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Walking on the West Bank

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  • Progress Since 1967, the open landscape around Ramallah and throughout the West Bank has increased in fragility and diminished in size.
  • Targets We leave on foot from Raja’s house, walking out and down into Wadi’qda. Almost immediately, a bad omen. A thin breeze-block wall, plastered with cement, has been turned into a firing range. Militants or policemen have been practising their aim here, just beyond the town’s boundaries.
  • Litter Further down the wadi, at the base of an olive tree growing in a wide terrace, we find a scatter of big bullet casings. They resemble the spoor of a creature: AK-47 droppings.
  • Shelter Later, we come to a stone tower made out of limestone tanned by marl. This is a qasr, used as a base by farmers and shepherds. They dot the hills; most are dilapidated.
  • The View I drop to my hands and knees and crawl in through the narrow doorway. Raja comes in after me. His voice is echoey in the cool space. The windows of the qasr have been barred with barbed wire.
  • Change As we walk the wadi path beyond the qasr, along an obviously old path, Raja begins to tell me stories: about the people he has brought here, and what the experience of the landscape has done to them. He speaks about the different seasons of colour in the valley.
  • Laurels Much later, a rainstorm breaks. We run for cover to what we think is an abandoned villa on the hillside. Until 1967, the villa belonged to the Zalatimo family, well-known in Palestine as pastry-makers; after the Occupation, they were forced to leave. Outside the villa is a vast laurel tree, whose glossy bark resembles red gold.
  • Remains Looking out from the villa, I see the Dolev settlement away to the west, and the village with its trash slews spilling from its lower edges.

In an essay for our ‘Aliens’ issue, Robert Macfarlane tells of walking in Palestine with his friend, the writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh. Shehadeh has been conducting sarha in the hills of Ramallah, on the West Bank, for more than forty years. As Macfarlane explains, sarha originally meant ‘to let the cattle out to pasture to graze’, but the word has been humanized to suggest the action of a walker who roams without a fixed plan. ‘Wander’, he says, is the closest equivalent in English: ‘a word shadowed by wonder’.

Wandering is increasingly difficult in Ramallah as the open landscape gives way to city sprawl, Israeli army posts and Palestinian militia bases. ‘But Raja still walks,’ Macfarlane writes. ‘As walking becomes less easy, it has become correspondingly more important.’

This series of photos, exclusive to our website, presents a few striking moments from Macfarlane and Shehadeh’s sarha.

The complete text of Macfarlane’s ‘Walking on the West Bank’ is published in our print issue. Click here to buy a copy. ■

*Granta 114: Aliens is now on sale. Buy it here.*

Read two responses to Julie Otsuka’s piece in Aliens. Nostalgia and noodles in Hiromi Itō's ‘Yakisoba’ and atypical emigrants in Kyoko Nakajima's ‘Go, Japanese!’.

Or watch a slideshow of ‘Contacts’, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s photo essay from the issue, with a special podcast on our artwork.

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