I have arrived in Nablus, after about 48 hours of travel from Montreal, through Jordan, and across the Israeli border into the West Bank. Nablus has been clouded by widespread dust storms for the last day, so the city is covered in a cloak of dirt. The winds were so strong that I thought I might be knocked right over.
There is currently tenuous peace in the West Bank, and I was surprised to see so much economic growth in Nablus. However, there are still reminders of the occupation as well as an acknowledgement that the peace may not last forever. This morning, I was awakened by the sound of low-flying jet planes in the sky above; in fact I am still hearing the deep "whoooooosh" of fighter jets as I write this. The Israeli military was performing fighter jet exercises in the airspace over Nablus. My Palestinian friends told me that the military does the exercises over the West Bank for two reasons. The first is intimidation, reminding the Palestinians that Israel has a powerful military, which they can use against the Palestinians. The second reason that these exercises take place over the West Bank, my friends told me, is because if they had an accident above a Palestinian city, "it wouldn’t be as big of a deal" compared to if the accident was over an Israeli city.
Gaza has also entered a respite after recovering from cross-border violence between the Israeli military and militant groups. The violence was spurned by Israel's launch of air-to-ground missiles into Gaza, which killed the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair al-Qissi, and his assistant. During the several days of fighting--in which Palestinian militants fired more then 100 rockets into southern Israel and most rockets were intercepted by Israel's new Iron Dome anti-missle rockets--80 Palestinians were wounded, 26 Palestinians were killed, two of whom were children. No Israelis were wounded or killed during the violence.
I am looking forward to starting my research in the next few days. In researching my sites for sampling, I have found that some of the villages no longer exist, having been "depopulated" by the Israel military (see for example, Deir Yassin). I have been conducting informal interviews about the status of children here, and I have heard a common theme of hopelessness. One Palestinian father told me, "Today's children have no hope for the future, therefore they have no desire to go to school or improve themselves. They just spend their days fighting with each other." Emphasizing this point, yesterday I witnessed two young boys in the street near my guest house "playfully" throwing large rocks at each other. When I walked back to the guest house, I was surprised to find a freshly painted mural. It depicts a snail with a head of two fingers indicating the peace sign. This is indeed a hopeful sign in a violent landscape, illustrating a peace that is slow yet ultimately attainable.