nablus: city of resistance & poetry

This photograph shows one of the mountains that surrounds the city of Nablus. At the top of it, around the tuft of trees, is an Israeli Aggressive Forces (IAF) military base. Nabulsis cannot travel to the top of this mountain, a kind of panopticon that watches over Palestinians’ every move, like the drones that make their presence known nightly over Nablus. It is believed that there are missiles on this mountain, perhaps even with nuclear warheads.

I haven’t spent a lot of time in Nablus over the last few years, partially because it is quite a bit of a trek north from Beit Lahem, Al Quds, and Ramallah where I have spent more of my time. And partially because huwara checkpoint is such a nightmare to pass through. It makes me feel like I will be a prisoner of Nablus this year because I’m so worried that when I leave the city I won’t be allowed back in. But yesterday afternoon a friend from the old city of Nablus–who I met two years ago when he was making a film in Deheishe refugee camp–showed me around. The old city is beautiful. I love the nuanced ways that the architectural styles differ among the old cities here–Al Quds, Beit Lahem, Nablus. My friend said that they call the old city of Nablus “little Damascus” partially because of the architectural style, and partially because the Nabulsi accent is closer to a Damascene accent.

So much of what I know of Nablus comes from the poetic words of Fadwa Tuqan or the novels of Sahar Khalifeh (apparently the second most translated Palestinian writer after Mahmoud Darwish), both of whom are from Nablus and the city is featured quite a bit in their writings. I read one of Khalifeh’s most recent novels in translation last month, The End of Spring. It is a novel that I almost did not finish as it did not register the usual tenor of resistance that I crave in her writing. For the first hundred pages or so she writes about a young Palestinian refugee boy, Ahmed, whose family comes from Haifa, who now resides in Nablus. Young Ahmed learns photography at a trash dumping ground that is taking over a village outside Nablus. But on the mound of rubbish Ahmed can see the new illegal Israeli settlement and begins to form a friendship/infatuation with a young Israeli illegal settler girl, Mira. I had feared that the novel would move in the direction of normalization/co-existance and all that sort of crap that serves to render Palestinians more submissive under the bulls*&^ rhetoric of “peace”–though I should have trusted Khalifeh’s record, and perhaps I did and that is why I finished it. The novel is set around the beginning of the second intifada and as soon as the re-invasion of the West Bank begins Ahmed, and his elder brother, both serve the cause of armed resistance along with a host of other remarkable characters, including some beautifully strong, feminist characters. I left the novel in Amman, otherwise there are some beautiful passages of that resistance fighting in Nablus and Ramallah that I’d love to share. Perhaps at a later date I will.

It is these two writers in particular, as well as Mai Masri’s film Children of Fire, that gave me a sense of Nablus through the lens of artists representing resistance. And you can see this resistance evident all around the old city. The image just above, for instance, is in a Christian area of the old city. One of Nablus’ many soap factories used to be there; indeed it had been there for 400 years. But the IAF bombed it and some 25 private homes adjacent to it during its “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002. (Perhaps soap is a weapon–maybe this is the reason why my bags get searched or questioned–I usually do tend to pack soap in addition to books and clothes.)

The resistance in Nablus is famous. You can see martyr posters all over, like those pictured above. But Nabulsi resistance is not something new. It is not something just from the first and second intifadas. It is something that extends to various episodes of foreign rule here; Nabulsis have famously resisted the Ottomans, British, Jordanians, and Zionists. Here is one account of this history:

Tension built up quickly as the trial progressed. On 17 April Al-Ahram relayed a surprising report from its special correspondent in Palestine. It appeared under the headline, “Gangs in Palestine: Serious incidents spread alarm throughout the country”. The term “gangs” was not entirely precise, as we shall see: “Several armed gunmen formed a barricade on the highway between Nablus, Tulkaram and Jaffa. They stopped every car that passed and asked the passengers if there were Jews or British soldiers among them. If there were none, they asked the Arab passengers with the utmost courtesy to hand over the money they had on them, saying it was for the national cause. Within three quarters of an hour, they had succeeded in collecting between 300 and 400 pounds. However, they did assault three Jews, swearing revenge for Al-Qassam.”

As clashes between Arabs and Jews increased, Arab leaders in Nablus formed an Arab National Committee to take the initiative. Two weeks later, the committee succeeded in organising a general strike in Palestine. Under this headline, Al- Ahram ‘s Palestine correspondent reports that the strike brought all travel within and between Palestinian towns and cities to a standstill. There were also further outbreaks of violence: a group of Arabs opened fire on a Jewish settlement near Tulkaram, Palestinian demonstrators in Al-Nasra (Nazareth) clashed with police, and in the course of clashes between Arabs and Jews a Jewish resident in Al-Majdal was stabbed. In addition, four Arabs were arrested “for obstructing commerce and traffic by throwing large quantities of nails onto the street”.

On 27 May Al-Ahram announced that the demonstrations had escalated into armed revolution. The area between Nablus, Jenin, Tulkaram and Haifa, it wrote, now resembled a theatre of war. “The rebels are holed up in the mountains and airplanes are flying overhead in order to locate their positions while soldiers swarm the cities in pursuit of others.” Meanwhile, in Wadi Al-Tuffah, rebels and soldiers challenged each other in a face-off that lasted more than an hour, during which hundreds of bullets and dozens of grenades were fired. In Nablus, a squadron of revolutionaries attacked the British police barracks. “The assault lasted more than an hour resulting in numerous casualties, although the figures are not yet known.” In Nazareth, “women demonstrators pelted a Jewish car escorted by an armoured vehicle with stones. Soldiers arrived on the scene immediately and a stray bullet struck a 20-year-old Arab girl, killing her instantly.”

This above-quoted history is very famous and gives me a strong fondness for this history that has refused to back down. And, at times, it is unavoidable and people don’t have the chance to resist. Like when the IAF bombed a house in the old city–in the area of Karion–with an entire family inside it massacred. The two photographs above show their former home and a plaque about their family and the massacre. Every night people in the old city, as well as in the refugee camps, have to endure nightly invasions, shootings, and kidnappings. Sometimes part of these kidnappings includes taking young children and forcing them to be human shields for the IAF as in this video below:

So when people question resistance–not the literary and cinematic varieties–this is what they are resisting–being used as human shields, having their land stolen, having their children kidnapped in the dead of night, the checkpoints that keep them held hostage to little cantons, the inability to access their land because of settlers. The list goes on and on. But I love this city for what it represents and for what it does. There are more photographs that I took yesterday on my website. There are also two websites with some nice information on Nabulsi history and Nabulsi culture. These sites have some nice photographs of historic Nablus. Here is one that I have one file that is not dated, but it is likely taken from the late 19th century.

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