I just got back from a short visit to my hometown city Nablus in the occupied West Bank. The visit was for personal reasons and I didn't get much of a chance to snoop around. Still, there is one thing that any visitor to the occupied territories cannot help but notice: despite all the chaos and brutality and against all odds the people's determination to live and enjoy life prevails.
Despite being aware of the situation in the West Bank and having seen dozens of photos of the daily humiliation that goes on, especially at check points, witnessing it was a different story. Crossing the Hwara checkpoint on our way into Nablus and seeing the lines of people waiting to be searched in what looks like animal cages just to get out from Nablus to a neighbouring Palestinian town was heart-wrenching, I couldn't even reach for my camera.
But a few minutes past the checkpoint we were already going through the familiar streets of Nablus, and there it was a different story. We happened to arrive right when the schools were out. The streets were swarming with boys and girls in uniform with their colorful backpacks giggling, laughing, chatting; care free and full of energy and optimism. It was a stark contrast to the dark image a few minutes earlier. Life goes on after all and the Palestinians are not leaving or disappearing anytime soon.
School girls going through Nablus's "old town" on their way back from school
Overall, life in Nablus hasn't changed much since I last visited in 1999. People expected a lot from the new government and were very disappointed to see very little change. The Israeli checkpoints that choke the city's economic and civil life, and the nightly visits by the Israeli Occupational Forces to arrest more young Palestinian men are a constant reminder of the occupation. However, beyond that, there is also a complete lack of security. Hardly a day passes by without gunshots fired by some Palestinian "gang" at another, and the authorities can do little besides stand by and watch.
Even the main market place, the "dawwar" (roundabout), is a mess: cardboard boxes, paper, and plastic bags everywhere. It seemed to me that the municipality wasn't doing its job at keeping the place clean, but I was wrong. Every night the streets are cleaned only to be trashed by the shop owners and customers the next day.
The "dawwar" right before closing time at sunset
With the rapidly deteriorating economic situation, mainly due to the international boycott and the Israeli checkpoints that limit travel to and from the city, the market place is very quiet compared to how it used to be. Many shop owners don't even bother opening their stores anymore.
The market place in the "old town" relatively empty even at midday
The city has definitely grown though and it seems there are people that are managing to live comfortably despite everything. There are whole new areas of houses and buildings and there promises to be more to come.
Below are a couple more photos of "Jabal Innar" (the mountain of fire), the nickname given to Nablus because of its courageous resistance to the Israeli occupation.
A view of the down town area and the southern mountain
A view of the northern mountain. An Israeli military settlement is visible at the very top of the mountain.