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Walking Palestine: 25 Journeys into the West Bank Paperback – April 17, 2012
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It is no exaggeration to say that Palestine is a walker s paradise... The twenty five walks described here provide an excellent guide to the small but varied area of the West Bank: the desert, the plain, the hills, the wadis. These walks take you to the Roman stadium in historical Sebastia, to the springs of Wadi Bidan near Nablus, to the plains of Jenin, to the desert monasteries in Wadi Kelt and the Jersualem wilderness, to one of the first instances of terrace agriculture in Battir, to the throne village in Ras Karkar where an Ottoman period citadel has recently been renovated, to the town of Taybeh where Palestinian Beer is produced, to the lush spring of Wadi Auja near Jericho and to the beautiful hills around Ramallah. Each walk serves not only as an occasion to encounter a different terrain but to comment on the various facets of Palestinian life and history... Walking Palestine: 25 Walks into the West Bank is indispensible... It is a guide to enjoy and to trust. So read along, put on your boots and start walking. And be prepared for experiences that will surely be memorable.
From the foreword by Raja Shehadeh, author of Palestinian Walks, Winner of the Orwell Prize 2008
No place on earth is better known yet more misunderstood than Palestine and there is no better way to get to know the spirit of the place and its hospitable people than walking. In graceful and evocative prose mixed with practical information and stunning photos, Stefan Szepesi does us the great service of introducing us to the art of walking in the surprisingly safe, beautiful, and welcoming countryside of the West Bank. May this book inspire many from around the world to come walk!
William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes, co-founder of Abraham's Path/Masar Ibrahim, and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project
In Walking Palestine Stefan Szepesi has helped to make Palestine a more accessible and attractive tourist destination. Stefan s book shows what a beautiful place Palestine is and how rewarding it is, for Palestinians and visitors alike, to explore its natural and cultural heritage on foot. This is a splendid book. --Tony Blair, British Prime Minister (1997-2007)
Economist and naturalist Szepesi takes readers through 25 kilometers of walking trails in Palestine, including Burqin, Jenin, Zebabde, Sebastia, Al-Bidaan, Aboud, Turmus ayya, Wadi Auja, Birzeit, Taybeh, Ras Karkar, Ramallah, Wadi Qelt, Artas, Mar Saba, and Battir and a loop that goes from Battir to Wadi Jama and back to Battir. The hikes vary in intensity (easy, moderate, hard), distance covered (ranging from 3.6 to 16.9 kilometers), and time needed (about one hour to 6.5 hours each), depending on the hiker s abilities and interests. A typical chapter s sidebar describes the hiking surface (gradient, elevation, dirt road or pavement, marked or unmarked), distance/duration, longitude/latitude, and other basic information. The chapter goes on to give detailed information including landmarks, restaurants, accommodations, tourist attractions, and useful contact information and Internet links, as applicable. The work includes full-color maps, color photographs, a two-page list of Arabic phrases, a one-page glossary, and tips for when to hike and what to wear while hiking.
