Issue No.
196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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A walk from Wadi Qilt to St. George’s monestary in the Jordan Valley.
From Ramallah to Betunia through ’Ein Qinya
A walk from Annabi Saleh to Kufor ’Een.

Reflections on the Way to an Early-Morning Hike
By Lina Barakat-Masrouji
It is still slightly dark when I wake up before the alarm sounds. Ready to leave in 20 minutes for the Shat-ha Friday-morning walk, I am very likely the earliest person to start the day in this quiet Jerusalem neighbourhood. We are meeting at 6:00 a.m. in Ramallah to take a rather short hiking trail; more of a walk. It starts from Yabroud, a small village north east of Ramallah, and makes its way to the site of ancient ruins called Khirbet ‘Ana, and then farther north to another favourite archaeological location: Burj Bardawil overlooking from its strategic position the road to Nablus and standing witness to the twelfth-century hardy construction of the Frankish Crusader fortifications. Our long-distance day-hikes are generally reserved for the cooler seasons of the year.

Ever since I joined Shat-ha hiking group two years ago, the Friday hiking activity has been a most welcome option. Unlike many outdoor activities, this is not one to fret about. Backpack holds water bottle, fresh home-made contribution to the picnic breakfast, a preferably non-disposable cup for Najeh’s tea ceremony, and some coins to pay for public transport. Except for a good pair of hiking shoes no high-tech gear or outfit is required; apparel is casual. A late decision, the night before, to join the walk is always possible.

Shat-ha brings together people from various countries, age groups, and backgrounds. The diversity of the group makes it exceptionally dynamic and gives each walk a spirit of its own; some walks are quite loud and jubilant and some more contemplative and serene. At times there are few hikers, but sometimes the crowd exceeds twenty. Though it is a rare incident to meet exactly the same people on two different hikes, there are steady hikers, not-so-steady hikers, and - almost always - newcomers. All hikers share an interest in spending time in the open, securing the health benefits of the exercise, and enjoying the beauty of the natural environment the best way possible: by becoming part of it. To some, this outing has also presented a perfect opportunity to make good use of their cameras to build on various collections of their photographs that have been exhibited in Ramallah, Birzeit, and London. However, Shat-ha is not solely about recreation for nature-lovers. The underlying concept is to connect people with the land and promote public awareness of the dangers that face the land and nature in Palestine. The unfaltering commitment of the founding fathers (father and mother actually), Saleh and Samia, to sustain the idea is admirable.

Hike trails end-to-end are planned by the “leader” who has a good knowledge of the terrain. The scenery can change significantly from place to place and season to season, but the walk is always a picturesque experience. The scene, I believe, that never ceases to strike amazement is that of the terraces of olive orchards. The trims that have been perseveringly built by Palestinian farmers over the years gently run across the hillsides like ruffles of a flamenco dress. Trails twist and turn through field, valley, and hill joining one village, from a wide collection of Ramallah-District villages, to another. Innumerable trails have taken us to many villages and khirbets: from Beit Reema to Kufr ‘Ayn, ‘Ayn ‘Areek to Bil’in, Kufr Malek to ‘Ayn Samia, and around Dayr Ghassana, Kaubar, and Ras Karkar to name but a few.

On numerous occasions we have ventured farther north to Jenin, south to Bethlehem, and east to Jericho. Much farther west is, of course, not an option. “Cross-country” hiking - country: whichever way you choose to delineate it - is a luxury we are not allowed. Settlements and settlers, Israeli Army bases, Separation Wall, checkpoints, and restricted roads squeeze trails and reduce the otherwise open terrain into pass and non pass areas. To cross from al-Mazra’a al-Qibliyyeh to Ras Karkar, one takes a trail that dodges, by a fairly safe distance, not just Talmon, but Talmon B and Talmon C. ‘Ateret and Halamish block the way to ‘Ajjoul from Kaubar. Shat-ha members still recall too well the group’s unpleasant encounter with settlers on the outskirts of Doma.

But this notion of being in danger is not insistent. It is a risk we take, similar to losing the way, spraining an ankle, or encountering sudden showers of rain. We are more concerned and aware of the adverse impact that we may inflict on the natural environment. Implicitly, the rules “leave no trace,” “leave as found,” and “do not harm,” have been developed and respected amongst the group even in the absence of environmental regulations.

Driving at a leisurely pace through the Qalandia checkpoint and empty roads, I never fail to enjoy the idea that getting to Ramallah from Jerusalem in 15 minutes is possible still. It is 5:55 a.m. when I park near al-Manarah. Karen is already there, and from all roads opening into al-Manarah people trickle towards the meeting spot, as eager as I am to escape to nature.

Lina Barakat-Masrouji was born in Jerusalem. She is a pharmacist and is currently the technical manager at Jerusalem Pharmaceuticals in Ramallah.

Article photos by Emile Ashrawi
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