Monday, October 30, 2006

If it were your city...

Palestinians in Nablus lament their "dying" city

Yahoo News - By Dean Yates - October 25, 2006

Dying. Dead. A corpse. Isolated from the world.

That is how Palestinians describe the once thriving city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

Surrounded by sand-colored rocky mountains, Nablus is also encircled by Israeli army checkpoints and military bases. For Palestinians, leaving means queuing for hours, unless you are a male aged 16 to 35. Then, exit is prohibited without a permit.

Palestinians brand the Israeli restrictions collective punishment. Israel calls the militant stronghold a "hotbed of terror activity."

A center for trading olives, soap and other goods for thousands of years, Nablus should be the business hub of the West Bank. Instead, many entrepreneurs have left. Other residents say they want to leave. Depression is common.

At night, gunfire echoes from the ancient Old City: Israeli troops on a raid or rival militant factions settling scores.

"This is a story that should be written with tears," said Hasan Abu Libdeh, head of the Palestinian stock market, which was set up here a decade ago amid optimism about peace.

"Nablus, a magnificent city, is a corpse. It just breaks my heart."

Israel clamped tight restrictions on Nablus, north of Jerusalem, during a Palestinian uprising that erupted six years ago after peace talks collapsed.

The army said there were six checkpoints around Nablus and its 200,000 people, noting that curbs were also in place on young men leaving.

"In many cases, the presence of checkpoints in the area of Nablus has prevented terrorists from entering Israel and killing civilians," the army said in response to questions from Reuters.

The army referred to three recent instances where soldiers at checkpoints had arrested militants carrying explosives.

Inside Nablus, militants are not hard to find.

Standing in a shop in a narrow alleyway of the Old City, a young member of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an M-16 assault rifle slung over his shoulder, watches people passing by. He is reluctant to answer questions.

Outside, posters of gunmen killed in clashes with Israeli troops line the stone walls.

One shows Fadi Qafeesheh, 33, shot dead by Israeli soldiers on August 31. In the picture, Qafeesheh strikes various poses, holding a pump-action shotgun, an assault rifle and a pistol. Some residents said he made vests for suicide bombers.


Nablus has a long biblical history and is important to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Herbalist Abdulrahman Arafat, 49, says his family's store in the Old City dates back to 1773.

He points to a sketch on the wall of his great grandfather wearing a felt hat called a fez, which was popular under the Ottomans, among the many rulers of Nablus.

Employing a mix of science and tradition, Arafat patiently dispenses herbs, seeds, oils, chamomile lotion and ginger to customers seeking help for their ailments.

His ready smile disappears when he speaks about his city.

"Nablus is a dying city. It is a city in a jail," he said.

Conditions have worsened since Hamas Islamists, sworn to destroying Israel, took over the Palestinian government last March, prompting a U.S.-led aid embargo and a power struggle with moderate President Mahmoud Abbas.

Although there are no statistics available, residents and officials say many businessmen have left to live in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Others to go have included intellectuals and skilled workers. The poor, and young men, remain.

Unemployment is high, investment stagnant.

"Who would dare invest in Nablus? You need two hours just to get out," said Shaher Saed, secretary general of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, speaking on the sidelines of a recent meeting in the city.

Maher Abu Zant, a psychologist and head of the sociology and social work department at the city's An-Najah University, said he was concerned by the number of students suffering depression.

Students often came to him wanting to drop out because they were unhappy and saw no point continuing their studies, he said.

"People in Nablus feel they are isolated from the world," Abu Zant said. "Nablus should be the economic capital of Palestine. But it's a dead city. It's very sad."

The Israeli army says it tries to ease passage through checkpoints for Palestinians, especially during busy periods.

"The (army) makes great efforts to ease the daily lives of the Palestinian population but will take the necessary measures to maintain the safety and security of the citizens of Israel," the army statement said.


From a distance, Nablus looks alluring.

Cream-coloured apartment buildings, eight to 10 storeys high, carpet the sides of the two steep mountains that create a valley where the Old City lies.

At night, the peaks provide a vantage point to soak up the atmosphere. Shimmering green lights in minarets show where each of the city's 41 mosques are located.

Up close, Nablus looks less appealing. Vacant lots are strewn with garbage. Many traffic lights don't work. Drivers usually ignore those that do.

"There is no life here. No money, everybody is depressed. I would like to leave," said Nashaat Humidan, 21, an economics student at An-Najah University.

Community leaders said the Israeli restrictions were having a counterproductive effect, playing into the hands of militant groups and fostering hardened attitudes toward the Jewish state.

"I meet Israelis all the time. I say you have to take the risk. By suffocating this city you are creating more fundamentalists, more terrorists," said

No comments:

Post a Comment