There is another Palestine which is completely different from the one you see on TV. It is the wild and natural Palestine, to be explored on foot. Stefan Szepesi allows us to discover it in his book Walking Palestine: 25 journeys into the West Bank. More than 250 kilometres of paths, of varying difficulty, from the simple walk along the remains of the walls of the ancient city of Samaria, near Nablus, to the steps and the rocky climb of Wadi Qelt.
“There is another Palestine which is completely different from the one you see on TV.” It is the wild and natural Palestine, to be explored on foot, discovering valleys, hills and hidden treasures. The Dutchman Stefan Szepesi allows us to discover it in his book Walking Palestine: 25 journeys into the West Bank.
Stefan, a young and relentless walker, arrived in Palestine in 2006 to run an assistance programme of the European Union and his curiosity immediately took him into the Palestinian countryside “beyond what you could see from the windows of the diplomatic cars.” Szepesi thus began to explore the West Bank on foot, from north to south, in the company of Palestinian and international friends and with the help of local hiking groups. His thirst for discovery was soon satisfied and he found a “network of small rural lanes, farming roads and small paths used by shepherds and peasants which criss-crossed and were waiting to be discovered and explored.”
In 2010, after four years of walking in the West Bank, Stefan decided to put the results of his explorations on to paper. The outcome was a book, published in English in 2012, which presented 25 walks in the West Bank, with a wealth of details and maps, with step by step guidance for walkers from the start to the end of the route and providing all the information they need. Alongside tourist and geographical information, there is also cultural, political and social information.
More than 250 kilometres of paths, of varying difficulty, from the simple walk along the remains of the walls of the ancient city of Samaria, near Nablus, to the steps and the rocky climb of Wadi Qelt, the fascinating canyon which winds its way through the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho are described. Those who love greenery and nature can choose the route of the “land of soap and honey” which goes through the olive groves of the northern village of Burqin, whereas those who prefer the Christian heritage of Palestine cannot afford to miss the evocative path which leads to the village of Zebabde, north of Jenin. There is even a fitting suggestion for those seeking relief from the torrid Palestinian summers: the natural pools of Bidaan, which are not known by many people, on the road from Nablus to the Jordan Valley. There are of course the paths in the rocky desert of Palestine, such as the one which from the monastery of Mar Saba, west of Bethlehem leads to Hycarnia through a landscape of rocks.
However, Walking Palestine is more than just a tourist guide: it is a real handbook that provides essential historical, political and cultural information. Reading the book, you discover when and how the monastery of Mar Saba came into being; you learn the incredible story of the village of Battir, near Bethlehem and the serious consequences for its inhabitants if the Wall of Separation is built and the causes and possible solutions of the serious water problems suffered by the Palestinian population are analysed.
What is Stefan’s favourite walk? “You start from one place and you arrive in another,” writes the author. The path can be easy, of medium difficulty or difficult. You can even walk for a few hours. “There is no right path when you explore a new route,” he continues, “My favourite path has always been that of discovering a new path: exploring new areas, meeting new people and listening to stories that I have never heard before. My advice is: walk and explore.”
The book also has a sort of ideal appendix in a website with the same name. It is worth visiting, if only to linger in the photo gallery.
25 Journeys Into the West Bank
Interlink Books, Northampton (MA - USA) 2012
pp. 272 – 22.95 Usd (16.00 euros)
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