Everywhere you go in the holy land, you will be able to trace the footsteps of one of the prophets. Each religion has a favourite, Mohammad ascended from his horse into heaven from the Dome of the Rock while Moses herded his flock of sheep all over the hills, perfect for grazing livestock – it’s no surprise that the Bible features so many Shepherds. Jesus of Nazareth will have used the mountainous crossroads of Nablus as his main thoroughfare to get to Judea Mountains to the south or north to the Galilee. Turn east to the Jordan Valley and west to the Sharon Coastal Plain – all these Biblical and Talmudic references can make anyone ‘born again’ with scant background in theological teachings.
One quick bus ride took me to Ramallah, the administrative capital of the ‘Palestinian State’. The road was littered with IDF patrol jeeps, but there must have been in a lull in checking for Palestinian militancy. Nothing reminded me of the sacred itinerary of the prophets in a Volkswagen Transporter, especially at high speeds – the only thing I was concerned about was swerving off one of the Biblical hillsides – that may be self-sacrifice, but can’t be classified as Martyrdom. Nowadays, Nablus is a conservative city, the Byzantines conquered Shekheim, the Hebrew name and re-named it Neopolis. It became an important pit stop for pilgrims on their way to Mecca and was incorporated into the Sanjak of Nablus for almost half a millennium. The largely Muslim town with its Samaritan ‘Pagan Half-Jews’ and few churches was left in limbo after the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War and became loosely included under the auspices of the British Mandate of Palestine. The British with their crumbling empire were not in the process of enforcing redundant colonial posts through Imperialism after the Second World War, but had to find a way of dismembering their involvement with the Middle East without appeasing the Soviets. Political Zionists had a plan for their Hebrew title of Shekheim – but at great cost. Together with many other parts of the Palestinian territories, the newly formed IDF in 1967 took control of the land North of Jerusalem and it wasn’t until 1995 until Nablus received relative autonomy from the Jewish State – in the 1994 ‘Peace Process’ – Nablus was duly handed to the Jordanians. It is for this reason, Palestinians and Jordanian nationalities are synonymous – the latter a modern concept but widely interpreted to mean Arabs.
Curfews have been imposed since the Peace Process and violent protests can happen on a regular basis. I spoke to a member of International Committee of the Red Cross, a Geneva-based Non Governmental Organization. Miss Ada was not able to tell me about the conditions of Palestinian prisoners – it’s ‘the policy of ICRC to mediate directly with the authorities, rather than escalate matters by leaking matters to the Press’. The ICRC has powers to make ‘recommendations’ in line with International Law and ‘Human Rights’. The ‘bottom line’ is that although they may be an influential Swiss agency – it’s no magic button when negotiating with the highly equipped and ideologically armed Israeli State.
I spent two days in Nablus. I found a Ottoman-style ‘Motel’ for 30 Shekels a night. That’s less than 5 pound a night where I could work on my fiction, or faction as I like to call it, take walks down the narrow and seemingly endless bazars of soap, sweets and spices. Alas, it’s nearly Christmas time and the blog’s final destination is Bethlehem, so I woke up early, exchanged a cigar from Malta with the owner of the guesthouse and made my way back to Ramallah where I was greeted by the chaos of the Palestinian city. Another bus through the border back to Jerusalem. Burning tyres and the fumes of tear gas from nearby altercations. No real interrogation, just smiles with tuda and sliekha if you want to please.