Nablus citizens live in an atmosphere of fear due to nightly raids by Israeli soldiers as peaceful efforts by the Center for Global Consciousness works to inform the outside world. â€œNabâ€ in Arabic means teeth and â€œisâ€ (pronounced ish) means snake: thus, Nablus means â€œteeth of the snake.â€ On our Nablus visit to the Center for Global Consciousness (CGC), founder and director Saed Jamal Abu-Hijleh said Nablus is known for its â€œbite.â€ A look at recent history, the resistance of its citizens against occupation and Israeli soldiers brutal treatment of innocents make the name appropriate.
Abu-Hijleh said that the goal of CGC is to change the image of Palestine and that of Palestinians by bringing visitors to meet with witnesses to the 1948 dispersion of Palestinians from their homeland, and to visit with people who witnessed the Intifada in 2002 and continue to live with an aftermath that leaves the city a war zone.
â€œThis is important,â€ Abu-Hijleh said, â€œbecause students donâ€™t have a chance to interact with outside students â€“ we donâ€™t have the right to go to the top of this mountain.â€ Checkpoints and permission documents make it difficult and leaving home is always risky. He told us that his mother had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier while she was sitting on her balcony knitting.
CGC representative Ala Yousef and university volunteer Alia Alrosh accompanied the Siraj group on a trip through the nearby cemetery. As we walked from the Center, Yousef told his story. In 2002 they had the longest Israeli imposed curfew and no one was allowed to come to class. They were trying to destroy the entire Palestinian culture.
Row upon row of stone monuments line the cemetery, many small ones for the children. Yousef said that in September 2002, tanks sprayed bullets shooting everyone. He pointed to a small slab. â€œHe was eleven and was killed by an eight hundred millimeter shot to the chest.â€
As we walked from the cemetery to Old Nablus, Yousef talked about the situation that exists in Nablus today.
Israeli soldiers come every night,â€ he said, â€œwe donâ€™t sleep, just wait for them, itâ€™s not normal.â€
â€œOnce when I was alone, a soldier came in and I said â€˜Shalom,â€™ he told me to shut up and I had to sit with my hands behind my head for three hours. They use us as human shields. My younger brother was used as a human shield as he watched them kill three Palestinians; one was one of our students. Weâ€™ve lost fifty students so far.â€
As we left the cemetery, my heart was heavy, and my mind circled with horrendous thoughts of nightly raids and the shootings of infants and children as we headed for the Old Town, a short walk away. The old town of Nablus is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways with high stone walls, parts of which date to the first century. Side alleys branch and branch again into dark tunnel-like passageways interrupted here and there by the cavernous open entrance to a business or a thick wooden door behind which is a cave-like home dwelling. It is difficult to see and I stay close to our guides so as not to get lost within the maze of side paths. The air is dank and heavy, a musty mix of pungent spices and strong Arab coffee that draw me back through centuries. Modern techniques unknown, we pass small family shops that use treadle sewing machines, bake breads and cakes or roast coffee beans in stone ovens that have been used for centuries. I watched grains being crushed by a man using a pestle to grind them in a giant mortar.
We come to an empty space walled by the remains of buildings and mounds of stone rubble. Yousef said the site had been the location of a soap factory and several shops but were destroyed by the Israeli army in 2002. He tells us that when the soldiers entered the dark tunnel like alleyways where residents lived, they bombed open the doors and moved in. They called it house to house search. Bullet holes riddle cement hallways and ceilings around the doorways. The ancient town seems only to have been changed within the past few years.
I met the father of a boy who had been killed by an Israeli soldier. The boyâ€™s picture hangs above the doorway to his home. The father will not forget. â€œHe was only eleven,â€ he said, â€œand was only at play.â€
We visited a Turkish bath. Used for ritual ceremonials such as a marriage, it is also used by many when water is scarce. We emerge from the narrow alleyways onto the main stone corridor of the Old City. It is lined with vendors. I purchase a kilo of knabis, a sweet treat specialty of Nablus made of cheese, to take back to my family in Bethlehem. They are restricted and can no longer travel there freely. Obtaining permission documents is troublesome and frequently denied.
Nablus still suffers with nightly raids and restrictions that seem far out of proportion to the few that retaliate with violence. Here as elsewhere in my travels throughout the West Bank, the effort to bring about change, to end the occupation by peaceful means is a movement gaining momentum among Palestinians. It is one that baffles occupiers who somehow believe that restrictions, a policy of colonial expansion and strong armed suppression of human rights will end with peace.