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  • Writer's pictureRose Chacko

Journeying Through Palestine

I went to Palestine, to the city of Nablus in the West Bank (under Israeli military occupation) for a holiday, from September 18th to October 6th – one day before the Hamas attack and the ensuing genocide Israel is carrying out against the trapped people of Gaza.

I lived in Nablus from June 2012 to August 2013, spending the first two months teaching music at summer schools as part of an initiative by a charity called Music Harvestand then as an Arabic student at An-Najjah University in Nablus during my year abroad from a degree at SOAS university.

Nablus is a beautiful city between two mountains, Gerizim (home of the Samaritans) and Aybal. The people are so friendly, hospitable, and generous, and I don’t think I have met such patient people either. We were really looked after. Our neighbours became our second family there, opening their home to us whenever we wanted to come. Our whole flat was furnished by another friend who called people he knew to ask if they had anything spare.

The trip in September was the first time I had been in ten years. I was nervous about the trip – Israel’s violence in the West Bank had steadily escalated since May 2021, when they had launched their last major attack on Gaza. At the time, Palestinians had united across the West Bank, Israel (‘1948 lands’ as Palestinians say) and Gaza in a general strike, and a number of small militant resistance groups had emerged. Israel, in turn, had targeted these groups, who had launched attacks on Israeli military bases and soldiers.

The result – in around 2 years, around 60 people had been killed in Nablus by Israeli military raids and operations. Around 240 had been killed, before October 7, in the West Bank. Most of these were bystanders, caught when Israel targeted the young resistance fighters, most of whom were in their late teens or early twenties. Posters of these young people are everywhere, testifying to their memory and a city in mourning for those who died trying to resist Israeli crimes against their people.

So I was nervous of the violence, amongst other things. But once I was there, I was so glad to be back. Nablus, like all of Palestine, is under threat. My friend and I stayed with a friend and his family. We visited families we had known – everyone was so happy to see us, and prepared feasts for us. Our old teacher and his wife made musakhan, one of my favourite Palestinian dishes, and more. He is from Jenin, which has seen devastating Israeli violence in recent months.

I went to a Catholic Mass with a Muslim friend of mine for the first time in Nablus. The church was the church of St Justin – born in Nablus in 110 and martyred in 165. An ancient church. The priest was Spanish, I think. It was fascinating to observe the Catholic Mass in Arabic. My friend had never been to a Mass and wanted to come with me. He turned to me when they did the collection asking why they were collecting money, and I said they do that for the church, and he gave a donation. We went to have coffee after the Mass and spoke to the priest and a couple from the congregation, a very elderly man and a woman, who thought me and my friend were married, asked us to come back every week! I said we couldn’t. I wanted to stay and ask more about the Nablus Christians, but didn’t get the chance to return the following Sunday.

I also visited Jacob’s Well – the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman is under the church, where you can go and drink the water. This Greek Orthodox church is close to Balata refugee camp, the biggest camp in the West Bank, which suffers horrific levels of Israeli violence on a regular basis. The Israeli army accompanies settlers who come to visit a tomb nearby called Joseph’s tomb, and the army often raids Balata camp at the same time, often injuring or even killing residents, or raiding homes and smashing everything up. Someone I knew was killed a few months ago. He had worked at the Jaffa centre in Balata when I was there, where I taught violin as a volunteer. The army killed him in November when they raided and he fought back with other residents.

The priest at Jacob’s Well is in his eighties and replaced the last priest, who was murdered by Israeli settlers in 1979. I heard that they killed him next to the well with an axe after warning him he needed to vacate because the site was rightfully theirs. The current priest has painted biblical scenes which cover the walls of the church, and in one of them, he depicted the late priest with the settler raising his axe over him, as though in a biblical scene. The doorman is Muslim and local, and he was the same as there ten years ago. He said there had been escalating violence in the last few years, with tear gas fired into the grounds, and the priest tended to call him whenever something happened, as the Palestinian Authority won’t help when it comes to violence by Israelis. I told him my sister was having a baby soon; he gave me some water from the well, which had been blessed for the baptism.

What has happened to Palestine and the Palestinians was a horrific injustice which continues. They should never have been forced out of their homes in 1948 - what gave Britain the right to sign their land away?

75 years on, Christians need to stand with the people of Palestine and call out the ethnic cleansing, as well as Israel’s apartheid system and occupation.

Most of all, Christians need to unequivocally call for an immediate ceasefire and call what is happening to Gaza what it is – genocide, collective punishment, and the result of Zionist ideology, which has not been critiqued properly by Christians here.

The failure of the collective West to impose any boundaries on Israel, especially since the Oslo Accords in 1993, has led to the genocide we are witnessing now. Acting as though it is okay to ignore Palestinian rights, or that it’s just a given that they don’t have rights, whereas the Israelis do, is not an okay stance for Christians - or any human being - to take.

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