Verdict This beautifully illustrated guide will appeal to adventurers and hikers interested in sniffing in fresh air in a part of the world rarely experienced by most of us. --Library Journal
This guide takes hikers of all levels on 25 day trips through Palestinian landscapes. While the idea may seem strange at first to Western readers, author Stefan Szepesi is an experienced West Bank hiker and a European who has lived long-term in Jerusalem. He focuses this book on the same things you'd expect in any first-class outdoor guide: beautiful color photographs, maps and specific information on 25 routes of outstanding scenic, wildlife, and historical interest, with information on length, difficulty level, nearby points of interest, and getting there. He treats the safety issues of the West Bank with the same clear-headed, sensible approach of any hiking guide that provides simple precautions for bears or rip currents. He reminds readers that while you shouldn't carry weapons or hang around military stations, and you should say hello to people you meet and ask their permission before taking their picture (handy Arabic words are provided), the greatest danger to hikers in the West Bank is going out in the summer without water or a hat. In this well-done practical book, the author reveals waterfalls, mountain gorges, walk-in archeological sites, historic castles, villages, festivals, restaurants, native wildflowers, olive groves, wildlife and birding areas. Palestine is revealed as a place of great beauty and tremendous historical and archeological interest. Of value to hikers, tourists, and any reader who wishes to step behind the politics and news stories and encounter the extraordinary landscapes and ordinary people of an actual place. --Book News Inc
A handsome and highly aesthetic tome... When most of us... consider the West Bank it is more than likely that our thoughts run more along the lines of security and political issues rather than hiking possibilities on offer. That, at the very least, is the refreshing added value provided by Szepesi s book. An account of country trails lends itself to appealing pictorial augmentation, and Walking Palestine is duly replete with lovely pictures... But there is far more to Walking Palestine than just informative descriptions of where to go, and how to get there. Many of the 25 trail chapters include practical tips about where to park, where to find flavorful sustenance, local attractions and accommodation, and references to online data. The accounts of the walks themselves are precisely detailed, with distances of each section given in both kilometers and miles, map coordinates, elevation changes, the types of surfaces the walker will encounter and whether the route is marked... The book becomes an ever more attractive read with the appearance of subchapters about the history naturally sometimes troubled of each spot... Walking Palestine is both informative and entertaining. There are everyday tips on how to dress, how much water to take and sun block to apply, a section of Palestinian public transportation and about being aware of wildlife. At the end of the book there is a handy glossary of local terms, and some basic vocabulary, in English, and transliterated into Arabic and in Arabic lettering. One day, hopefully, the trails in Walking Palestine will be enjoyed by one and all. --Jerusalem Post
About the Author
Stefan Szepesi lived in Jerusalem on and off since 2006, working first for the European Union and then as economic adviser to Tony Blair.
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I was lucky that this book came out just a few days before my departure. I'll have more to say once I actually try to use it in the West Bank, but it appears to be very impressive. It is well written and organized, has many beautiful photographs and maps, and although it's a very substantial book (272 pages), it's not too large or heavy to take on the trip or put in a backpack.
The book includes some introductory information on walking in Palestine and a bit of natural history with helpful web references for further exploration. The walks are then organized geographically, each with full information including not only characteristics of each walk (length, difficulty, map, etc.) but also notes on sights, "places to go, people to meet," and places to eat. The book features 24 day walks labeled easy, moderate, or hard and ranging from 1.5 to 6.5 hours with most in between. (Gaza is not included.)
Throughout the book one gets a sense that the author appreciates the beauty of the land, the culture, and the people. The book conveys the obvious facts about the West Bank under occupation and what that means for checkpoints and other difficulties, but it does not express strong political views or hostility to Israel. My guess is that time spent in the West Bank will speak for itself in that regard, and I'm one who would recommend exploring all sides of the story in both Israel and Palestine. I once thought, naively, that love of nature and the land might unite Jews and Palestinians, but if you know about the conflict, you know that that is probably something we can only hope for in the far future. In the meantime, we can try to share the love of each people for the land that each considers its own. There are many opportunities for hiking in natural areas in Israel (e.g., contact the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel), but this is probably the only presently available up-to-date guide to walks in Palestine.
Overall, this book looks like an absolute "must have" for one who wants to learn more about Palestine, both natural and human, by walking in the West Bank. Although I have been to Israel and the West Bank several times before, I have never gone for long walks on the land in any of the occupied areas. I am looking forward to exploring Palestinian life and culture in a new way with the help of this remarkable book.
PS (after trip): I did enjoy this book while traveling in the West Bank. So I just reaffirm my recommendation.
Aside from thorough practical information, the book presents interesting, heartwarming and whimsical insights into everyday life in Palestine. From the only beer brewery in Palestine, to ancient holy sites, to local lettuce festivals, Walking Palestine illuminates a joyful and resilient side of Palestinian life. I especially enjoy the portraits of local community members, whose inviting faces make me excited to head out on to the trail.
This book is groundbreaking because of how it is has opened up the world of walking in Palestine for visitors. Tourism in Palestine is largely constrained to bus tours making quick visits to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is such a pity considering the wealth of culture, hospitality and landscapes "off the beaten path" in the West Bank.
Highly recommended for anyone visiting the Middle East who enjoys a brisk walk in the countryside.
