I thought it’s a good day to relay to you guys about the trip I took to Palestine last year (Summer 2015) for around a week during summer break. I figured it’s a good point to share this since my last post had a lot to do with my inspirations for becoming a Palestinian activist, and soon after I wanted to experience the land and people I had been reading about for so long.
I have decided to break up my trip into two parts, since I don’t want to bore you, and I prefer not to type my fingers off! I am going to go in chronological order, so that you can get a feel for what it might be like to visit Palestine and experience it day-to-day just like I did.
And whether my trip sounds exciting, inspiring, both, or neither, I sincerely encourage you guys to visit Palestine on your own and see and experience the land and people for yourselves.
Since Palestine doesn’t have its own airport, people who want to travel to Palestine usually have to go through either Amman in Jordan, or via Tel Aviv in Israel. Unfortunately, there were no dates available to fly via Amman, so I had to fly into Tel Aviv via Newark.
The flight itself was the longest 12 hours of my life, and most of the passengers were Israelis. I managed to speak to the lady next to me, who was surprised that I didn’t plan on spending any time in Israel, but I have to admit that she was a nice enough person, and didn’t seem too distraught that I was openly pro-Palestine.
When I arrived at the airport, I was astonished by how much Israeli propaganda there was throughout the building. Zionist flags everywhere, Jewish symbolism, and obviously no recognition of Palestinians.
All of the airport workers were extremely stern, and seemed suspicious of my plans in Palestine. Nevertheless, I passed through security and made my way to Ramallah via Jerusalem using public buses.
As I crossed into the checkpoint into Palestine outside of Jerusalem, I was surprised to see that getting into Palestine was not such a big deal. But as I entered Palestine I saw the long lines and harrowing conditions that I had read about for so long.
This was my first look at the occupation.
Finally, after such a long journey, I arrived in Ramallah and checked into my hostel. It was very very hot (around 90 degrees!), but thankfully the hostel was a first-class kind of place. Air conditioning, cable television, the works!
But I was in Palestine! I wanted to go outside! So I ventured out of my room and into my first stop in Ramallah: The Mahmoud Darwish Museum. This was a place that I had been waiting to go to ever since I read his books, so it’s no wonder why it would be my first stop.
And it didn’t disappoint. I was so happy to be in a place dedicated to my favorite poet/author, and it was indescribly beautiful to experience Darwish’s stories and writing within the places that he spoke so much about.
When I left the museum, I was pretty exhausted and went back to my hostel where I met some fellow travelers. We decided to go out to dinner and so we had locally made Shwarma with Taybe Palestinian beer and black Arabic coffee – all of which was delicious!
I spent the morning at a café in Ramallah near my hostel, where I sat and spoke to a few locals about how they felt. From what I gathered, Ramallah is a world class city within Palestine which serves as the commercial and cultural capital. Currently, this is where the Palestinian parliament is, but that will change when East Jerusalem becomes the capital.
Ramallah feels pretty much like any other city, with its malls and fresh architecture and restaurants, but it’s Palestinian, and for those who want to see what a Palestinian city can look like free from Israeli soldiers roaming the streets, this is it!
That afternoon I made my way south to East Jerusalem, where I visited the Dome of the Rock, which might as well be the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in. The inside felt like a very large mosque, though I was told it’s more of a shrine than a mosque.
In any case, I could feel that there was a lot of tension in that area between worshippers and Israeli soldiers. I even saw a few Jewish settlers attempting to infiltrate the Temple Mount, which is supposedly illegal even in Israel.
After breakfast I went down to Hebron, where I knew the full extent of the occupation would be truly apparent. On the way there, I rode through the beautiful hills of ancient Palestine. It’s hard to describe in writing, but there is definitely a magical feeling one gets as they see hills covered with olive trees that must have been planted by Palestinians millennia ago. It’s a powerful idea when you think about it.
When I arrived in Hebron I saw how divided the city was. There are areas that look like Ramallah, with its malls, etc. This is where I was able to speak with some locals about their conditions. But it’s hard to miss all of the Israeli soldiers roaming the streets with their assault rifles. It’s indeed a scary thing, and it’s only when you’re face-to-face with an Israeli soldier that you understand the fear that occupied Palestinians go through on a daily basis.
I ate lunch and crossed town to go to a truly desolate part of the city, where many there was an enclave of Israeli settlers surrounded by very poor Palestinians. The settlers were literally surrounded by Israeli soldiers in full military gear.
Hebron really felt like a warzone; the occupier versus the occupied. It was stark and horrifying. As I headed to the ancient gravesite of the Biblical figures, called the “Cave of the Patriarchs”, a small protest erupted behind me. As much as I wanted to join the protest, I knew that these protests would often turn violent, and while I sympathized with the Palestinians, I was specifically warned by locals not to get involved. So I kept walking. I heard and smelt the shooting of teargas by Israeli soldiers.
In only three days, I was already swept up in the roller coast that is Palestine. But my trip was only halfway through.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss visiting Nablus, Bethlehem, the ancient port city of Acre, and meeting my new friend Sami!