If you travel to the West Bank, I encourage you to get off the tour bus and take a hike instead. Rural Palestine offers an abundance of walking opportunities and provided me with some of my most memorable experiences. In addition to enjoying the beauty of the desert, plains, hills and wadis, you can’t help but encounter ancient buildings, monasteries, and monuments of religious and historic significance.
If I understand correctly, the hiking-as-tourism movement in Palestine is relatively recent and is starting to gain momentum. One impetus to this movement is a newly published book by Stefan Szepesi called Walking Palestine: 25 Journeys into the West Bank, Interlink Publishing Group.
(You can also find Szepesi’s webiste devoted to walking through palestine: http://www.walkingpalestine.org/.)
In this book, Szepesi guides the reader through twenty-five walks in different areas of the West Bank. I confess I have not read the book yet, but agree with the blurbs and reviews which claim that Palestine is a walker’s paradise and that walking is the best way to get to know a country. It is largely through my walks in the countryside that I have been converted into a fan of deserts and almost-deserts. (My native habitat is the humid green and blue lands of the Upper Midwest.) For me, there is something magical about the landscape here, something that even the best photographs don’t really capture. It’s hard for me to explain the attraction, but it is powerful. There is a reason, I think, that the desert plays such a prominent role in the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
If you plan to travel to the West Bank, you may want to join the “Walking Palestine” group on Facebook. Group hikes, many of them guided, are posted regularly on this site.
A slightly older book (2008) about walking in Palestine is Raja Shehada’s Palestinian Walks.
Here is what the Amazon website says about this book:
“Raja Shehadeh is a passionate hill walker. He enjoys nothing more than heading out into the countryside that surrounds his home. But in recent years, his hikes have become less than bucolic and sometimes downright dangerous. That is because his home is Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, and the landscape he traverses is now the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel.
In this original and evocative book, we accompany Raja on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006. The earlier forays are peaceful affairs, allowing our guide to meditate at length on the character of his native land, a terrain of olive trees on terraced hillsides, luxuriant valleys carved by sacred springs, carpets of wild iris and hyacinth and ancient monasteries built more than a thousand years ago. Shehadeh’s love for this magical place saturates his renderings of its history and topography. But latterly, as seemingly endless concrete is poured to build settlements and their surrounding walls, he finds the old trails are now impassable and the countryside he once traversed freely has become contested ground. He is harassed by Israeli border patrols, watches in terror as a young hiking companion picks up an unexploded missile and even, on one occasion when accompanied by his wife, comes under prolonged gunfire.
Amid the many and varied tragedies of the Middle East, the loss of a simple pleasure such as the ability to roam the countryside at will may seem a minor matter. But in Palestinian Walks, Raja Shehadeh’s elegy for his lost footpaths becomes a heartbreaking metaphor for the deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.”
If you are like me, a person who gets lost every time she travels to Minneapolis, you may prefer to hike with a live tour guide rather than a written description. If so, I would recommend Hijazi Eid, http://hijazih.wordpress.com/ who guides small groups on a variety of tours ranging from a half day to several days. He loves the area and knows it intimately—the flora and fauna, the history, and the politics—and can arrange meetings and overnight stays with local families so that you can get to know local people. One of my regrets is that I did not get a chance to do an overnight hike, but I did immensely enjoy visiting the Bedouin family on the Hijazi’s Bedouin tour.
Here are a few photos of the landscape I saw while hiking in Palestine: