You went where???? Yes, yes, I left “regular” Israel for the week and crossed over into the West Bank…and I had a great time. So let’s take it day by day, shall we?
Friday: Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah
From the university, eleven of us headed south to Jerusalem, where we walked to Damscus gate and caught a bus to the city of Ramallah. In Ramallah, we had some great shwarma and wandered the city, seeing what there was to see, which included a Bedouin shop/museum. In this shop, the people proceeded to dress us up in traditional Bedouin garb and let us take pictures inside the tent they’d set up in one of the rooms. This first one is me…
This next one is me, too, with my friend Valerie, but it’s a little hard to tell who I am…
This next one is all the girls in our group in front of the main square of Ramallah. We were a pretty fun group:)
After Bedouin dress-up, wandering Ramallah, one cafe visit, a power nap, an incredible dinner at a Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant and an hour at another cafe, we crashed for the evening.
Saturday: Ramallah to Nablus
We were supposed to go to a museum at Birzeit University but it didn’t open until 12. Instead, the university sent a representative out who took us on a tour of the campus! This was just one of an extraordinary amount of hospitality we saw over the course of our trip. It was a really neat campus, and I’m very glad we got to go.
Post-tour, we caught a bus from Ramallah to the city of Nablus, further north. Once there, we met with leaders of this organization that provides services to youth and kids in the community. Two of them then proceeded to give up their entire afternoons and mornings to show us all around the Old City of Nablus, including two candy factories, a bakery and a visit into the home of one of our tour guide’s aunts who made us all coffee! We also encountered lots of sites where there was damage or had been deaths during different phases of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We also encountered these little boys. They kept saying “Hello! What’s your name! Take our picture!” I think those are the only English phrases they actually knew. I was only to happy to oblige and snap this one of them. They insisted on looking at the picture to make sure they looked good before giving me a thumbs up and running off to play soccer again. They were, in a word, precious.
Our tour of Nablus also included an old, but newly renovated, mosque, and for the first time in the Middle East, I had to cover up my head to go in somewhere. Here’s me and Valerie again, outside the mosque.
We had dinner with our guides overlooking the city of Nablus, then went back to our hostel, which was very nice, for a very nice night’s rest.
Sidebar: Art in the West Bank
Street art has become a huge part of life in the West Bank. There is graffiti and drawings and murals everywhere, and a lot of it is very cool. The walls of the walkway leading from the street to our hostel in Nablus were no different. This one was my favorite.
Sunday: Nablus to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Haifa
On Sunday morning, we met up with our guides from the day before again, and they took us to a soap factory, the church of Jacob’s Well and one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, where thousands of people live in one square kilometer of space, with almost no privacy and a virtually non-existent economy. It was incredibly eye-opening, and made me so thankful for the life I have here in Israel and back in the States.
After that, our group split. One went to visit family friends in Ramallah, a few headed back to the university to complete homework (yes, we do have that here), and the other six of us headed to Bethlehem. It was another instance of getting to do something I didn’t think I would, so I was pretty pleased. Bethlehem is much much more tourist-y than the other places we’d been in the West Bank. Here is a picture of the outside of the Church of the Nativity.
It was essentially built around the cave (stable) where Jesus is said to have been born. It is one of the oldest continually-operating churches in the world. Of course, we went to see the spot where it is said he lay, and here’s me standing in front of the arc-type thing that surrounds it.
Christians making a pilgrimage to the site kneel down behind me there and touch the spot, where there’s a star on the floor, or rub things on it, like handkerchiefs. I really won’t ever forget visiting this place that’s so important to so many people in my life and around the world.
After a few hours in Bethlehem, we headed back to Jerusalem (with a stop at a checkpoint at the dividing wall, where a soldier from the IDF had to check our passports), and spent a while waiting for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot to end so we could get on a bus back to Haifa. The good part of that is that I got to spend a little more time in the Old City, taking in the bustle, got to visit the Wall one more time and got to say goodbye to Jerusalem. I’ll come back someday, I’m sure of it, but it’s Shalom for now.
Sunday was really a day of diversity: In an Arab-dominated population, I visited one of the main sites of Christianity and then watched tons of Orthodox Jews head to the Wall to thank G-d for the Torah. Talk about multi-cultural. Elon University would be proud.
Was it a long weekend? Absolutely. Hot? Tiring? Sure, but it was a great experience and real exposure to Arab culture, something I haven’t really gotten much of until this point. It was one more thing I needed to really round out my experience. It’s a good thing I did it, too, because I only have one weekend left! I go home in 11 days, so it’s the final stretch. I’ll post a few more times, summing up my experience, so if you have any requests for content, let me know, because this adventure is coming to a close.