Friday April 15 : Journey across "1948 Palestine"

Monday 12 March 2012
popularity : 13%

Yesterday, before he left, Daoud asked us if we would be interested in taking part in a trip the Nidal center was organising for young Palestinians on the theme of Palestine before 1948. Marie-Gaëlle and Caroline declined the invitation, as they now felt like some farniente or going shopping, Laurie pictured herself sleeping in before spending some time on the hostel computer and chatting with the boys of Al-Arroub. Then, she was thinking of going to Yad Vashem Memorial - her mother had told her she couldn’t possibly imagine her daughter being in Jerusalem and not visiting it. As for Paul, he had decided to embark Sébastien on a biblical tour of the city. (Natalia had already taken the plane back home so as not to miss the family holidays). But Anne-Claire, Margot, Tanguy and JF (one of Tanguy’s friends who joined us yesterday) were game Ah, how energetic old age can be !... (Oups! Sorry, Margot!).

We agreed to meet Nidal group « around 9 a.m. » on the bus parking place near Damascus Gate Right on time: the Belgians. As for the young Palestinians hosted by Nidal centre, they will arrive in drips and drabs, in no hurry whatsoever. We greet them: a dozen of 20-or so-year-old young men and (very beautiful) young women wearing fashionable clothes and their hair loose. This is a change from the veiled Palestinian women we met in Al-Arroub and Aida, all of them wrapped in their long dark coats… We understand that most of them come from (very) well to do and well educated families residing in the Gulf countries. They have come to spend some days off in Palestine and don’t seem at all concerned about the situation of the Palestinians who stayed at home after 1948 and 1967, nor for that matter by the themed route of the trip… Quickly, it becomes clear to us that their polite smiles hide (even though badly) their desire not to have to be confronted to the misery their unfortunate fellow countrymen.

Margot is both shocked and frustrated : on our first day in Al-Arroub, while he was taking us for a tour round the camp, Hashem told us how he felt to the Palestinians having splendid houses built a few metres away from the breeze block buildings that serve as shelters for the refugees who lost everything in the Naqba. Adil (in Shu’fat) and Tareq talked to us too about the « successful » Palestinians living in exile abroad: they don’t give a damn for the problems occupation has bred and still breeds for all those who didn’t want to or couldn’t leave the country. Their only aim in life is having fun, or worse, making money on their brothers’back... Selfishness and self-centrism are so deeply ingrained in the human being. These beautiful young people are another proof of it. They react in the same way as the majority of the well-off do: "there have always been poor people and there will always be. And it’s likely that, in a certain way, they deserve their lot". Anyway, this reality is so far from their own little comfortable bubble that it is not difficult to live without giving it the slightest thought... We look at each other. Obviously, it is no use trying to get them interested in our experience. A missed encouter, too bad! Yet there is still the theme of the trip, which we are really interested in. The fact is that, up to here, we have only crossed Israel by night, on the day of our arrival 2 weeks ago and we know nothing about this country, which was built on 1948 Palestine.

Ten o’clock. The van comes at last! We take the motorway towards Tel Aviv, then drive up the road that borders the northern coast, via Netanya and Césarée. Near Netanya, the West Bank is only about ten kilometres away. However, since the wall of separation was built, the Palestinians haven’t been allowed to go to the seaside anymore. It is so close though!...


After a two-hour drive, we reach Haïfa. Today, it is a big port town of about 300.000 inhabitants that stretches from the Mediterranean coast to Mount Carmel, in the north of Israel. The Israelis sometimes say that Haifa works while Tel Aviv lives it up and Jerusalem prays... The town owns the only underground of the country (the "Carmelite"), built in 1950 and renovated in the 90’s; kind of a hybrid between an underground and a funicular. It is in fact only one-kilometer long with only six stations. It is the smallest underground in the world and, as it is some distance from the town centre, only tourists use it actually.

It brings you to a great point of view on the town and its vertical gardens. That’s where our van stops. At our feet, the Bahaïs gardens and their definitely kitsch style: lawns in terrasses ornated with ewes, palm trees and a variety of flowers stretch down the slope to a main thouroughfare leading straight to the port. From there, the view on Haïfa is wonderful; the colours are a real treat for the eyes: the green of the gardens and trees, the red of the gravel paths and roofs, the white of the stones, the blue of the Mediterranean sea, the mauve of the horizon. We breathe in all of this deeply. The air is so mild, the space illimited... We concentrate and try to send some of this beauty and freedom to our friends, imprisoned in grey and dust. How unfair things can be!...

As we come back to the bus the Nidal centre chartered for us, we are told that it is having some technical problems… A concrete reminder of the Palestinian reality, indeed : old material… Some time is wasted on fixing them and, as a result, the programmed tour has to be cut drastically. The young Palestinians decide to afford themselves going down Mount Carmel by cable-car. If they had told us, we would have gone too. We wait until the van is repaired and then drive down to the sea where we have a welcome foot bath: indeed, it is getting hotter and hotter…

Half an hour later, the happy team is back. They settle themselves at the back of the van while we sit down at the front. It looks as if we have exhausted all the subjects of conversation with each other: obviously, they feel now like having fun together, period. We feel a bit uncomfortable at that: why did they choose to take part in this trip? If Daoud saw them, he would probably feel disappointed, if not sad. Or maybe not. He never judges anybody. Music, loud laughters and voices: these boys and girls are nice but none of them is paying the slightest attention to the landscape we are travelling through. We feel frustrated too: our only stop was in Haïfa, where nobody explained to us nothing. Now we are on the road again, crossing Galilea, again with no comments on what to look at or see...

