In his book Palestine Walks, Raja Shehadeh contrasts bucolic walks in the Palestinian countryside with the realities of living under occupation. Today could have been a chapter from his book.
Driving out of the city and through the seemingly deserted Hawarra checkpoint*, once the most notorious in the West Bank, the service-taxi dropped us off at Awarta and we were soon climbing up to Ain Olim (Spring of the Camel).
|The view back to Nablus from Ain Olim|
As we circled Mount Urma we could see illegal settlements on neighbouring hilltops.
Families from a nearby village were harvesting their olives and we were invited to share their breakfast while Habib brewed the chai nana (mint tea).
|Olives have to be picked with care|
|3kg of olives produces 1kg of olive oil for which the growers receive $10|
These olives produce the highest quality Zaytoun olive oil which sells in the UK for £20/litre
|Palestinian hospitality - |
it would have been poor etiquette not to have accepted
the invitation to share this family's breakfast
|Nidal's friend Habib who joined us for two days - |
perhaps escaping from his three wives and nine children
The master of bush tea with two handfuls of sugar per pot!
We would stay at his home in Duma
We arrived in Aqraba where we saw the village olive press in action and enjoyed a lunch at the Women's Community Centre.
|Olives are washed before the oil is extracted|
Olives picked after rain bypass this stage, command the highest price and produce the finest oil
The politics of the landscape changed rapidly after lunch. Illegal settlements dotted the parched hilltops. The land below, under threat of confiscation, lay fallow. A crop of wheat had been burnt by settlers before it could be harvested. It was a spectacularly bleak landscape.
As we approach the hill-top village of Duma (population 3,400), with its fine mosque, we got our first glimpse of the Bethlehem wilderness stretching out towards Jericho and the Dead Sea.
|Iain rests in the shade of a 2000 year old olive tree at Duma|
For the last two days we have diverted a little from the 'Bethlehem 2000' route and maintained an illusion of 1st century travel, but Duma and the surrounding area brings home one of the major issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - land.
Duma village lies within Area C** and the Eastern Segregation Zone*** making the village and the surrounding area vulnerable to further expropriation by the Israeli government at any moment. Since 1967 Israel has been using its leverage over Area C to loot and confiscate Palestinian owned land in order to accomplish its major plan of controlling the Eastern Segregation Zone. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24802623 For Israel the zone constitutes a defence shield for its future border on the Jordanian side, on the other hand, it imposes facts on the ground in the long term so it would be impossible to withdraw from it in any negotiations with the Palestinians. For that reason, Israel works in a systematic approach in that zone to take full control over the area by building new settlements and expanding existing ones, erecting outposts and establishing military bases for its army.
|Nidal and Habib outside his home in Duma|
*Nablus however is clearly surrounded by razor wire and checkpoints and can be very quickly isolated.
**under full Israeli military and civil control
***eastern part of the West Bank