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Dutch author finds love of walking in Palestine
Published Monday 19/03/2012 (updated) 04/04/2012 09:14
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Hikers near Bethlehem-district monastery Mar Saba. Image by Andrea Krogmann.

JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Three years ago, a Dutch economic adviser to the Middle East Quartet set off into the wilds of the northern Jordan Valley to find a mountain biking route.

His book 'Walking Palestine' is published this month, 125 West Bank walks later.

Stefan Szepesi, 32, never found a place to mountain bike. Instead, Palestine converted him to the art of walking.

"I always thought walking was for old people ... I found my love for walking here," Szepesi told Ma'an.

The book compiles 25 walking itineraries, with hiking maps, detailed directions, and local attractions on the way. "These are the first Palestinian-created hiking maps," Szepesi said, who worked with local mappers Applied Research Institute -- Jerusalem.

"Walking is more educational than sitting in Ramallah talking to diplomats, Israelis and the Palestinian Authority," he said.

"I spent two to three years on trips with (Quartet representative) Tony Blair which were always to cities. So we took him on a walking tour near Sebastia, which was the first moment we were really in the countryside," the economist recalled.

This was an important visit for the Quartet representative, as Nablus-district archeological site Sebastia lies in Area C, so is off limits to the Palestinian Authority, and ignored by Israeli authorities, Szepesi stresses, clearly shocked by the lack of protection for the ancient ruins.

Irritated by the portrayal of Palestinians as mired in victim-hood and conflict, the Dutchman built the walks around themes "people don't associate with Palestine," including archeology, botany and a beer brewery.

He also hopes that Palestinians "discover their own country," through walking, a hobby still in its infancy in Palestine.

Szepesi worked with Palestinian walking experts, who are extensively profiled in the book. Human rights advocate Raja Shehadeh's prizewinning work 'Palestinian Walks' was an inspiration for the guidebook, and Shehadah writes him a glowing foreword. The US publishers are still looking for an Arabic publisher to take on the guide, Szepesi notes.

But in an occupied territory fragmented by settlements and Israeli military control, he admits many have asked about safety concerns.

"Honestly, the most dangerous thing is the drive to and from the walk, many people get lost," he assures.

Szepesi encouraged bands of walkers -- diplomats, journalists, Palestinian hikers -- to test out his walks and give him feedback on any obstacles.

"There had never been any danger from the conflict" he said, adding "but there are some funny stories."

"Once we started out in a wadi and the path kept getting smaller and smaller until we were in one-meter-high rubbish in a dump site," he recounted.

"Another group found the bridge across a sewage stream near Mar Saba monastery had been removed, so they walked down the river bed and built another bridge with scrap iron."

The routes were amended accordingly, he notes with a grin.

'Walking Palestine' is published by Interlink Walking Guides in the US, and Signal Books in the UK. It can be purchased from the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem and feedback on walks can be submitted at www.walkingpalestine.org.
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1 ) M / USA
19/03/2012 18:46
Sebastia in particular is an amazing place to just take a walk. Roman artifacts like the amphitheater and the ruins of the Temple give an interesting look in the past. More should be done by the PA to preserve such ancient relics.

2 ) RR / Germany
19/03/2012 20:40
Dear M you have nothing understood about Palestine. Sebstia is situated in Area C, where for the PA has no autorisation to act. Its in the hands of the Israelian administration. Any action of Palestininas would be brevented.

3 ) @ M #1 / USA too
19/03/2012 22:38
The PA is more interested in rewriting history at Sebastia, and many other places, due to their clearly Jewish histories !!

4 ) Hilde / Palestine
20/03/2012 11:39
Now that the occupied territories are a member of UNESCO perhaps the PA will be given the authority to look after Palestinian heritage.

5 ) GERALD / USA
21/03/2012 01:14
Indeed walking can be very invigorating but I myself love to mountain bike I just got a new bike from http://www.2wheelbikes.com/ I get out all the time and bike to clear my mind

6 ) Georg / Germany
22/03/2012 11:39
As a regular visitor to the site of Sebastia, to be correct, Sebastia is split in Aereas C and B, the line running just in front of the archeological site. The amphitheater is used by the IDF to swear in the soldiers, as I learnt from the villagers and saw on old pictures. And I also was controlled once by soldiers patrolling the hilltop. Most magnificent is the look from the hill to all sides, most beautiful in spring. Inside the village quite a lot is done and changes for the better are there.

7 ) Robert / US
22/03/2012 17:15
The book "Palestinian Walks" by Raja Shehadeh is a great read !!. These places need to be preserved .
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