We met Mohammad, our guide for the day, on a busy street in Zababdeh on Sunday morning. Over half an hour later than planned, we were bordering on rude, but he smiled broadly as he jumped in the car.
Zababdeh lies 15 km southeast of Jenin and is approximately a 45 minute drive from Nablus. It makes Palestine feel big, surrounded on all sides by rolling hills and valleys which connect the different towns and villages. Israel feels like another country away, and the views are not tainted with settlements and ill-feeling.
Zababdeh is a picturesque town which is ‘new’ by Palestinian standards. It was founded in 1834 by Greek Orthodox Christians and the population today is two-thirds Christian and one-third Muslim. It looked like it had some interesting places to explore but we left almost instantly to reach the start of our walk some 10km from Zababdeh.
We were walking with another family and had warned Mohammad that despite our enthusiasm that progress would be slow with five children ranging in age from 4 months to 7 years old. He reassured us that there were pick up points on the route should we need to use them – and we did!
Setting out we were immediately plunged into a sea of green with every shade imaginable bouncing back on our eyes. The sun was high in the sky and the valley was lush. Nearby a young boy used an old scythe to chop some greenery which he placed in his donkey’s saddle bags.
Spring flowers had started to dot the landscape with flashes of red and yellow, but Mohammad told us that the start of March was the best time to come as the irises would be in full bloom then. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and animals we encountered. A cat like noise was an owl. A spider-like web, contained a ball of wriggling baby caterpillars. These were spread along the route and although not poisonous, I dreaded stepping on one by mistake.
Sitting under a large olive tree for shade, we paused for a break and chatted. We were surprised to hear that we were Mohammad’s first walking tour since 5 March 2020 when he got the call to say that things were shutting down for COVID-19. The authorities told him he had to escort the group of Canadians he was walking with to the nearest road where they would be taken straight to Ben Gurion airport. He explained it would take him two hours to do this and this was permitted.
Arriving back to his village near Jenin, later that day, Mohammad entered a 17 day precautionary quarantine. Rumours were rife that he had COVID-19, (he didn’t!) and that as a tour guide he was culpable for bringing it into the country. He said these views have affected him and his family a lot over the past year.
We asked if he had taken Palestinian groups out between the lockdowns. He smiled wryly and explained that ‘they always want to go in groups of at least 100 people’. He said that an arrangement with a few people, might lead to many more turning up and that details on the distance to be covered and the appropriate clothing would not be passed on. ‘Why did you not tell me?’ a young woman dressed for the town would say, ‘I didn’t invite you!’, Mohammad would respond.
Large groups were challenging for the guide to manage and could have a negative impact on the environment. A sprawling group also led to people being spread out over large distances which delayed everyone and could be dangerous if people weren’t dressed properly. Suddenly we didn’t feel so bad about our five kids dragging their heels a little bit.
At lunch time we stopped, and Mohammad expertly lit a fire to cook shakshuka on. This is a Palestinian dish with eggs cooked in a tomato sauce and eaten with bread. There was tea with sage afterwards and the chance to rest and take in the beautiful scenery.
By four-thirty the sun was starting to dip a little and the shortest legs were wearying. We took Mohammad up on the offer of completing the final 2 kms back to Zababdeh by taxi. It was a wonderful day with a very friendly and knowledgeable guide.
There is much to see of the real Palestine around Jenin and Zababdeh, Spring is a great time to take it all in and Mohammad is an excellent guide to lead you. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0597-437949.
Zababdeh is at least a 2 hour drive from Jerusalem. Overnight accommodation can be found at the Mosaic Guest House in Sebastiya or Nisf Jubeil – or at the Al Kayed Guest House in Sebastiya.