Having just come from Brandenburg in Germany, images of the Berlin Wall are fresh in my mind. More than 100 km long and 3.5 m high, it stood as a functioning symbol of oppression for nearly 30 years, before finally being brought down in the reunification of West and East Berlin. I was amazed as I looked at this wall that divided an entire city, with every square inch of it covered in expressive graffiti that protested the segregation.
The Berlin Wall was nothing compared to what I passed on my way to Nablus today.
After meeting for the first time over coffee, the other volunteers and I climbed into a bus that runs from Jerusalem to Ramallah, crossing the Green Line which supposedly divides Israel and Palestine (I say “supposedly” because Israel tends to view this internationally-sanctified line as a general guide, erring on the side of Palestinian land). Along this line runs the Israeli West Bank Barrier. That’s the formal name for this huge slab of concrete, barbed wire, and sniper turrets that stretches for at least 650 km from North to South. At 8 km high, it is twice the size of the Berlin Wall, it symbolizes the systematic oppression and segregation of Palestinians that was begun 66 years ago, in 1948. And like the Berlin Wall, Palestinians have been painting it over with artwork decrying the occupation.
Luckily, it didn’t take us too long to pass into Occupied Palestine. We reached Ramallah soon after that, and then it was only a forty-minute taxi ride to Nablus.
The first thing we did was check in with Project Hope, which is Music Harvest’s partner organization in Nablus. While Music Harvest sends volunteers to teach music in Palestine, Project Hope organizes a broad range of volunteers, from English and French teachers to translators and administration. We signed the documents we needed to sign, and then Hassan, our new Arabic teacher, showed us where we will be living for the next month and a half.
The flat consists of three large bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom, which I would share with Tessa and Giulia, the other two Music Harvest volunteers, whom I met in Jerusalem that morning. With our own rooms and free Wi-Fi, we figured we’d settle in pretty quickly. But it wasn’t long before we were up again, following our translator, Anas, around for a quick tour of Nablus.
The second largest city in Palestine after Jerusalem, Nablus consists of one large city and three refugee camps, with a total population of around 192,000. It’s nestled in a valley, and as Anas led us down into the Old City center, the city grew dense with chocolate and nut shops, cafes, boutiques, fruit stands, taxis, and people going about their daily business. Most were Muslim, and as you look around you see a sea of colorful headscarves, as much a fashion statement as any other item of clothing. Right in the middle of Nablus sits a modern mall opposite the entrance to a souk, which is probably as old as Nablus itself. It’s into this souk that Anas led us, to show us the heart of Nablus.
Without him, we would have gotten lost. The souk is a maze of shops selling everything from olives to ceramics to clothes and towels. From all sides, butchers and fruit vendors yell or even sing their offers at you, and customers are constantly squeezing around you as they make their way to one store or another. After a several turns, we came to a cafe, where Anas had us buy falafel. One sandwich was only two and a half shekels, about 80 cents in US dollars… and it was some of the best falafel I’d ever had. On the way back up to our flat, I was seriously considering the logistics of eating falafel three times a day for six weeks.
My flatmates and I finished that long day by chilling out and making pasta. Giulia’s Italian, so she directed the cooking, “the real Italian way.” While waiting for it to boil, I practiced trumpet for the first time in weeks. I sounded like shit, but it felt good to know I would be falling back into the old practice routine.