nablus is a beautiful city in the northern West Bank. I’ve been before, but I’m beginning my final countdown of cities that I need to visit again before I leave. It’s a city that has a lot of pain and suffering from the two intifadas, and has a much different vibe than Ramallah, or really other West Bank cities.

My friend, who is from Jenin and spent time in Nablus during the second intifada, and has taken me around Nablus before, was able to join us again for the afternoon. When we first arrived, we went to this hidden restaurant that my friend had told me about – though he wagered that I wouldn’t be able to find it (stipulation: I was not allowed to ask anyone), and if they hadn’t actually recently posted a sign outside with the words “mud3am” or ‘restaurant’, I definitely would not have guessed where its location was. But, the food was delicious and cheaaaaaaaap and we ate a lot. My other friend who joined had never been to Nablus before, so after eating, we began the basic tour around the Old City, a labyrinth of alleyways and markets and houses and stores. We stopped at the hamaam, the Turkish bath, al-Shifa, which was built in 1624 to have some coffee and tea. We walked around, and as he had done for me before, he showed us the intricate alleyways that connect houses and apartments, a true maze of interconnectedness. This is one of the reasons the IDF wouldn’t enter the Old City of Nablus during its incursions during and after the second intifada, because the risk of getting lost or cornered was just too high. My friend, who lived in the Old City, said it took him 3-4 months to remember exactly how to find his house!

Then we grabbed a service taxi and went up to An-Najah University, the largest and (some argue) most prestigious university in Palestine. It was founded in 1918 as a school, then became a college, and then a university in 1977. Between 1988 and 1991 the Israeli military declared the university a ‘closed military zone’ and it was shut down. As with other Palestinian universities, when the Israeli military shuts them down for extended periods of time, the faculty and students meet for lectures and classes at homes and other private places.

It’s a beautiful campus – well, two campuses, actually, a new and old, to account for the massive number of students. There are over 16,500 students in 19 faculties.

view from An-Najah University over the beautiful countryside!

the view again. sigh.

The library - farrrr nicer than the one at my grad school!

We walked around, my friend had actually gone to university there so he knew his way around and, per usual in Palestine, all the security guards and faculty and administrative people (at least those who were there during his time there many years ago) remembered him and welcomed us warmly. Of course, we were quite a show for the actual students who were hanging around campus, two American girls taking in the sights! But it was fun, and a wonderful view of the mountains of Nablus, and it was great to see another Palestinian university to compare it to Birzeit, where I took classes.

the campus

Then of course we went back to the Old City and ate knaffeh. Having thoroughly stuffed ourselves, we hopped into the service back to Ramallah.

Back in Ramallah, one of my best friends here, a Palestinian, it was his last night before leaving for 6 weeks in the States on a cultural exchange program. Which, if you recall correctly, I will actually already be back in the States by the time he returns to Ramallah. It was really the first serious goodbye, and really very difficult to handle. I got home after saying hugging possibly for 5 minutes straight, and started thinking about all the good times we had together here, both just one-on-one time and also all the group times our friends had together, over the past 9 months or so. All of our weekly brunches at the same exact restaurant, all of our trips together, all of our movie-watching nights and hanging out at restaurant nights. Of the people here who made me feel less like a tourist, this guy is one of those who tops the list, though the list is blessedly long. I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to say goodbye to this place or these people.

Alice in Wonderland… in Palestine

“I wonder if I’ve changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” Alice in Wonderland

Yesterday, some friends and I took a little adventure up to Jenin, in the north of the West Bank, to go see the last showing of a play at the Freedom Theater in the Jenin refugee camp. Like always, nothing goes as planned, and during our ride in the service up to Jenin, which passes through the city of Nablus, we heard that the main road in Nablus was closed because of settler disruption.

Later, we find out it was a settler rampage in protest over Israel’s demolition of homes in unauthorized settler outposts in the northern West Bank: see here and here. Just because all you usually hear of is Palestinian ‘acts of terror’ against Israelis, it’s important to realize that there is uncalled for acts of violence in the opposite direction too. Jewish extremists call these acts “price tags” – violence against Palestinians following Israeli government action to curb settlements. In yesterday’s case, settlers fire-bombed a Palestinian house and burned several cars in the Palestinian village of Huwwara before moving on to Burin, where Israeli soldiers prevented them from attacking a mosque. In addition to this, the Israeli army shut down the main road for Palestinians. Yes, this is actually all in the heart of the West Bank, but because there are so many Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there are still Israeli army checkpoints and tanks on the roads, and they can decide to shut down the Palestinian roads. Which they did yesterday. So, we had a harrowing round about trip up to Jenin, but it was absolutely beautiful scenery. All the rain that has happened in the past few months has turned what was a beautiful, stony facade into the greenest grass I’ve seen since maybe I was in Scotland.

