…I sat sat around an open fire on a partly covered veranda in east-Jerusalem, a shisha pipe was past around and everybody was chatting about the day’s events and tomorrow’s big event; George W. Bush coming to town.
That same morning I woke up with a soking wet sleeping bag, had a freezing shower with cold water and a window that could not close. Have you ever been to Jerusalem in January? Let me tell you, it was colder than expected. but at least the temperature was not below 0 degrees celcius. The state of my sleeping bad was a sign of heavy rain…
The free fresh mint tea in the kitchen was a blessing! So was the open fire. And the wollen socks I found in a market stall just outside the hostel, next to the Damaskus gate.
Ready to explore the old town of Jerusalem, we could see the January sun peak up and sky clear.
Roaming the city by foot the first day, in and out of narrow passage ways, past shops selling all sorts of things and off course visiting all of the religious “must do’s”. What I remember best 10 years after is the athmosphere – people gathering in the sun and going on with their normal life.
Arriving Israel with only a list of people we should contact during our stay was certainly a new experience. We were there to learn as much as possible about the conflict by meeting people on each side.
Back at our cheap, but oh so interesting hostel, I had just finished my included dinner made by one of the two Palestinian brothers running the place. He would also be our guide for the next days, and we planned to get out of the city as early as possible – Bush’s visit would close all roads in and out most of the day.
I cannot remember his name anymore, but his smile has stuck to my mind! Joining a very ineffective drinking game and listening to the journalists and pro-palestinians around me, I had no idea what to expect of the next couple of day. But I knew they would be both interesting and though.
Waking up in a new bed with a dry sleeping bag I was ready for whatever was coming. We set off for the West bank and Hebron, but first, off course, check-points to pass the wall.
Driving in an Israeli car we did not have any trouble getting wherever we wanted, but our host and guide wanted to show us where his family was from and how life on the West bank was in present time. That was off course what we wanted as well.
Hebron, meaning friend, is the largest city on the west bank, located 930 meters above sea level and famous for it’s china and glass blowing. It was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2017, and is a holy place for jews, muslims and christians due to the cave of the patriarchs and the tombs of the biblical Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.
The city is mainly populated by muslim Palestinians, but because of its holy status there is a big Israeli settlement living in and around the historical town centre as well. Let us just say that the nets above the streets, that you can see in the pictures, are there for a reason.
Our private guide stopped the car on a hill, went out and pointed to the other side of the valley. Where we could see a town of modern buildings, he saw his family’s old farm.
Next on our schedule: swimming in the Dead Sea and a hike to David’s waterfall. Our great host and guide was not a big fan of rules, and certainly not of entrance fees to natural heritage.
We parked along the road, brought our towels, climbed over a small fence and jumped into the salty sea. Somewhat afraid of police coming to arrest us, we did at least get to feel weightless and float for a few minutes.
Further down the road we parked again, ready for a hike. Uphill it went, just stopping here and there admiring the view of the yellow landscape and the Dead Sea. We even saw an ibex climbing on the rocks.
Not until reaching the David’s Waterfall did we realise that we were walking in the opposite direction as everyone else. The waterfall is located in Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and you are supposed to pay an entrance fee to walk there… A fine waited our driver when we got to the visitor center and parking lot. A fine that ended up on the fire place together with the shisha pipe the minute we got back to the hostel…
Staying in a small hostel with an early curfew allowed us to socialize. Dinner, shisha, card games and drinking games – everything happened on the veranda covered only with curtains and everybody was there. Except one guy who always sat on his bed clipping his toe nails. At least he did so every time I saw him…
The next morning we drove further north, we were going to spend a day with students in Nablus. They showed us around town, and took us to two of the refugee camps. The largest, Balata camp, was erected for 5000 people in 1950. Today there are more than 27 000 people living there.
Meeting students our own age and hearing their stories made a difference to me. They were all part of a university programme aiming to create hope among the youths of Nablus.
After one more night in the hostel in Jerusalem, we went back to Nablus. Stayed at a 4-star hotel with bullet holes in the windows, and went out for libaneese dinner with our new friends.
This is 10 years ago in January 2018, and it is still the most important travel of my life.
After another night in Nablus we needed a break, and went off to Jordan and the UNESCO WHS Petra for a couple of days. You can read more about that here.