Our journey to Nablus today took us through the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint. The queue was long as the Israeli soldiers on duty made each driver of each car and bus get out of their vehicle.
Eventually we got through the first hurdle and sat at the second barrier. Two young soldiers border the bus and asked to see our passports which we duly held up. They walked through the bus then off. We were able to set off on our long journey.
Nablus is about 64 Km from Jerusalem - out on Highway 60. As with our visit to Hebron we noted ever expanding illegal settlements and security roads and fences to protect them. One of the ways in which Palestinians have their land taken away is through an old Ottoman law that say that if land is not used for three years then it can be confiscated. What happens then if farmers cannot get to their land through no fault of thier own because of security fences and walls? More likely than not, they lose their land.
We are fortunate to even be able to get into Nablus as the city was almost totally closed between 2002 and February 2010. Today there are still checkpoints into the city but we passed freely - which makes a nonsense of the security system. You either have a security system or you do not... half-hearted approaches simply illlustrate that they are not really about security but more about harrassment of people.
Between 2002-3 Nablus came under 14 massive attacks by the Israeli military. There were 307 days of curfew and 228 houses were totally demolished and 6 thousand partially demolished.
We met an inspiring man, Naseer Arafat of the Cultural Heritage Enrichment Centre. As well as giving us the political background to life in Nablus is told of his project to help restore the beautiful old city of Nablus - its heritage and traditions. In a complex that he had helped to restore which included a soap factory ( Nablus is famous for its olive oil soap) and a craft workshop, he showed us a project he has worked on with children. He has taken old and damaged doors of the old city and used then as a sort of canvas for art work with children. On display we say images where children expressed their dreams and hopes for the future... most beautiful and innovative.... doors mean so much to people... they open a way, they protect, they offer identity to a family... reclaiming these old doors as a way of helping children to move on from the nightmares of curfews and bombardments seemed a wonderful project. To meet such people as Nassar is a great privelage.... people who show leadership through vision and creativity...people who could have left when things were hard but chose to stay instead... people who love and cherish their heritage and seek ways of passing on that heritage to others. Naseer hopes to bring the doors project to the UK to exhibit then later this year.
In the scriptures we read that Nablus is the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Nablus is still home to around 290 Samaritans. Early in the morning we visited Jacobs Well, now protected with a most beautiful Greek Orthodox Church, lovingly built by the energy and spirit of one Orthodox priest.
We climbed down into the lower part of the church to the well where tradition has it that Jesus met the Samaritan woman and shared the 'living waters' with her. We too shared these waters and one of our party said that she felt deeply moved by this... is was almost sacramental... taking this water in this place which is gradually being restored to life.
Another of our group had worked in Nablus six years earlier as an Ecumenical Accompanier and she too noticed a huge change in the city. In her time it had been closed, no one could move in or out. She was delighted to see things changed - to appreciate a thriving and bustling city that has come into its own. Long may this last.
Pat Gaffney is general secretary of Pax Christi, with a delegation visiting the Holy Land. She is able to send report when she has access to electricity.