Jericho – my good and bad calls

I had Hisham‘s Palace all to myself. Of course it was noon in July and Jericho, so there might have been a reason. But I did not mind the heat.

What the Palestinians and the Japanese government have done to preserve and cover the bath mosaics is fabulous.

Lots of contributions to the spot: Italians, USAID, again the Japanese.

Speaking of contributions, here was a donation from the Russian government, covered up a bit on the main center of town.

Then hiked down Wadi Qelt to St. George’s Monastery. Hot! Though I did not get a chance to go in (they are open 9am – 1pm) the external view is really the special part.

Last I went to Tel es Sultan. You’d have to be even more of a ruins geek then I am – really a professional archaeologist. A few walls and trenches, mostly piles of pebbles. Still, I stood on one of the oldest towns in the world…

The view from Tel es Sultan

What I should’ve done is taken the cable car to the monastery on the cliff overlooking Jericho.

Evidence of support – plaques but little else

In the old city of Hebron, I saw several plaques commemorating projects intended to restore life to the neighborhood. It doesn’t seem to be working in my view – unlike the old cities of Nablus and Jerusalem there were few shops open and even fewer shoppers. One answer is Palestinian government corruption, I heard. I wonder if that is the primary story, or whether there are other explanations as well. For example, if a shopkeeper gets money does he keep his shop in the old city or does he relocate to what he sees as a better location?

Skirting Jerusalem

Taking the servees from Ramallah to Hebron shows you how to get from the north to the south of the West Bank without crossing the separation barrier. It’s a mix of highways (60 and 1), nice smaller roads and occasionally rough smaller roads.

Perhaps the closest we got to Jerusalem, near Hizma

Probably the most out of the way we went was through the town of el Ubeidiya, up and back down a hill. At the top is the Greek Orthodox monastery of Theodosius.

Monastery of Theodosius

There seemed to be different kinds of checkpoints (or none at all) between different area A and area C. For example, some now are unmanned cameras like EZ Pass; the cars slow and go through a lane with cameras.

Some were manned but were just staying by the side of the road, like this jeep.

And there were freestanding towers, like this one.

We were in one checkpoint that was checking everyone’s papers, though they let the shared taxi through without checking our driver or us.

Ibrahimi mosque/Machpelech cave

The large majority were observant Heredi people in the Machpelech side. I don’t know that I saw any secular folks. Maybe one European Christian group. I was asked by two different guards “Jewish or Christian“? I’m not sure what difference it would have made, but I was waved through when I when they heard Christian.

The Ibrahimi mosque is beautiful. I did not know there had been a church on that site. But it makes sense if the site was identified by St. Helena.

Around the holy site, similar to last time, empty roads and empty shops. Big signs in Hebrew both on the “Arab“ side and on the Jewish side.
There are very aggressive salespeople in the few shops that are open just before the Ibrahimi mosque. Almost begging- telling how they are forced to be closed most of the time and that they support a lot of people.

On one of my walks one of the guards asked me where I was from and I said New York and he was from Cleveland. I should have talked with him more; but the afternoon was wearing on so…

Dr. Hasan

Al-Aroub camp

When visiting the Al-Aroub refugee camp, a kid in the street told our guide his father spoke English. Dr. Hasan invited us in for coffee. His whole family was in the large first room – two other men, three women and about five kids. So much was happening that I did not realize until several minutes in that there was also an elderly woman lying on a couch in the far corner of the room. Dr. Hasan said this was his ill mother who he had discharged yesterday and was now recovering at home. Two photos of his father were on the wall.

Dr. Hasan was born in the camp. His father was originally from Iraq al-Manshiyya (now Kiryat Gat) and kids brought out a map.

He has Palestinian and also Jordanian citizenship, but he notes that it is more difficult for people from the camps than from the cities or the villages. He says this is because the people in the cities have not had to move. He studied in Russia and also Italy and visited Wisconsin briefly. His kids go to the UNRWA school until eighth grade, and then will go to the government school which is outside of the camp. It’s a little bit of a distance.
I would have loved to have heard how he got his education, and how typical or not it is for someone born in the camp to have Jordanian citizenship and how he got it. I asked him what brought him home; he said caring for elderly parents.

A Bedouin mother near Susiya

I hired a tour guide, who introduced me to a Bedouin mother and child near the Israeli settlement, old Arab village, and archeological discoveries of Susiya. I had visited the Israeli town in 2014 so it was a useful coincidence to be near the area again from another perspective.

Bedouin home near Susiya

According to my host, her home (which they had tried to build permanently, I think – she gestured to a cement part of her home) had been demolished four times. She said one time the soldiers had killed her sheep. My guide said that to get a building permit costs a lot of money and paperwork; so high it wasn’t worth it.

My guide emphasized the rough road, how long it took for her kids to get to school, how she needed to pay for private transport.

Many of her neighbors had left. I asked my guide where to – he said relatives in cities. He said that they ended up in their own neighborhoods in cities “because their habits were different.”

I saw their sheep and chickens – showing how they make money.