The drive is getting long, and we are hot and thirsty. Apparently, we go past Nazareth. We are surprised by the green aspect of the area. In the south of the West Bank, the hills are arid, almost bare.

After an hour drive, we reach the city of Tiberiad, which overlooks the lake of the same name. Yet, the concrete buildings spoil the view and in the centre, blocks of high-rise flats hide the rare remains of the old Arab town. There, completely buried, the little minaret of a ancient mosque...

The van leaves the town and its traffic-jams and drives to a vast recreation and rest area created on the edge of the lake: tables, umbrellas, everything you need for a successful week-end afternoon with your family and friends. Everybody gets out. That is when we widen our eyes in surprise: our young Palestinian fellows have brought enough stuff to have a huuuuge barbecue: bags of meat, vegetable, bread for an army! So that is what it was all about!...

As for us four, we haven’t brought anything. We didn’t know. We thought we would buy something on the way, falafells, or chawarma. We help the happy crowd unload the van and set to helping them prepare the most pantagruelian picnic ever...

After the meal, we all have a lazy siesta in the shade of the few trees. We enjoy the view over the lake of Tiberiad, which is a real reservoir of fresh water for the area, and over the swimmers. Amusing sartorial contrasts: Orthodox Jewish families in traditional clothes are mixing with Russian-speaking chicks in tiny bikinis. According to our guidebook, the Golan Heights are only a few hundred yeards away behind the hills. A more than ever strategic stake that is disputed by neighbouring Syria...

Then it is time to get back on the van. Fortunately, we follow another route than the one we took on the way here. Rather than turn back, the driver takes us along the Jordan River: we are now crossing Israel’s "breadbasket". Before you could say Jack Robinson, we are back in the West Bank, using the settlers’ road, a road in perfect condition. Strange feeling. The Palestinians of the West Bank are not allowed to use it, barring a formal written dispensdation. There are cultures all along the Jordan. Monopolized by the settlers. At the same time, Palestinian people lack of water, lands, revenues, rights, freedom…

Here again, the proof on the ground couldn’t be more obvious: the Israeli authorities indeed colonise occupied Palestine. On this Jordan motorway, lined with secured farms and military zones, virtually all traces of a Palestinian population have been wiped out. Here and there, there remain a few sheep barns or houses spattered with inscriptions in Hebrew and swastikas, relics of the 1967 war. Life must be quite hard for the few hundreds of Bedouins who are still living here, in the Jordan Valley ! [1] Again, this doesn’t seem to worry our travelling buddies unduly: they had rather get drunk on the music they brought with them.

IMG/mp3/R09_0059.mp3

And it is true that this music is beautiful! In the meantime, night has fallen and we catch a glimpse of Jordan’s lights on the other bank. This valley is indeed majestic, so old that it is lies below sea-level. It must have witnessed quite a number of transhumances!

We soon reach the big crossroads where the road to the south meets the road to the east, to Allenby Bridge and the Jordan border.


(detail map)

Now, we are close to Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world that is still inhabited. It is the main road station of the West Bank. We turn on the right towards Jerusalem and are quickly in sight of the eastern part of Maale Adumim Jewish settlement, the artificial extention of the multimillennist city Adil, Daoud and Marwa showed to us on our first two day in Jerusalem. It is just amazing how small this country is!

We are back in Jerusalem at dusk. We meet our group again in the Youth Hostel. Everybody seems pleased with their « day off ». Particularly Paul who is brimming over with an enthusiasm he hasn’t demonstrated up to here: he has taken Sébastien on a long pilgrim day in the Holy City. They had a wide choice! In the north of the old town, Bethseda Pool, where Jesus cured the paralytic; the Church of Saint-Anne, where Virgin Mary was born; The Convent of the Sisters of Zion which we went to yesterday with Daoud; the Ecce Homo where Jesus was presented and judged in front of Ponce Pilatus. In the east, Mount of Olives and the Church of the Pater Noster that commemorates the place where Jesus taught the « Our father » prayer to his disciples; the Church of the Ascension; the Dominus Flevit where Jesus cried over Jerusalem; the Garden of Ghetsemane where He prayed on the night He was arrested and where the Basilic of the Passion is, with its facade covered with golden mosaic and its altar, at the feet of which you can find the rock on which Jesus prayed and cried on the night He was betrayed. In the south-east of the old city, Mount Zion and the Church of the Dormition built on the site of Virgin Mary’s Assomption; The Room of the Last Supper.

Inside the old city itself, going from the Muslim quarter to the Christian quarter, the nine stations of the Via Dolorosa, which is the route along which Jesus had to carry His cross. It ends up at the Holy Sepulchre that surmounts the Golgotha, the calvary where Jesus was crucified, buried and where He raised from the dead [2]. A big day!

Actually, nobody has been to Yad Vashem.

Read on about our trip


[1On that subject, read documents by CICR, by ABP or by ISM.

[2Because they went there during the 2009 trip, Tanguy and Anne-Claire know that the athmosphere there is rather unfavourable for contemplation : visit at breakneck speed and several- hour-long queuing before being able to enter the small cavity where Jesus is supposed to have been laid after his crucifixion.