Palestine: Jericho and the unexpected west bank
Updated: 7th June 2016
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“Why do you travel?”
Squinting up towards the sky I could feel the glaring heat of the desert sun starting to burn my face. The question had caught me slightly off guard.
I paused for a moment watching the cardamom seeds dancing in my coffee. To understand other culture? To meet and learn about those who live in a world I can’t understand? To make the world feel like a smaller place?
Like he could read my mind he slowly nodded with a smile.
“That’s why I want the wall to fall. That’s what I don’t believe in a two-state solution. How can we all heal by creating more division?”
Palestine was not what I expected. Or at least, not what the media wanted me to expect.
Around me, the west bank continued its day-to-day life. People drank coffee, tea or the locally brewed beer. Shopkeepers laughed as they exchanged banter with their customers. Church bells rang against the call of prayer as this secular country just went about living another day in Jericho.
The roads may not have been as well-kept as its Israeli counterparts, the greenery rolls into the desert the further inland you go, the shops perhaps are not as well stocked as they once were. But beyond these difference, why were so many tourists scared to cross the checkpoints?
Why had so many people written off Palestine as a war-torn land that was to be avoided at all costs?
A journey beyond the wall…
“Stop!” In the silence of the car, it sounded like the biggest sound boom of them all. He was merely talking in his normal soft tone but to us, it was something louder.
Thirty minutes before we had crossed the checkpoint, polite hellos had been exchanged alongside cars. The number plates couldn’t continue the journey but the politeness would.
Everything on face value was nice in the West Bank however hard that is to believe.
After a brief exchange between our Israeli Jewish driver and our Palestine Secular driver, we were off. It was like they were old friends who didn’t catch up enough. In reality, they were old friends who weren’t allowed to catch up enough…
“These are the settlements” he said gesturing towards modern apartment blocks that it didn’t take a geographical scientist to realise were on the wrong side of the wall. But he didn’t claim that he just told me a fact.
That was the point I trusted him. That was the point I knew I would get benefit from this tour. That I knew I wasn’t going to be fed just one side of the story…
“The others. They are the Bedouin” he muttered as he shook his head. A small child ran through the dirt of his back yard to collect clothes. He looked happy. His mother looked on at him with pain in her eyes before throwing a dismissive glance towards us.
The Bedouin are a traditionally nomadic set of people who live in the West Bank. I guess if they had my passport we would call them hippy ex-pats. But they don’t, so let’s call them a title we can comprehend. Many of them now live in the south under government settlements but many chose not to live in places like those. They live in huts like these. Children smile and parents worry. We are not here to judge why.
“But can you travel?” I finally ask after burning my finger stirring those lip staining seeds as far to the bottom of my cup as I could.
The story that followed involved paths through Israel. A strained and long torn visa relationship with an Israeli. A harsh reality of facing death from taking the wrong turning towards a checkpoint.
I squint up at the sun again, not really wanting to look this guy in the eye. The UN he says, “The united nothing”. I didn’t want to take sides, there were problems on both sides of the wall but the traveller within me couldn’t help it.
That is why I get to travel. I don’t need to want it, I just can…
Jericho was a city I wasn’t expecting. People drank coffee, tea or the locally brewed beer. Shopkeepers laughed as they exchanged banter with their customers. Church bells rang against the call of prayer as this secular country lived another day. After touring the monastery we were left to our own devices.
“Explore and enjoy” we were told. I guess for many that would have been a task too hard to fathom. But once you put your name into this tour, you had to leave any preconceived expectations at the door.
I picked up a Barbie doll. It must have been circa 1998. “We don’t get as much modern stuff as we would like around here” the shopkeeper laughed. I told him Barbie’s were not really my thing and he nodded with a smile “You used to be able to get a gun a few doors up.”