Once in Jenin, we saw “Alice in Wonderland” put on by the Freedom Theater, which gives voice to the children of the Jenin Refugee Camp. It was a very well done production, though not what I was expecting, with lots of crazy music and lights and somewhat sensual dancing… But, all in colloquial Arabic and I was very happy with how much I could understand! Especially given the fact that I hate Alice in Wonderland and don’t really know or understand the story in English, and this was clearly a Palestinian adaptation – Alice originally ends up in Wonderland because she is running away from an arranged marriage and an abusive father.

Then, we walked around Jenin a bit, ate some falafel sandwiches, had some of the most amazingly delicious strawberries I’ve ever tasted, very local strawberries, and then hopped in the service for the ride back. We had arranged with this driver to take us back because transport between Jenin and Ramallah at night is sometimes iffy and we wanted to make sure we would get back. So, we left at about 5:30, but the driver had forgotten that he told other passengers he would pick them up at 6:30. So we stopped in this little village, called Arraba, just outside Jenin, where we had some tea at a little shop – I think causing quite a scandal, as we were the only women, sitting outside, at what I think was a men-only coffee/tea shop. Regardless, it was quite a phenomenon to have three foreign girls in this little village, so we were local celebrities if you will. We had about 20 minutes left to kill, when one of the locals came up and told our driver that he should take us up the street to the old palace of Abd al-Hadis, a merchant whose family because feudal-like during the Ottoman empire because of how much land they owned. So, adventure as always, we went up and started walking around. The town has turned this old, beautiful stone palace into a youth center, with computers and meeting rooms, etc. We met the director, who took us all around, and even up to the roof! It was amazing, and a beautiful view. Unfortunately, my pictures did not turn out very well, but here are a few:

 

From inside the open-air palace/youth center!

From the roof!

From the roof

We hopped back in the service, and again had to take a very roundabout way to bypass the closed roads. We were with a friend of mine who is from Jenin, who pointed out places along the way where he has horrific memories from the second intifada. He spoke of his time hiding in Nablus, where the Israeli army would impose 24-hour curfews for 10 days straight, meaning they would have food for two days, and when that ran out, they would have to sift through garbage for food. He pointed out buildings along the road, where he used to have to walk from Jenin to Nablus, 8 hours everyday just to get to university. He has other astonishing stories, but they’re not mine to tell. It makes the conflict hit home, however.

Finally, we got home, the service driver thankfully dropped us off right by our house. It was a wonderful, surprising, somewhat spontaneous adventure for the day!

I’m back!

“It is on December nights, with the thermometer at zero, that we most think of the sun.” Les Miserables

My deepest apologies for being so long away from the blog. It’s been a hectic month of November! My research is getting underway, but most importantly I had a visit from one of my best friends, which was somewhat last-minute. I was really beginning to miss home and friends and family right around my birthday in October, so this visit was perfectly timed. Though it was a rather busy week when she was here! How do you decide to fit 4 months of activities/life to show someone who is here for 8 days?!

Day 1: Her flight landed at 9am. I planned to leave Ramallah around 7, get to Jerusalem, take a bus or a shared taxi to the airport (I had been told that there was a direct Arab bus there), and be there to greet her as she walked into the airport. Calamity # 1: the Arab bus doesn’t end up leaving Ramallah until almost 7:45, waiting to fill up with people; there’s traffic at Qalandia; I don’t get to Jerusalem until 8:45. 8:45, people! Her plane lands in 30 minutes! I ask my bus driver if there’s a bus to the airport, he tells me no. I’m frantic now. I run to the main street and flag down a private taxi, who overcharges me to the extreme, but he could smell my desperation, I’m sure. I make it to the airport at 9:20, while checking on my blackberry that her plane landed 10 minutes early. I run to the guard standing outside the airport doors, who has to take down my passport number and run me through the metal detector before giving me directions to the arrivals terminal. I make it there, and almost start bawling as soon as I see her walk through the gate! We then took the train from the airport to Tel Aviv, though we got off at the wrong stop (all the announcements are in Hebrew!!!), and ended up walking for 2 hours just to find the beach (which I just kept thinking HAD to be close!). We finally get to the beach, eat some lunch at a beachside restaurant, my friend falls asleep in her chair while we’re waiting for the bill to pay (yeah, service isn’t a strong point), and we collapse on the beach. Then, two hours later we begin our transportation to Ramallah – cab to the bus station, bus to Jerusalem, cab to the Arab bus lot, bus to Ramallah, walk home. The trooper that my friend is, she drank a red bull and was able to come out for the Ramallah nightlife and enjoy that ridiculousness.

