Tragic Nablus

And so to Nablus, another West Bank town with a painful recent history. A hotbed of resistance to Israel’s occupation (the picture shows pro-Hamas graffiti), the place is regularly sealed off and sees army incursions and arrests almost every night.
Here I met a man whose home was taken over by soldiers for a week during the siege of Nablus in 2002. For seven days, 19 members of his family – including his pregnant sister, children and elderly people – were holed up in two rooms of their apartment, with little food and water while military snipers used it to shoot Palestinian gunmen. His brother was used as a human shield for two days before being returned, emotionally broken. Next door, eight members of one family were buried alive when army bulldozers flattened their home to clear a way into the old city. Neighbours only found the grandfather’s body – but it was missing the head.
“There’s a culture of death in this city now – people are just waiting for death to come,” he said. “We’re in daily touch with death. It numbs you, hardens you.
“We Palestinians don’t like nights. It’s when the soldiers come into our city and into our homes. We get nightmares.”

This harsh reality of life not only affects the Muslim majority. The supposed site of Jacob’s Well is in the basement of a Greek Orthodox church in Nablus. A ponytailed priest – originally from Corfu – lives in the little compound, which has been attacked countless times by fanatical Jewish settlers.
In 1979, axe-wielding zealots hacked his predecessor to death, right next to the well that he was protecting in the church basement.
His replacement arrived the following year and has also been attacked numerous times. Scorch marks are visible inside his church and the edges of steps are missing, where settlers have attempted to burn it and plant bombs in an attempt to take over the site, which is also sacred to Jews for its connection to the prophet.
Over the past 28 years the priest has single-handedly renovated the whole church – it only reopened officially this month. A talented artist, he has painted murals and done metalwork, and makes jewellery and other trinkets to sell. Perhaps in a nod to the threat to his own life, he has also built and decorated his own coffin, which sits ready and waiting outside the main entrance to the church.