The Monastery of Temptation was beautiful. As we took the near empty ski-lift (yep, this isn’t the middle ages) up to it my eyes boggled at the intricate way it was carved into the cliff. After exploring the ruins below and witnessing (as the only witnesses) the tourist film about one of the first settlements on earth my archaeological mind went into overtime.
“Be quick” He whispered. “I need to close”.
The leader of the Monastery held the door ajar as we strolled in. Outside, a gaggle of the only excited tourists here took selfies. “This is not the place” he muttered as we all were amazed at the beauty of the stonework and decoration inside the building. The door slammed shut and a selfie stick came into the corner of my eye. It was time for religion to shut down for the day we hear and I could understand why.
“Are you ready? We shouldn’t talk about the negatives so much” He stood up, picking up the coffee tab on the way as we walked in silence back to the car.
It wasn’t until we drove out the city until anyone spoke.
“But there is no wall here” I questioned looking for a positive. “No, there is not” our new-found friend replied and I sighed with relief.
“They are talking about an electrified moat instead.”
We drive on to Qumran in silence. Sat in the west bank but managed by the Israel National parks it is one of the furthest looks into religious history you will get.
To the naked eye it is just rocks and holes but to a whole religion, it is something more. It was here the Dead sea scrolls were discovered. A look back into times gone by whether you are religious or not.
A group of Christian travellers from Ethiopia share the platform with us. For many, it was the only time they would ever travel abroad. Between their smiles and selfie sticks, they captured happy memories, memories we might be quick to dismiss.
The plans changed suddenly. A Palestinian had just stabbed an Israeli policeman and was shot to death. A detour was to be taken.
I winced at the words. No matter how upsetting I found these stories violence was never the answer. Being someone from a white privileged background that would always be my mindset. I have never had to fight for anything.
Later in the week my parents would call and my friends would whats app me “Are you ok? Did you see the news?
The ironic thing is this happens regularly. Perhaps even weekly. But for it to make international news? That was a big deal.
Someone had filmed the moment a near dead and wounded man lay on the floor before an officer approached and fired the final bullet and memory of his life into his skull. Yes, he had done wrong in his attack but can judge and jury just fall to the person who is better armed.
I write this now sat in Bali, you know, that paradise island of the gods. Last week a man tragically suffering from mental health problems stabbed a policeman to death before an office opened his revolver into his head on the floor. No one calls me here, there are no Facebook messages.
This is Bali, it is a happy place. Why the need for such international concern?
I guess what I am trying to clarify is this: Misery and tragedy happen globally, but the facts aren’t always clarified so wide as they are acknowledged.
We pull into the resort at the dead sea, now pre-determined as the last stop of the day.
By all defining maps, we are still in the Palestine controlled West Bank. As the ticket officer looks over us in despair, however, I know geography hasn’t won here.
“One second. I have it.” Our guide says as he digs into his pocket for the official guide card that allows him to join us.
I kinda want to say fuck it. Stop looking. How much do I want to float in some salty water?
But we all make it in. I float and play around with some dirty mud. Then there is time for a beer at the ‘lowest bar on earth’.
“Try and order the Palestinian beer.” He laughs, knowing they won’t stock it. For a country until a few hours ago I thought was governed by religion I still found it amusing.
Cheers, we shared over a cold beer in one of natures most fascinating, if not so beautiful spots. I imagine he had no clue of what he had given me over the last few hours but what he had done was open my eyes. I wasn’t in the ‘most scary place to visit on earth’ I was in the place I truly wanted to be in no matter what.
So why do you travel? Shouldn’t that privilege extend to everyone if they so wish?
We pulled in to be dropped off. My aunt lives there he gestured across the border like we were not killing time at a KFC drive in. One day I’ll be able to visit her again. He said it with pride, but all I heard was hope…
This tour and others I took within the West Bank were with Green Olive Tours on my own dollar. Find more information on their website. Also, check out this great post by my friend Aiden about the Hebron dual-narrative tour.