Day 2: we slept in and went to the Ramallah souq for the last one of the season, bought some jewelry and honey and walked around an art exhibit. Went to Jerusalem in the afternoon and walked around the Old City for a bit, before meeting up with a Palestinian friend who had gotten a permit to be in Jerusalem for the night, for dinner. Back to Ramallah that night.

Day 3: Bethlehem! My first time there also, so an adventure of course. A ridiculous ride in the service, we’re dropped off at this parking lot, I have no idea where to go to get to the Church of the Nativity, so we follow this group into the parking lot and into an elevator, assuming they know where they’re going. This really nice woman from the service takes pity on us and starts speaking to me in Arabic, and I was very happy to be able to have a full conversation with her – she declares that she’s Christian, “like us,” she grew up in Bethlehem but her husband and she now live in Ramallah, and she ended up walking us all the way to the Church, completely out of her way, and pointing out other sites to us on the way! The Church was ridiculous, full of tourists, and kind of hard to navigate. All the guards were very surprised that it was just two of us and not a part of any tour group, but that worked to our advantage when one guard allowed us to enter through the exit to see the spot of Jesus’ birth, instead of waiting for 2 hours in line with the tour groups!

After we wandered a bit, went to Shepherd’s Field, the place where the shepherds saw the Star of the Nativity, with very cool caves to explore and a beautiful chapel, and then we headed back to Jerusalem – after walking through the Bethlehem checkpoint. We met up with another friend and traveled to Haifa that night.

Day 4: we had planned to take the subway system up the mountain to get to the Bah’ai Gardens, but when we walked there in the morning, the guard told us the entire subway system was down (and we though the DC metro was bad??). So we took a cab, who of course dropped us off like halfway down the mountain from where we were supposed to be, so we walked the rest of the way up. The Bah’ai Gardens were just as beautiful as last time, and I’m glad I got to see them again, though the Dome was still under construction! Then we went to the beach, and then back to Ramallah that night.

Day 5: Jerusalem sightseeing day. We saw just about everything.

Day 6: Dead Sea. We spent the night before in Jerusalem at a friend’s in order to get an early early start to our Dead Sea trip, since my last experience with the Dead Sea was so miserable. So yes, we were at the beach at 9:15 in the morning. Of all the days to be overcast, the morning actually looked like it was going to rain! So we started off with putting the mud all over our bodies, waiting for it to dry, then washing it off. The weather finally starting heating up, and we were able to float for hours, there really is no way to describe how fun/crazy/weird it feels! We stayed until the mid-afternoon, got back to Jerusalem, hung out for a bit, then got back to Ramallah that night.

Day 7: we had an easy morning and went up to Nablus for the day, to eat and walk around, so she could see another West Bank city. Easy day, and some friends came over that night when we were back in Ramallah.

Day 8: the beginning of the end. We left Ramallah at 8am and made it to Nazareth at 1pm. A grueling day of travel, for a couple hours of sightseeing – though Nazareth is a beautiful city! We spent the night, and left the next morning for Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Day 9: I also love Arabs. Our hostel owner in Nazareth had told us that it’s better to take the shared taxi to Tel Aviv, since it’s cheaper and faster, and he told us it would be easy to find them on this particular street. We walk over there and of course can’t find them, so we decide to grab a sandwich first. The owners of the sandwich store, Arabs, start talking to us about where we’re headed and when they find out that we couldn’t find the shared taxi, after our sandwiches are done, one of them walks us directly to the office and makes sure the drivers there know that we want to get to Tel Aviv! So we make it to Jaffa, walk around the Old City, through the markets, and start our walk along the beach to Tel Aviv. We end up getting sidetracked at a cafe on the way, and sit there for a couple hours, enjoying the sunset and the view.

We spend the night on the beach, and go to a cafe at 6am to eat breakfast and then I put her in a taxi to the airport.

A wonderful trip and it made me miss my friends back home so much! My friend took all the pictures, so I’ll post some as soon as I get them from her.

Also, a post on Thanksgiving-Palestine style soon to come! Happy belated Thanksgiving to everyone.

