Sunday 6 July 2014

A View of Jericho

  It is quite hot here in Palestine. Most of the locals are obviously fairly use to the heat but for myself and the other volunteers, it is pretty uncomfortable during the day. So when myself and Jack proposed a visit to Jericho on the east side of Palestine, we were advised that it might not be such a good idea for us fair skinned Westerners.

  Jericho, or Ariha in Arabic, is the oldest city in the world and located 260m below sea level in the Jordan valley. Due to its location in a depression plain, the climate is exceedingly hot and stifling, especially during the summer months. We thus decided to visit in the evening when we thought that the heat wouldn’t be so much of an issue. As the shared taxi descended into the Jordan valley and dipped below sea the level, the change in atmosphere and temperature was almost immediate.

  We arrive at the centre just in time for Iftar, the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. With unfortunate timing however, this was also during the second half of France vs. Germany quarter final of the World Cup. We decided to put off breaking our fast till we had seen the conclusion and found a café on the 4th floor of a building in the centre of town where we could watch the game. There were a few Palestinians in the café that were working there and kindly gave us some food after they had Iftar. This is just another example of the generosity of the Palestinian people, sharing food with foreign strangers.

A view of Jericho and the surrounding hills from the Roof Top Cafe

  After the match and breaking fast, we went for a walk to explore the town. It seemed that during the month of Ramadan, Jericho is fairly subdued as people are lacking energy fasting for so long in such heat. Following a trip around town, we came across an impressively large and grandiose building that seemed out of place with rest of the town’s architecture. We ventured inside and found out that the plot of land with which the building and gardens were located on has been owned by the Russian Tsar and subsequent USSR and RussianFederation since the 1880’s. They had subsequently built the impressive museum about ‘Russians in the Holy Land’ and commenced excavations. The well-manicured gardens surrounding the museum contained a 2000 year old sycamore tree that was mentioned in the bible.

Russian Museum and Park Complex
The 2000 year old Biblical sycamore tree
Excavations in the grounds

   Despite the heat and fasting during Ramadan, it seems that nothing will sap the Palestinians’ enthusiasm for the World Cup. We found a café in which to watch the second quarter final of the night, Brazil vs. Colombia. For the second half, we went to somewhere closer to our hostel that was located in the Aqabat Jafar refugee camp. We found a restaurant showing the game that was located next to the Intercontinental Hotel, an absolutely colossal hotel on the outskirts of Jericho. It seemed so adventitious for its location, especially as Jericho seemed so laid back and quiet. The $150million casino/hotel was built in 1998 with the backing of Yassar Arafat. The reasoning for such a project was supposedly in anticipation of the influx of government organisations and investment due to Jericho being the first Area A city in the West Bank as well as to cater for the Christian tourists that visit the area. This influx never took place on the scale anticipated with Ramallah becoming the centre of the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps because it is Ramadan, but it was hard to imagine that the hotel is ever busy enough to fill even half of the rooms. The restaurant was a short walk away from our hostel where we were treated to air conditioned rooms for the first time in Palestine.

Inter Continental Hotel

  It was a very short visit to a town with such historical significance and with plenty of other sites to see in the surrounding areas. I shall definitely visit again during my time here and despite the ludicrous heat, it will be worth exploring further. 

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