The situation in the West Bank / Israel and Gaza is forever changing. Check your government advice to the current situation and make your travel plans based on what you are comfortable with. From my experience and time there however the travel warnings were unfounded however I appreciate with such a complex situation these things can change quickly. Be aware and enjoy the journey
Lovely article Dan and wonderful photos of Palestine!
Hello Dan, I like the knowledge I’ve learned reading this blog. Palestine’s history is worth learning.
This is a fascinating article Dan. I was engrossed reading about the history of the place. So informative.
I’m currently researching the West Bank for a trip and it’s great to read some first-hand experience that isn’t completely off-putting and shows the human side of the issues.
splendid all pictures !
Hey! I recently did a (short) trip to the West Bank and I felt exactly the same there. Everyone was worried about me going there (especially as a woman) but I found it to be an incredibly welcoming country with often very informed views of the political situation where I had expected to be told a much more biased and one – sided story. Good to read a positive view on Palestine in a travel blog! I feel like even travel bloggers tend to avoid this country for some reason.
I was very surprised about the balanced opinion too. I have a lot more content to put out about the West Bank that I need to get done because I agree, a lot of bloggers avoid the subject in fear of coming across on a bias. I had a great time there, glad you did too Janna!
Palestine does exist. You are one of the most ignorant idiots on earth…….Lol. Jewish people just trying to steal their lands and kill their people. The world is trying to ignore the Palestinian people’s right to have their own state and own country. Isreali refused my son’s entry to Isreal because my son’s father was born and raised in West Bank, even though we are Australian with only one Australian passport.
RESPECT EXISTENCE or EXPECT RESISTANCE.
Hey Crystal. I’m sorry to hear about your Visa issues, these are the things that make me really mad. I do hope the latest UN vote wil start to changing things though I am sadly not holding out hope. I assume your comment was directed at the below comment rather than me. I left it there to show just how much spite/ignorance some people truly have…
I just feel some people believe Palestine dose not exist are very ignorant people and they are double standard to the other human beings which make me feel very sad and angry. Israel has broken 65 UN resolutions with no consequences . Iraq broke 2, got invaded, bombed and destroyed.
Daniel, you may like to read the website UN Watch, to further educate yourself on the UN and the resolutions it passes. There certainly is unfairness, but you are clearly mistaken where the bias is.
Hi Ahmed, Thanks for the comment. I tried to share the views of the people I met without filtering it in this post. It doesn’t reflect my personal view of the UN who I know do incredible work around the world and personally have met some of its passionate staff. The situation is undoubtedly complicated and it’s something a travel blogger, who doesn’t have qualifications in INR or the like is never going to be able to discuss fully on a blog and nor do I think it is our place to.
Dont you think its weird that the UN gave less condemnations to a country slaughtering their own people (Syria) than they did to the only democracy in the middle east?
Im not saying that there arent issues within Israel but something is wrong in the UN
This is awesome
Palestine doesn’t exist … Lol
Thanks for bringing such an in depth response to the table…
my father birth of date is before the birth of israel !!!!
There is such a rich history there. I never liked history class in school but there is just something about being these historic places and breathing in history.
Really fascinating. I’ve got to admit I was the same, was so much to learn about whilst visiting :)
Man I loved my time in Palestine. I first went in 1997 to go to Bethlehem for Christmas eve and really enjoyed it so went back a few years later to explore more. Hitch-hiked the Gaza Strip and had no problems, people were super friendly. Would be interesting to go back again, although I’m sure shit has changed with the Israeli situation with settlements etc. Sad…
Wow – That much have been an incredible experience. Gaza just didn’t seem a viable option at the time of my visit sadly. Yeah, it seems that the last few years development has gone crazy…
Thanks for the insightful post! I’ve always wanted to visit the West Bank (and Israel), simply because I’d like to be able to get a more unbiased feel for things on the ground. Looks like you had a really interesting experience.
It really was. Bethlehem is a whole other article in itself. Well worthwhile getting there if you can, very different on the ground level. Safe travels!