Sunday, October 30, 2011

Palestinian walk

WE TOOK a leaf out of Raja Shehadah's Palestinian Walks book I gave DJ for his birthday by going on our own Palestinian walk today. Into Wadi Qelt, a valley that stretches east across the Judean desert to Jericho.

At least, I thought it was a Palestinian walk: the valley lies beyond the separation barrier, the vast concrete scar that stands sentry along Israel's perception of its West Bank border, and is the other side of an Israeli-manned checkpoint when it comes to re-entry. And yet an Israeli settlement - all smart houses, incongruous trees, and bougainvillea - overlooks the valley, which lies within an Israeli-controlled national park. "Welcome" said the sign, but the barbed wire ringed gate sent out its own message. As did our fellow hikers: where I had chosen to strap a baby to my chest, they'd opted for a gun. And not just any gun: MK 17s, or "battle rifles" according to Google.

Not that we paused to stare, opting instead to cross the stream that splits the desert valley and head up the hill the other side. The excitement of spotting the black-and-white paint dabs that marked the path was enough to lure Louis upwards, and the view across to Jordan, reward enough for reaching the top. Raf, meanwhile, was happy enough snoozing the trip away in what was his first Ergo sling outing - quite a moment, given how many hours/days/weeks he'll end up spending in said sling.

Back down and we found fig trees, palms, pampas grass and even eucalyptus (planted by the British forestry department back when we ran the show) lining the spring, which was invitingly cool for a paddle. And yes, more armed hikers, which begged the question of why there was a sign forbidding shooting. Unless it's a given that errant Palestinians are fair game. Certainly that's the impression the settlers give, arming themselves whenever they leave home, even to pop to the shops.

To an outsider, the trip summed up the complexities of the thwarted peace process. From the ambiguities over who controls which parcel of land, to the hostilities between the people that share it, the only thing that's easy to understand is the current stalemate.

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