There is however a different Palestine, one of beautiful, lovely landscapes, changing from season to season, filled with wadis, springs, rolling hills, arid landscapes with deserts. A Palestine, where one can see hillsides covered with beautiful flowers and lush green grass in Spring, contrasted by the starkness of the dry, arid landscape in Summer. An integral part of the landscape are the Palestinian villages and towns, connected to each other by ancient roads and dirt trails, leading along equally ancient agricultural terraces with olive and almond trees. And frequently one comes across beautiful ancient monuments.
I have walked in this landscape, these villages and towns and one of the reasons why it always was such a pleasant experience, was the welcome and generous hospitality given by families picking olives, farmers working in their fields, shepherds herding their sheep and goats, and by the people in the villages and towns, I walked through.
It is said, that the best way to know a place, is to walk it. This certainly applies to the landscape of Palestine. One of the pioneer ramblers and instructors in this respect is Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer, well known as the founder of the human rights organization al-Haq. He also has a great love of walking in the countryside of the Westbank. His book "Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape" (2007), in which he goes on 6 different walks in the Westbank describes in a powerful way the beauty of the landscape, the people who live in it, the quirky, strange and unusual things he meets, and the impact Israel's occupation has on all of this. It was a trailblazer, which awakened people's interest in the culture, flora and fauna of Palestine.
Now comes Stefan Szepesi's "Walking Palestine. 25 Journeys into the Westbank".
Szepesi is a Dutch economist, who between 2006 and 2010 lived in Jerusalem and worked as economic advisor in the occupied Palestinian territories. He devoted his free time to exploring the outdoors of the Westbank on foot. With his friends Stefan undertook countless test walks across the Westbank. The result is this fantastic book, which takes first-time walkers and experienced hikers, as well as armchair explorers, through Palestine, through steep desert gorges, tiny herder's trails and over quiet dirt roads past ancient gnarled olive trees. With the 25 walks come stories and ancedotes on heritage, history, culture and daily life in the Westbank. The book ventures into the traits and character of Palestine as it is today.
250 km of walking trails are described and mapped in detail throughout the book. There is a wealth of practical walking tips, like: Greet anybody along the trail (ways of greeting in Arabic are provided). There are useful references to local guides, the Westbank's best leisure spots and countryside restaurants, and the most charming places to spend the night. The book fits easily in your rucksack.
One of the features that makes this such an attractive book, are the photographs in colour, which illustrate the beauty of the Palestinian landscape, its flora and fauna, and its people. So if you are interested in walking the Palestinian countryside, but don't know exactly how to go about it, this is the book for you.
The only question mark I have, and which the book does not answer, is: should one on arrival at Ben Gurion airport or at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge over the Jordan river, tell the Israeli border officials about your plans or final destination? Should you even have this book with its revealing title in your luggage?
Israeli official: "What is the purpose of your visit?" Traveller: "I am a keen walker and I have come to explore the countryside of Palestine."
Stating your final destination as "Palestine" honestly and truthfully is problematic in this day and age, as the participants of the recent "Welcome to Palestine 2012" event experienced. You run the risk of being considered a potential security risk and denied entry, as I experienced myself in 2002.
This book will surely be available in the bookshops of East Jerusalem and Ramallah.
At present I would advise travellers not to state their final destination as Palestine, because it can ruin your holiday. Just tell the border officials you will be visiting friends in Israel (have names ready), visit all the important tourist sights and you intend to go and hike in areas within Israel with your friends. Stating that you intend to visit East-Jerusalem and Bethlehem is OK because so many Christian pilgrims go there.
Stefan Szepesi states in the foreword to his book: "Simply put, there is another Palestine filling our television screens. Mark Twain made clear that travel books cannot erase the fixed images in our minds; they tend to make it worse. Only a personal journey, a visit, an encounter, a walk, can start breaking them down."
Good advice to any foreigner, the dedicated activist, the Christian pilgrim, the tourist who wants to take in the sites of the "Holy Land", but also to the Jewish Israeli who wonders: who and what is behind that wall?
Stefan's book is the start of that personal journey. It is greatly recommended.