Palestinian National Trail to open over weekend

Israeli, Palestinian activists hope hiking path will show this is "Palestinian territory, while also acknowledging Israel’s right to exist."

Palestinian National Trail_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Palestinian National Trail_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over 10,000 km. of trails crisscross Israel, and most are marked with simple dots or shapes to guide hikers. But the Palestinian National Trail, a new footpath in the West Bank to be unveiled on Saturday, is lined with a more detailed – and political – symbol.
Small Palestinian flags painted on large boulders now demarcate the 15-km. trail, which starts near the Green Line (across from Meitar northeast of Beersheba), and runs to Khirbat Zenuta, south of Hebron.
The trail was created by Israelis and Palestinian affiliated with Combatants for Peace, a movement of Israelis and Palestinians committed to “ending the cycle of violence and the occupation.”
The organizers hope that the trail will become a Palestinian alternative to the Israel National Trail, which runs 940 km. from Dan in the Galilee panhandle to Eilat. They view the new trail as a statement of the Palestinian’s right to independence and of Israeli’s right to be free from the cycle of violence.
On Saturday, about 100 Israeli and Palestinian activists plan to complete the path and meet Arab villagers who may face eviction. All participants must vow not to act violently or even shout, event organizers said.
Yaniv Reshef, an Israeli member of Combatants for Peace, said the group is “certainly” intending to make a political statement.
He called the new trail, and its use of the Palestinian flag, a “humble and gentle declaration that this is a Palestinian territory, while also acknowledging the Israel Trail and Israel’s right to exist.
“We understand that the language of struggle and occupation is by force, but we are trying to be tender, gentle and nonviolent,” Reshef said. “I won’t fall into the game of throwing stones and shouting.”
Under the Olso Accords, the West Bank is divided into three regions, and Israeli civilians may only travel to Area C, where Israel has full civil and security control.
Reshef said that the Palestine National Trail is entirely in Area C, so that all Israelis can visit to “see how occupation affects the lives of Arabs... and how dangerous it is for both sides.”
The path is located near the Jewish settlements of Beit Haggai, Sussiya and Otniel. Yussre Slameen, one of the Palestinian organizers, said that he wants more Israelis to come and see the settlements.
Nevertheless, Reshef said that the group made an effort not to incite the settlers. The chairman of the Mount Hebron Regional Council, which administers the settlements near the trail, and the spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, told The Jerusalem Post that they had never heard of the project.
Organizers also said that the group is not trying to outline future borders of a Palestinian state.
“We are not trying to make a statement about where the borders should be; just that there should be two states,” Shira Shectman, an Israeli participant, said. “What will be needs to be debated so that the two people can live quietly and with honor.”
The activists designed the path over the past six months without consulting with, or obtaining permission from, the IDF, partly because they question the army’s presence in the region, Reshef said.
“If they decide to stop us, they have the physical power to do that,” he said. “I’m trying to demonstrate how wrong it is for them to be there.”
Though the group considers the Israel National Trail as a potential model for the new Palestinian trail, it also did not consult with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which oversees the famed Israeli trail. The spokeswoman for SPNI was not familiar with the project.
The current route ends south of Hebron, but organizers say they plan to extend it. Shectman said they will continue painting Palestinian flags all the way to Jerusalem, though other organizers said the group has not decided on where the trail’s route would go next. The group also hasn’t decided if it will erect signs about Palestinian history.
Nevertheless, Reshef is optimistic that the path will exist for a long time and can be a “foundation to find a way for us all to live together.”
“Maybe one day our grandchildren could walk on it together and say how stupid grandfather was for fighting,” he said.