National Geographic : 2014 Dec
Out of Eden walk, part three 107 Almohor is middle-aged, a storyteller. He is a compulsive walker, a Palestinian who ex- pects the worst in life in order to be pleasantly surprised—a relisher of irony. Over the course of two sweltering days of rambling the West Bank, we squeeze through a thicket of visible and imaginary borders, fences, walls, frontiers, barriers, no-go zones. After a year steeped in the oceanic vistas of Arabia, of Africa, such a dicing of landscape into countless micro-turfs makes me dizzy. My head spins. Smaller than Delaware, packed with 2.7 million people, the core of a proposed future Palestinian state, the occupied West Bank is partitioned by the Oslo Accords into zones of Palestinian and Israeli control: Areas A, B, and C. Each of the zones has its own restrictions, guidelines, regulations. A political map of the territory looks like an x-ray: a diseased heart, mottled, speckled, clotted, hollowed out. We inch past Hisham’s Palace, in Jericho, a little- visited treasure of eighth-century Islamic art (Area A). Sweating under the sun, we scale the barren eastern scarp of the Great Rift Valley (Area B), edging carefully around controver- sial, razor-wired Israeli settlements (Area C). Plodding 26 miles on through a nature reserve and an Israeli artillery range (Area C again), we collapse in Bethlehem (back in Area A). A line of clocks in our cheap hotel displays the time in Lagos, Bucharest, Kiev: the capitals of pilgrims who come to kneel at the birthplace of Christ. In reality the entire world funnels through the Church of the Nativity. The next morning, on blistered feet, Almohor and I join long lines of Argentines, of Russians, of Ameri- cans, of French. In clouds of incense, they lay their palms on flesh-polished stones where the Godhead touched Earth. A medieval Greek Orthodox church controls access to the grotto of the manger. Next door a newer Roman Catholic cathedral makes do with a peephole. Catholic visitors peer through this hole into the yellowed light of the holy birth- place. The hole is big enough, I note by testing, to admit my pencil. Here is a classic West Bank arrangement: a celestial Oslo Accord.