Treasure Island

Near Kellia, Cyprus, 34°58'29" N, 33°36'46" E

“In the distance are always mountains. And over the whole scene hangs a peculiar light, a glaze of steel and lilac, which sharpens the contours and perspectives, and makes each vagrant goat, each isolated carob tree, stand out from the white earth as though seen through a stereoscope.”

— Robert Byron, “The Road to Oxiana”

The ship docks in Limassol. Sunlight falls like a chrome guillotine. Gleaming. Sharp. Lethal. I stagger into it, walking down the iron gangway toward beaches pink with Russians on holiday, past the frozen coffee drinks sold at every corner shop, atop smooth flat asphalt everywhere (this inescapable feature of affluent societies will raise my first ...

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Aboard the MV Alios in the Mediterranean, 33°36'14" N, 34°6'43" E

We had come up over the forested ridge through the old fire burns of Mt. Carmel, over charcoal-peppered soils, thorugh the young new pines. Then down, down, down—ricocheting down ravines that guttered past Druze villages, down through a derelict army firing range, across the rumpled hinterlands where the prophet Elijah had been fed in exile by wild ravens sent by God—or by friendly Arab herders. Biblical scholars disagree.

The journey through Palestine, the Land of Israel, the Cisjordan, Jund Filastin—through Canaan—was coming to an end.

My Israeli walking partner sang.

Yuval Ben-Ami is a public intellectual, a street performer, a writer, a radio personality. He is a tireless walker. My cell ...



Nablus, West Bank, 32°13'15" N, 35°15'15" E

We're cooking: cutting up zucchinis, rolling dough, stirring pots of boiling yoghurt. We are with the women of Bait al Karama. They are teaching us about the flavors of remembrance—about its frailty, its persistence, its loss.

What is Bait al Karama?

It is a cooperative, the “House of Dignity”: dozens of women gather each month in a stone house in Nablus, a trading center founded by the Roman emperor Vespasian around the time of Christ, an ancient town bloodied by the Second Intifada, and famed outside of Arab-Israeli conflict for its olive-oil soap, its baked sweets, its still-vibrant medieval souk. The women teach cooking classes. They are writing a ...


Children’s Crusade

Shilo settlement, West Bank, 32°3'14" N, 35°17'55" E

Marc Prowisor says he will take me to see a Palestinian. And he does, wheeling his dusty SUV out of the hardline Israeli settlement where he lives—perhaps the biblical site of Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in a tent—past the security fences, the electric gate, down to the scruffy farm of Khaled Daraghmeh.

Daraghmeh is not happy to see us. The Palestinian farmer wears grey stubble on his chin. A shock of thick, black hair. Work-soiled trousers. A wary squint.

“Who are you?” he says stonily. “What do you want?”

“Sabah-il-khair!” Prowisor replies: “Good morning!” He is the happy warrior. He smiles warmly. He has ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek


Nabi Salih, West Bank, 32°01'0" N, 35°7'29" E

We turn the corner of the road when the first round whips in. It kicks up dust one yard in front of Bassam Almohor. He stops walking.

“We’re being shot at,” my guide says. His voice is aggrieved. “That was a bullet.”

It was, to be precise, a rubber bullet. Or, more exactly still: a rubber-coated bullet, a slug of steel dipped in hard plastic. The term “rubber bullet” connotes non-lethality, harmlessness, a comical form of deterrence—a bouncing ball, a children’s toy, a pea-shooter. Yet anyone who has been struck by these projectiles knows differently. Rubber-coated, metal-cored bullets can flatten people with the force of a swung baseball bat. They ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Glance Back: The Hejaz

Al Wajh, Saudi Arabia, 26°14'2" N, 36°27'45" E

The July issue of National Geographic features a story about the Out of Eden Walk journey through the Hejaz of Saudi Arabia. The article, illustrated by John Stanmeyer, describes the power of memory—and forgetting—in one of the most fabled landscapes in the world. I invite you to re-walk the old hajj trails with me, seeking out hand-dug wells that once sustained caravans, pilgrims and empires gone to dust.

Next week, we resume the foot traverse of the West Bank and Israel.

There are thousands of wells
in the old Hejaz.

We walk to them.

Sometimes their water is sweet. More often it is salt. ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

The Judge

Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, 31°49'55" N, 35°13'44" E

The tribal judge sits in the shade of a shop verandah. The shop is closed. It is a Saturday—a weekend. The judge plays a table game in black and white: Mahbusa the Arabs call it.

“I resolve problems between families,” Fuad Zaghayer explains, sliding a checker forward. “Murders are the worst.”

He is a welcoming man, Zaghayer. Sober, thickset, stately in his gestures. A man used to the theatrics of power. He goes on:

“When someone is murdered, I first go to the victim’s family. I ask them for a three-and-a-half day truce. This is to allow them a period to mourn. It is traditional. After that, I go to them ...


Vortex: Walking Jerusalem

Abraham Hostel, Jerusalem, Israel, 31°47'06" N, 35°12'56" E

We sit at the hostel table sketching routes on old newspaper. Straight lines. Circles. Zigzags. Nothing works.

“This place is too complicated,” says Yuval Ben-Ami, my walking partner in Jerusalem. He is a big man with gentle eyes. A writer. A radio host. A street singer—a bard. He has hiked Israel’s entire perimeter along its borders. He knows its village bus stations. Its cheap Ethiopian restaurants. Its most scenic battlefields. He has been up all night thinking. “The only way we can do this—”

And with a blue pen he draws a curlicue.

It is absurd: the pathway of a snail.

Such is our plan to cross Jerusalem on foot. The goal: ...

Photograph by Bassam Almohor


Bethlehem Checkpoint, Israel, 31°46'03" N, 35°13'39" E

The structure can be seen by satellite. It rises 26 feet into the air.

It is made of concrete. Its surface is crusted with graffiti—with signs and curses, with poems and taunts, with cries—with portents. To see its top, while you stand at its foot, you must crane your neck and squint up at the sky. It runs crookedly through the city—perhaps it rolls on forever.

“They put up the wall here in one single day in 2003,” Claire Anastas tells me. She is a lifelong resident of Bethlehem. “The children went to school in the morning, and when they came back they found the house surrounded.”

Anastas refers to the ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

West Bank Hopscotch

Near Jericho, West Bank, 31°51'06" N, 35°26'12" E

Bassam Almohor leads the way into the West Bank.

What is the West Bank?

The West Bank is a shard of a future homeland—the core a possible nation—for the world’s Palestinians. It slopes under the sun, in chalky ridges and tan valleys, like the pleats of a rumpled skirt, down to the muddy currents of the biblical Jordan River. (Hence: the west bank.) It is a small enclave of dusty olive groves and minarets that could fit twice inside the area of the Hawaiian Islands. It is an island itself—walled off, fenced, an Arab atoll occupied since 1967 by the Israeli army. Yet more than 2.5 million people live there. ...