From our tour today, I am left with the impression that you don't really come here to sight see. We saw no other tourists the entire day. We came here to understand what it is like to hang on to the little silver of land that has been left to the Palestinians, making the best of adverse living conditions and animosity from the Israelis who would like nothing more than that all of you would leave. It didn't take long for our guide Mustafa to teach us how to tell a Palestinian town from an illegal Israeli community that has planted itself inside Palestinian territory. The Israeli towns are surrounded by fences and walls; the Palestinian ones are wide open. The Palestinian towns have mosques and minarets, easily seen from the highway. The Palestinian homes are topped with a thicket of water storage devices; when an Israeli town is first built here, pipes are brought in and they have running water 24/7. It's a desert here. There is no way the Palestinians can catch all the water they need when it does rain. Once a month a water truck comes in and fills up the cisterns. If that's not enough you have to buy more on your own. The Palestinian lands are no longer connected to one another and travel between them is only allowed for Israelis's. Presently there are over 300 illegal Israeli towns on Palestinian land. There’s no reason to think there will not be more. Mustafa struggles to give us a balanced view of all this. He said that the illegal towns are built in spots which are Biblically significant to the Israelis. However, the Palestinians have ownership papers to these same lands. Bulldozers come in and move them out. No questions asked. We heard on the news today that our president has decided that the official US position about these illegal communities is that they are no longer illegal. We are grateful that the Palestinians we chat with are able to separate us as people from the politics of our country.
We had to bring our passports with us today, because we were in a Palestinian bus. All Palestinian vehicles can be pulled over for searches anywhere at any time for any reason. This did not happen to us today, but we saw plenty of vehicles with the distinctive green and white license plate pulled over by soldiers who looked barely out of high school and carried huge guns. We also passed military bases where these soldiers live as they perform their required military duty. Most of the Palestinians are very poor, although we did pass some beautiful empty homes that had been built by funds sent home by residents now working overseas.
We had a great lunch at a nice restaurant with a nice gift shop and a parking lot. Crimson Tide signs were hung here and there and the owner spoke fondly of his time in Alabama, earning enough money in a restaurant there to enable him to open the place where we ate today. He said that everything was locally sourced, a trendy expression I would not expect here. His restaurant was near an amphitheater built by Herod, the local ruler appointed by the Romans. Because there is no park service or system in place to control and preserve this ancient spot, it is gradually being dismantled by treasure seekers and antiquities dealers.
We stopped in a Samaritan village on top of a big hill. The Samaritans were one of the five Hebrew tribes that were here when Jesus was here and they are known because of the good Samaritan story in the Bible. This community of about 750 people proudly traces its lineage back to Adam. They have lives such an insular life on the top of a mountain surrounded by Israeli and Palestinian land, that they have become inbred and suffer from consequent health problems.
In Nablus we wandered through a market that looked like it had not changed since early Christian times. Every so often Mustafa stopped to let us sample some traditional fast food. A sweet, melted cheese concoction was may favorite. A large cage of chickens waited to be processed in the back room, one chicken at a time.
Our final stop was the tomb of Yassar Arafat, the Palestinian leader who came closest to obtaining a working political solution for the Muslims and Hebrews that have been living side by side in peace for over a century. A museum there told the story from the early 1900’s. I learned a lot today, but overall was left with a sad feeling.