Proof of sheep

One question I have that I did not ask is what their ideal situation was. Do they want to keep living semi-nomadically and if so how does that square with concerns about the government not providing them with roads, and with the goal of building permanent houses? Also my guide emphasized that this is what happens in area c; is it the policy to encourage all area c Bedouin into towns? How does this differ from Bedouins in 1948 Israel? For example, these encampments outside of Jericho?

Bedouins between Jerusalem and Jericho

Finally what is the government’s reasoning? Do they say it is nature reserve? Or just that you need to proper permits (and do those differ from settlers to Bedouin, or can the settlers just afford them?)

Rte 60 from Ramallah to Nablus

Some of the more separate settlements we passed were interesting to read about. Ofra has been the subject of legal disputes, with part of it built on a previous Jordanian military base and part on private Palestinian land.

Ofra from Route 60

Another is named Rehelim, after a settler who was killed there on her way to protest peace negotiations. Recently students at a boarding yeshiva in Rehelim killed a Palestinian driver on Rte 60.

I also looked up some Palestinian places, and locales that looked to me like towns at least were villages of less than 2000 people. I wonder if it has to do with the way of building (up in what look like apartment buildings)?

Looking up some of this led me to this Washington Post article about this drive in more detail.

Here we are crossing from area C back into area A.

Just outside of Al-Bireh

Still, it is beautiful!

A visit to Nablus

“Are you from Germany?” “New York.” “Ah, welcome Palestine! Beautiful!” This was my conversation in the old city, at the bus terminal, in the hammam, getting a falafel sandwich. No hard sells, more interested greetings. Other than four French and two Asian-American visitors also on my bus, I think I only saw one other tourist in my time.

The hammam was my favorite part of the visit. I was there with a group of rowdy boys and a few older men. I wish we could have spoken more. It was a beautiful space, not quite as wholly traditional as some in Turkey but still a great experience.

Cooling down after the hammam

I also came across a new hammam that had been built in 2020. I did not go in but would like to try it sometime.

The old city is big, twisty and really gives you the feel of a medina.

A quieter shopping alley
Clock tower outside the central mosque

I also checked out (one of?) the soap factories; neither the tour nor the look for the place was as interesting as I had remembered.

Other fun aspects: getting to speak French with my bus companion (I can make myself understood but can’t hear the breaks between words when he speaks). Navigating the buses up and back. And of course just seeing everyday life.

Three bus drivers smoking and drinking coffee at the station

Kotor – lots of churches and echoes of Venice

When I arrived Kotor was pretty much closed! It was pouring rain, and those locals who were out were shuttling between needed destinations. I braved what I thought might turn into a flood to get from my Airbnb outside the old city to make it first to a modern shopping center where I got an umbrella and then quickly around the old city. The next day, though, the rain dispersed people emerged. First there were locals hanging out at cafés they set up, followed in an hour or so by several tours – one French and another I did not overhear.
Kotor is jam packed with churches! You wiggle though back streets, and come out in a square with a church. One piazza is a small church and a big church, but it is not cathedral square – that’s elsewhere! There’s also a church tucked dramatically in the hills overlooking the city. Medieval folks would have had to go to church really often to keep all these in business!
The Catholic cathedral costs three euro to enter, and has a more Orthodox style chapel and a museum of religious artifacts around the upper floor. It also had this old clockwork just sitting off to the side!

The smaller churches were closed, but the large Orthodox Church and the Franciscan church of St. Clare were also open.

Around the town there are Venetian palaces, reminders of the Stato di Mare. And by the Sea Gate you can see the lion of Saint Mark.

Two questions of development

My Airbnb host and my guide both recommended that I walk to the Yellow Bastion, and pointed to (I thought) a large yellow 19th century building on a hill. Reviews online speak of it as an Ottoman era fortification; I was a bit confused and even more so when I came to stone earthworks with couples and families enjoying the view, but with the yellow building still above me and no signs pointing toward it. I walked along a local road, to the outskirts of a neighborhood, and was now circumambulating the building and its grounds. On the back side I finally had a clear view inside; it is a dramatic ruin clearly shot up during the siege.
It turns out that this is the Jajce Barracks, built by the Austro-Hungarians. A little reading tells me that the Dayton agreement forbids the government(s) from selling government of land, because neither the Republika Spska nor the Bosnian government will trust the other to do so. The result is that some places, like this, are slower to redevelop than others. By the way, the view is indeed gorgeous and while heading to the barracks isn’t necessary unless you like ruins, just beyond the actual Yellow Bastion is the café kamarija. It was hopping on this sunny Saturday afternoon.
Finding myself with a little extra time, I decided to take the tram out to the new part of town and the Avra Twist Tower, the tallest building in the Balkans. I thought I was heading into the center of the modern city, but it turns out it is slightly beyond that – next to the seemingly abandoned rail station, some empty houses and littered lots. On the way one passes a huge gray walled compound with multiple police patrols and ubiquitous CCTV cameras – unsurprisingly, the Embassy of the United States of America. The tower itself is what one would expect: modern, express elevator to the top, bar/café on the 35th floor (with a good number of people there) and observation deck on the 36th. My impression was one of a government trying hard – rather than a natural next step from the modern part of the city it seemed like a highly intentional “project.” But I don’t know the finances or the plans for the train station or areas surrounding it – perhaps it will be a success, or at least the root of more development.