This introduction to Palestine gives a window into real, daily life in the West Bank of Palestine. It's not about the stereotypes you're usually given in the media. It's a land of hardships and delights, sub-acute conflict and great calm, paradoxes and beauty. These pages set out to give you a taste of that, and to encourage you to come visit.
I love coming to Palestine because it's a very different country, owing to its unique circumstances. An occupied land, its fate controlled by the Israelis, it has avoided certain ills that many developing countries have fallen upon, and problems with dictatorships their Arabic neighbours have suffered.
Military occupation has given Palestinians a few gifts - though this doesn't justify the occupation. One gift is a relatively friendly and human society - hospitality, sharing and generosity are notable here. Foreign visitors are frequently deeply stirred by this. Another gift is attitude: Palestinians have faced stuff others avoid, they've come out the wiser for it, and there's a strong sense of social consensus there.
This is indeed a Holy Land: there's something in the energy of the land, in its 'place memory' and its inspiring and tragic history which makes it special, whether or not you're a believer in any of the three faiths rooted here. There's something very alive about this land.
There's something else too. You notice it when you cross the separation wall from Israel into the West Bank. Strangely, Palestine feels like a happier country, even under duress. Also, if you compare Palestine with Jordan, its Arab neighbour, Jordan is an economy while Palestine is more of a society. In our day, when globalisation and corporatisation have extended their tentacles across the globe, this social strength is rare. While Israel has won the conflict militarily, arguably the Palestinians have won it socially and spiritually.
There's something about the unknowns that Palestinians face. Things are better than they were during the intifada of 2000-2004, yet Palestinians have no clear sense of their future prospects, since they are controlled by Israeli occupiers with the acquiescence of the international community. Their insecurity creates a spiritual and human edge which makes the Palestinians very interesting people.
Life is not easy. Some suffer poverty, disadvantage and hopelessness but all, whatever their status, have their rights denied as humans and as a society, as a result of the occupation. People are dying and losing their birthrights daily. This makes life in Palestine very challenging. Its inhabitants are prisoners.
The West Bank landscape is impressive - elevated limestone highlands 700-800m (2,000-3,000ft) up, with deep valleys, villages, mosques, churches perched on hilltops or spilling down the sides of hills, and ancient agricultural terracing, olive trees and wide sweeps of scenery. Palestine's towns, some millennia-old, have old historic centres with alleyways, souks, nooks and crannies. The harmony between Palestinian Muslims and Christians is noteworthy. About 30% of the nation is secular too. There's little crime - except the military occupation and apartheid.
This is not a place for consumerist tourism. The locals invite you to open up, visit their families, hear their stories and join in their reality. These people are heartened by the visits of interested strangers.
That's why, to anyone with a human heart and a yen for something different, Palestine is worth a visit. If you don't want to visit, please keep this brave people, the Palestinians, in your prayers.
Click on the map, left, to see a full-size version.
© Text and pictures copyright Palden Jenkins 2011. This is online material supplementing the book Pictures of Palestine by Palden Jenkins. You may print it out in single copies for your own non-commercial use or forward it by e-mail as long as the piece is unaltered and properly attributed to the author. The book's website is at www.palden.co.uk/pop