There are few places in the world where a good walk can be as stimulating to body and soul as the Palestinian West Bank. That may be a surprise to many, but six years after I took up hiking its valleys and hillsides, these high rewards remain. Here, perhaps like nowhere else, a physical escape up into the hills is also a mental climb down the ladders of prejudice — about what this part of the world is and what it can be.
We wake up in the pretty town of Sebastia and walk towards the village of Arabe on a new section of the Masar Ibrahim, as the Abraham Path is called in the West Bank. Both places are living testaments to the layers and tides of empire that have moved forth and back for over 3,000 years. Their remnants are immense Roman walls, Greek defense towers, and a Herodian palace. And then there is the Hejaz railway that once connected Damascus to Medina with branches to Haifa and Nablus. One of the largest infrastructural works of its time, it collapsed in 1917 just prior to completion. And along with it went another empire. Today, with its tracks long gone, it is a walking trail that snails around the hills of the northern West Bank.
After our group of hungry walkers takes in a feast of a home-cooked meal, Zeina uploads pictures of our group to Facebook. She befriends, tags and shares. Within moments, the Abraham Path family I stayed with last October in Kisas, Turkey, is connected to the hospitality in Arabe, Palestine. Exactly a hundred years ago these villages were part of the same grand empire, with a grand railway project about to spark a travel revolution. Almost. Now four impassable borders separate them. They speak different languages. And yet they are connected. Arab Spring and Winter. Muslims fighting Muslims. The fate of dwindling Christian communities. Occupation. Big themes in the Middle East; sad stories that incessantly cross the world in nano-seconds. They are real stories. But so is Adham’s world of Harry Potter and Marlowe. And his ability to reach out to that world and that world to him. In nano-seconds or through a day’s walk across the West Bank.
Photography by Evan Bryant and Joris van Winckel