by Ameed Shehadeh
DEAD SEA, October 25, 2016 (WAFA) – Before the trip, I told a friend of mine that I and 15 fellow reporters were going on a 15-kilometer hike into the desert, to take pictures of sunset above the Dead Sea. He broke into laughter.
The hike kicked off with jokes and laughs by the reporters who mocked that we were going to get lost in the desert.
Through the windshield of the bus which carried us from Beit Sahour to the eastern desert, a tourist like me coming from the north to the south, then, to the east of the West Bank can notice the difference. I asked myself, “Do all Palestinians know their homeland?” The answer is no, of course. A Palestinian like me knows nothing about his homeland, and I still had time to know that you know nothing in this country.
We arrived at the tent of Abu Ismail, in the Arab al-Rashaydeh area, where we were to rest for some time before his son, Ismail, would accompany us in the middle of the night, to guide us through the desert. Another tour guide, John, was also accompanying us on our hike.
Some of the reporters took pictures here and there, while I took a picture of a child called Ali, who was attempting to climb a concrete block, set up by the Israeli army, with graffiti telling us that this was a closed military zone. Ali couldn’t climb the block, but just stood there as if he was crucified.
Behind the blocks put up by the army a herd of goats arrived. It is noteworthy that goats and camels are the only source of livelihood to the Bedouins of Arab al-Rashaydeh, who at times underwent ethnic cleansing by the Israeli authorities.
Winds picked up with sunset in the harsh desert, where life has never stopped. As night fell, fire was the best solution for the desert’s chilly weather. Ali, who imitated being crucified during the day, was now dancing “Dehiyya” along with the reporters. When he grows young, he will certainly follow suit after his father and brother, and become an extremely brilliant and skilled desert tour guide, which is the profession of the desert dwellers.
Now was the time for a two-hour sleep, which I spent thinking about Ali, the mountain goats, the concrete blocks and the deadly cliffs. We were expecting to arrive at the cliffs of the Dead Sea, home of the mountain goats, at dawn. I wondered that the desert was full of hazards, and didn’t know what this night might bring to us. It seemed I had to sleep before I heard Ismail counting the creatures of the desert which we could encounter, say wolves, foxes, mountain goats, gazelles, clouded leopards, snakes, etc …
At 2:00 AM we left the tent, and Ismail was about to lead us with flashlights. I could not even see my finger. I felt like the Milky Way was so close to me that I would easily catch it.
I started the genuine adventure of traveling from the earth to the sun. My colleague, Abdurrahman Qasem, wanted to recite al-Fatiha ahead of out impending death. We really knew nothing about desert. Some people say that the desert reveals itself once every 2,000 years; in 1947, the so called Dead Sea Scrolls, arguably the greatest discovery in the 20th century, were discovered.
All the way through the desert, I was reflecting upon how to confront a herd of hungry wolves, if we encountered them. As for me, I was holding a camera and heavy machinery that I could use to defend myself. I was preoccupied with thoughts of wolves. When we sat down to rest, I watched the dark horizon, not knowing that death was only half a meter away from me. A poisonous scorpion was just approaching. It was such a distinct yellow, in color, that I could notice it in the dark.
In the middle of the desert, traces of wolves appeared clearer. After a while, we were to pass through the most hazardous places, what the Israeli occupation call “Judean Desert,” which is the term now used by Google and circulated among the masses.
Finally, we arrived in an area overlooking the Dead Sea. Waiting for the sunrise, the reporters wished that a mountain goat, out of 300 mountain goats living there, would appear in order to see it outside of National Geographic. Israel had produced a film about mountain goats, and National Geographic Abu Dhabi translated it. The film showed the translator being confused as to how to name the places. He would say that mountain goats live in the Jordanian desert, in Wadi Nahal David, in the Judean Desert, in occupied Palestine.
Anyway, the Israelis produced a horrifying film about the mountain goats, and so did the Arabs.
Danger was never far, as we reached the end of the track with the first instance of daylight. It was possible that an earthquake could hit the area at that moment. I asked my fellow reporter, Jamil Dababat, who has interest in writing about earthquakes, “Is it possible that an earthquake hits this area every month, as National Geographic suggests?” He answered, “No, of course. Every day an earthquake strikes this area!”
Now, the sun is up. All the happiness accompanying this scene would never last for me, despite the historical pictures I had taken of the Dead Sea before it becomes occupied with the water of the Red Sea, which will change its lappearance in order to save it from “death”. I was astonished when, at the end of the hike, I wanted to record the conclusion, but I did not know the name of the desert through which we hiked, which is named by Israel as “Judean Desert”, and which the Palestinians failed to name.
I repeated the abstract word “desert” 14 times, because I am not sure about its name. The Palestinian reporters, nonetheless, decided to call it the “Desert of the Dead Sea”.
(Edited for the IMEMC by chris @ imemc.org)
Also in “Visit Palestine”: 07/27/16 Discover Palestine on Wheels