I’m back to tell you guys about the second half of my incredible trip to Palestine.
Just to recap my previous post: In my first three days in Palestine, I spent some time in Ramallah, where I was sleeping at a great hostel. In Ramallah, I was able to take in all of the commercial and cultural hotspots of Modern-day Palestine – including a beer factory, museum (particularly the Darwish Museum), and beautiful courtyards.
Next I got a chance to visit East Jerusalem, where the capital of future Palestinian state will be. There, I was privileged to visit the Dome of the Rock, which is undoubtedly the most beautiful piece of architecture I have ever witnessed.
On the last day before I took a break from writing, I spoke at length about my day in Hebron. I highly recommend you go back and read that excerpt, since it’s something I’m very proud of. Hebron was definitely a difficult place to visit, and the hardships that everyday Palestinians endure there are hard to avoid. But the point wasn’t to avoid the pain, but to confront it.
Much of the difficultly about Hebron revolves around the many IDF soldiers that patrol the city, which made me feel very uneasy. After having been there I feel I can truly sympathize with the suffering and the willingness for people to engage in violent resistance against the occupier.
Even after my third day, I couldn’t believe I only had a few days left.
After Hebron, I decided to visit Bethlehem. The city was a lot smaller than I had pictured in my head. In fact, its small size made it a perfect destination for a day visit.
Despite my being pretty nonreligious, I am a great lover of history, and so Bethlehem’s significance Christianity was really evident during my day there. I was most impressed by how well the city embraced its reputation as being the birthplace of Jesus, and despite Palestine being a majority Muslim (who see Jesus as a prophet) the city does a lot to make Christians and others interested in the story of Jesus experience the city in an respectful and authentic manner.
As you can probably imagine, Bethlehem was filled with many churches and shrines to Jesus Christ. Visiting these very diverse and well-preserved places really does fill your day up. The highlight was probably the Church of the Nativity.
The Church of the Nativity is built on the place that Jesus was said to have been born. The building itself is very old, and I personally found it more moving than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The surrounding views of the area were phenomenal, and you could see the beautiful rolling hills of Palestine in all of their glory. Inside the city center, I was most impressed by how friendly all of the locals were, and the scene itself was very picturesque. It almost felt like I was inside of a painting.
I decided to take lunch at a café right next to the Separation Wall built by Israel. It was a dismal, yet inspiring sight. I spoke to some of the café’s workers who said that it’s a constant reminder of what they are fighting for. I could understand, considering there is nothing as demeaning as eating your lunch in front of a monstrous concrete wall that Donald Trump would most assuredly be thrilled with.
On my second to last day I decided to check out the city of Nablus, which sits in a large valley in the northern part of Palestine. Nablus is considered one of the most ancient cities in the world, and the city definitely has a feeling that reflects that.
The city was bustling. When I got here in the morning, I decided to have a coffee at a local café. While I sat there I met a guy about my age named Sami. He was working on an article to be printed online. We got to chatting and we ended up getting along really well. He eventually offered to give me a personal tour of the city.
Sami grew up in Nablus, and he had seen a lot since he was born. He said while it was relatively quiet now, during the Intifada days the city was a hotbed of violence from both sides. He said it felt like a warzone. At the time this was hard to believe, since upon looking around the small streets and bustling centers it seemed a city like any other. But then again Palestine isn’t a place like any other, so why would its cities be?
For me, the highlight of the day was going through the open market. It felt as though it had been there for millennia (and I bet it has). I was swept up in the Middle Eastern vibe of the market, where you could literally find anything under the sun. Sami taught me how to bargain like a local, and even though I wasn’t used to it, it was an important lesson in Arabic culture. It’s almost like a game that both sides have fun with.
Sami and I are still in touch today, and I’ll never forget the hospitality he showed me.
On my final day I decided to venture up to a spot that always peaked my interest: Acre. This lesser known ancient port city always seemed cool to me when I was younger, so checking it out was something I knew I had to do. Conveniently, my flight was that night and I wanted to go somewhere that I could just hop on the train afterwards and wind up in the airport.
Acre is in present day Israel, and so getting there would require me to leave the West Bank for the first time since I left.
When I travelled with the taxi through the military checkpoint a million questions popped up in my mind. What if they wouldn’t let me through? What if they threw me in jail for supporting their enemy? And these were only the tip of the iceberg.
The tension I felt was palpable, and after almost an hour waiting in line we finally arrived to the soldier. He checked my documents and looked at me with a fierce suspicion. He then asked my taxi driver several stern questions in Hebrew.
I genuinely feel like the IDF soldier made me feel scared on purpose, as if it was important to know that they have the upper hand. It worked. I was scared.
Once I got into Israel proper, I took a public bus. Being in Israel was strange. It was as if all of the tension and fear in this entire land was concentrated in Palestine. I felt like this because I couldn’t shake the eerie sense of calm of Israel’s atmosphere. It’s unclear to me how much regular Israelis know what their soldiers no, or whether they just choose to ignore the atrocities. But either way there is definitely the appearance of calm in Israel.
Acre was a cute little city where I learned about its place throughout various stages of history. I also got a chance to hang out in a Turkish bathhouse and eat some pretty good seafood. All around, nice. But it was underwhelming, especially having come from Palestine.
And then before I knew it I was at the airport, getting grilled by stern Israeli security guards, and then back in the USA.
Getting back to the United States was surreal. It felt boring, frankly, but I guess that is what happens when you travel. But going to Palestine was different. It was a trip of passion and spirituality, and I felt like I was coming off of a cloud of intrigue and merely back into my everyday boring routine.
But I will be back in Palestine one day. I will return.