Nablus

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” Ulysses

On Sunday, two friends and I went to Nablus for the day. Nablus is in the northern West Bank, founded in 72 CE as a Roman town. Since 1995, daily administration of the city is conducted by the Palestinian Authority, but Israel controls all the entrances and exits to the city.

So we drove first to the Old City and found a solid, local place to eat lunch – mixed grill kebabs and hummus and salada. Then we went on an adventure to find Sebastia, a town of Roman ruins supposedly near Nablus. Thank goodness we had a car, first off. But then we had a solid 30 minutes of surreal, trying to ask people on the streets how to get to Sebastia and getting the most ridiculously random answers! It’s one of the things I love most about being here, in the West Bank, where you can ask anyone on the streets for help with just about anything and they will do their damnedest to help. Especially since I look foreign, most of the time help is just offered to me, whether I need it or not! In Nablus, a much more conservative city than Ramallah, we had our male friend, who also was our driver, ask the men on the streets for directions. Finally, after incredibly amusing attempts to get directions, we found Sebastia, where in actuality, there is a church where John the Baptist’s head is buried.

But more importantly (or is that sacrilegious to say??!), there were beautiful, beautiful views of the countryside.

So we toured the ruins for a little, and then drove back to Nablus itself, with some time to walk around. We stopped in this big park right near the center of the city, which is really a great idea – I’ve been pretty surprised with the number of cities here that have decent size “parks,” as I’ve heard that places like Amman, Jordan have really no such places for kids to play/grow up. This park, like others I’ve seen, however, was filled with trash and was pretty empty. Except for a horse tied up near the entrance:

Then we walked around the Old City of Nablus, and wandered down a side alley and found the city’s massive, incredibly long (like took us an hour to walk down it completely) souq! It was so busy and fun, and I got lots of side comments, since I’m so clearly a foreigner. Our favorite of the day was from some teenage kid selling something on the side, at about 4:30 pm, who said, “Good morning, teacher!” to me.

And then of course we ate kanafeh – what Nablus is famous for! It’s the most famous Nablusi sweet, it’s made of pastry sheets with honey-sweetened cheese in the center, sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Though it’s now made throughout the Middle East, kanafeh Nablusi maintains a level of fame, partly due to the particular cheese used, jibneh Nablusi. It’s so sweet, and really filling, so we actually just had that for dinner and then went to have coffee and smoke argileh at this restaurant with fantastic views over the entire city for the sunset. It was a great way to end a great day trip! Though of course we had to stop at a few Israeli checkpoints, even though we never ventured out of the West Bank at any point… Interesting.

7 weeks in…

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.” Middlemarch

It’s so crazy to think that we’re halfway through the semester of classes already! Most of the kids in my classes will go back to the States in about 7 weeks. It makes me think of all the things I still want to do and all that I’ve already done in my first 7 weeks here.

A condensed list of what I’ve done/learned:

– How to buy bananas and tomatoes from the market
– How to withdraw money from the Arab Bank
– How to walk down the street without freaking out at every group of young guys
– How to go through a checkpoint
– How to cook (basic) meals without an oven
– How to go to the dentist (you might mock, but this was difficult!)
– How to live without my family and friends nearby (still difficult!)
– Met some fascinating people, Palestinian and foreign alike
– Visited: Jerusalem, Hebron, Haifa, Akka, Nazareth, Jenin, Qalqilya, Masada
– Felt more like Ramallah is home

A short list of what I still want to do/learn:

– How to buy more than bananas and tomatoes at the market (in progress)
– Try to speak more Arabic
– Oh, right, my research
– Make Arabic coffee at home
– Cook more (hopefully with the more ingredients that I learn to buy!)
– Learn the names of all the different flavors of argila so I can try them!
– Meet more fascinating people (or just regular people too, that’s ok)
– Taybeh OKTOBERFEST (October 2-3!!!!!!!!)
– Visit: the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jericho, the Negev, Petra (Jordan), the Sinai (Egypt)

I really like more and more of this country the more time I spend here. Ramallah can sometimes be a bit much, a little bubble of fun and carefree attitudes. It can sometimes feel a little too much like DC. This is no third-world country, I live quite a life of luxury here with a beautiful apartment and these wonderful cafes to escape to. And it’s good to enjoy it and have fun! I probably learn more Arabic when I’m out at a cafe with new friends and I listen to conversations (creepy eavesdropper!), or I learn new words on the streets, than I do in my classrooms. So while I might feel guilty for going out this past weekend (ok… twice), especially when I have two tests in exactly a week, I tell myself that, technically, I was also “studying” Arabic. Enjoying myself and studying don’t have to be mutually exclusive!