Trip to Nablus, plus observations after a week in Occupied East Jerusalem

by ray goodlass

My Arabic learning is slow but I’m making progress, and it is very enjoyable. My tutor, Mais, is excellent, and very patient with me. I’m also learning the Arabic script, and taking great pleasure in forming the beautiful letters. Quite a change from my usual untidy English scribble.

No class today (Friday and Sunday form the Palestinian weekend) so off to Nablus I went, an ancient and large city in the mid-north of Palestine via Ramallah, the de-facto capital, all by public transport, so I’m pleased to find I can get around on my own. A great trip spoilt by too many illegal Israeli settlements on the way.

The countryside is so beautiful, and for reasons beyond my ken I seem to bond with the limestone hills of central Palestine, so it is very depressing to see so many hilltops crowned with an illegal Israeli settlement or colony, lording it over the Palestinian villages in the valleys below. I’ve developed over my by now three visits to Palestine a quick way of checking if such settlements are Israeli: i) if it is on a hilltop, ii) if the houses and apartment blocks have red roofs, iii) if there isn’t a minaret visible, and iv) if the indigenous olive trees on the hillsides have been replaced by central European style conifers. Unfortunately it works every time.

There was only one checkpoint to have to negotiate, on the way back into Jerusalem. The soldier who marched through the bus checking ID papers looked straight at the word Australia on my passport and then asked me where I was from. Perhaps he couldn’t read English, though he could certainly speak it. Only one passenger had a problem, a young woman with a toddler on her hip, but eventually they let her through. We had to change buses too, presumably to guard against bombs or arms smuggling.

The wall and its watch towers are as depressing as the settlements.

I’ve also linked in to a good range of lectures, talks and historical/political tours from a Palestinian perspective here in Jerusalem, partly but not exclusively through the Jerusalem Studies Centre of Al Quds University, where I’m studying Arabic.

One was an author launching his book ‘Three Promises’ about the contradictory and conflicting promises made to different interests during WW1. and another also a book launch, ‘Stateless Citizens’, which pointed out that Palestinians living in Israel proper may well be citizens, but as it is a Jewish state, and they are not, of course, Jewish, they are therefore stateless.

I’m also reading Ali Abunimah’s ‘The Battle for Justice in Palestine’, and I’m getting a lot from his argument that the only solution is a one state one, with one vote per person, constitutional guarantees for minorities (who would be the present Israelis), and built-in safeguards to ensure social and economic justice, so as to avoid a neo-liberal economic system that only benefits the previous oppressors, such as has happened in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

Much to ponder on.