Sunday, August 10, 2008


we spent a bit of yesterday on a day trip to nablus. i have a friend who used to live in philly who is from the town. she's actually back in pennsylvania now, but she put me in touch with her father who offered to show us around if we could get there.

nablus would only be a 1-1.5 hour trip if not for the checkpoints along the way. thanks to our private taxi and american passports we made it there in really good time on the way there, about an hour and a half. in nablus the hebrew and english signs disappeared, as did all of the shops catering to tourists. the ubiquitous israeli soldier in jerusalem was replaced by palestinian security forces.

nablus is one of the bigger cities on the west bank, sitting in a valley between two mountains to the north and south. there's basically one major road that leads out of town, running straight through the valley, giving an exit to the east and west. the israel military set up a checkpoint at each of these exits preventing entrance of exit unless you have a special permit (or a foreign passport). our host, a very westernized professor at the local univerisity, said that he has not been able to drive out of the city in almost nine years.

he took us up both mountains, so we could see the town below (plus the campus where he teaches). then we wandered the old city, which seemed to be a lot more authentic than the one in jerusalem which had been ceded to the tourists. the people in the nablus market were pretty much just locals. we saw a soap factory (nablus used to be famous for its soap), looked at the remnants of ottoman architecture, were shown the ruins of the old city that was destroyed in a prior israeli army incursion, poked out heads into the turkish bath and sampled a seemingly endless number of local dessert concoctions. the market was covered in shaheed posters. i even saw one of saddam hussein (unfortunately, i didn't get a picture of that one).

but mostly we just talked to our host as we wandered around. he told us about how he was in the local defense forces when he was a teenager during the 1967 war, about his brother who was arrested at age 15, the harsh treatment he received in an israeli prison and how the brother is now a physician in amman. he described what it was like raising children in a violent city, caught between israeli army incursions and "gangsterism" of the various palestinian factions. he told us how his son was almost shot in the head with a sniper, he only lived because he bent over to pick something up (the shot whizzed over his head). i tried to imagine how my friend, our host's daughter, could grow up in a place like that and end up so well adjusted.

he told us about his activities on a palestinian authority advisory committee, when he met and negotiated with israelis during the oslo era. and he talked about how that small taste of politics made his disgusted with the whole thing and every faction on every side. he told us about the paralysis of the local palestinian government. the "national" government in the west bank is controlled by fatah, but the mayor is a member of hamas. he talked about the retaliatory arrests between the two palestinian factions, including the arrests of several of his colleagues a couple of weeks ago. at one point we drove by a local prison. he pointed to it saying "that's where my colleagues are." "why were they arrested?" asked mrs. noz. "there's no reason. it's only politics" he answered.

"i used to think the israelis were smarter than the palestinians. the palestinians are stupid, only thinking about the short term," he told us. "but now i think that the israelis are just as stupid. no one is thinking about the long term here."