|Nablus, Palestine Territories|
It was easy to be oblivious to Nablus' recent bloody past as I walked through colorful stalls of fruits and vegetables, heaps of dates and dried figs, spices, olive oil and soap, seeds, nuts, hard and soft goat cheese and yogurt balls. The old city is very similar to Jerusalem so I am assuming that the last version of it is Mameluck from 1260. During British rule, Nablus was a site of local resistance and the Old City quarter of Qaryun was demolished by the British during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.
It was much more pleasant to be in Nablus' old town than in Jerusalem. For one, there was no harassment from souvenir sellers, restaurant owners, tourist guides and irritating tourist crowds.
I saw men working at fresh halva , zata (a mixture of roasted sesame and dried oregano), kanufa, baklava and different sweets – Nablus is famous for olive soap and its sweets. I bought herbs from a 600 year old spice store and tried a freshly made Kanufa, just before heading out to the Al Shifa Turkish bath across the street. This is the oldest public bath in the country, built in 1624.
Nablus was founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and it has been ruled by many empires during its almost 2,000 year long history. It is located in the northern West Bank, approximately 40 miles from Jerusalem, with a population of 126,000 predominantly Muslim, with small Christian and Samaritan minorities.
After Israel declared its independence, Transjordan (now Jordan) occupied Nablus. Thousands of Palestinians left towns captured by Israel, many of them settling in three refugee camps established in 1949-50. These camps are located within the city limits where original residents and their families still reside.
Since the 1947 Partition Plan, Nablus and its residents have suffered several blows. The level of violence increased at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000 until 2005 when 522 residents, including civilians were killed and over 3,000 injured during an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) military operation.
Israeli soldiers and setters have also been killed, in attacks such as the one in April 2002, when 30 civilians were killed attending seder dinner during the Jewish religious holiday of Passover. This incident was followed by Israeli “Operation Defensive Shield” when at least 80 Palestinians were killed and many houses destroyed. The Al Shifa hamman where I had my bath and a massage, was hit by three Apache Helicopters in those days.
Several historic buildings from the 1st and 15th century were also severely damaged during IDF attacks. At least 60 houses from different historic periods were destroyed as well as the entrance to the old market (Khan al-Wikala), and three soap factories. IDF bulldozers also destroyed 85% of al-Khadra Mosque and 40% of the Greek Orthodox Church.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied several Arab territories in the West Bank including Nablus and many settlements were build during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Since 1995, the day-to-day administration of Nablus is the responsibility of the Palestinian National Authority as a result of the Oslo Interim Agreement on the West Bank, but Israel maintains control over entrances and exits to the city.
Despite all this bloody past, the town was calm as I walked through shops. With my backpack filled with dates, figs, goat cheese, spices and tea, and my hair still wet from my visit to the Al Shifa hamman, I headed out down the souq to the bus station. Majeda was waiting for me in Ramallah so that we could go home to Bethlehem together.