On this tour we will do our best to “walk the land.” On at least four days we will get out of the bus and walk the hills and the wadis of Israel and Palestine. We walk into Wadi Qilt. It used to be possible for us to walk from St. George’s Monastery to Jericho. I’ve done that a number of times with my groups. The last time I found myself in that famous wadi, at the end of which lies King Herod’s summer palace and the bountiful, beautiful, and ancient city of Jericho, it was closed for “security reasons.” Although I lament that we may not be able to take that walk this spring, we will hike Jebel Musa in the Sinai (so-called Mt. Sinai), scramble up to the waterfalls of Ein Gedi (where David hid from King Saul, 1 Samuel 23-24), and wander around Tel Dan and along the gorgeous headwaters of the Jordan River at Banyas (ancient Caesarea Phillipi).
The importance of walking the land was impressed on me recently when I read Raja Shehadeh’s moving account (Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape. Scribner, 2007). 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 Shehadeh on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006.
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.