For Palestinian Hikers In West Bank, A Chance To Enjoy Nature And Escape Tensions

The hikers pile out of minivans on the side of a serpentine highway, climb a dusty hill, pass a Bedouin woman preparing morning bread in a tent, then turn the corner and find themselves embraced by the desert hills — a world apart.

Outdoor exploration is a weekly Friday morning ritual for the group, which calls itself Shat’ha, or “Picnic” in Arabic – one of scores of informal Palestinian hiking groups that have sprung up in recent years.

Their home, the West Bank, is a hikers’ paradise: mountains shimmering with olive trees, exquisite views, natural springs, vineyards, desert expanses and historic ruins at nearly every turn. The Palestinian hiking groups aim to enjoy that nature, but also to escape the tensions of life under Israeli military occupation and display ownership over the land they walk.

Life in the West Bank is tense. That is why four Palestinians started the Shat’ha club about 11 years ago. They wanted to get some fresh air after the violence of the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel that brought scores of attacks on Israelis and military incursions into Palestinian cities.

Palestinian hiking clubs embrace a similar nationalistic ethos. One Palestinian hiking group even makes a point of carrying a Palestinian flag when hiking in the West Bank. There may be as many as 70 grassroots Palestinian hiking clubs.

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