I took a political tour of Palestine. Now, I must act

I took a political tour of Palestine. Now, I must act
Blog: To travel to see the situation in Palestine for its own sake would be self-indulgent and exploitative of Palestinian suffering, Nick McAlpin writes. It's critical to take what you learn and act.
8 min read
18 Nov, 2022
Israel's system of control is particularly crushing for Palestinians living in the West Bank city of Hebron [Nick McAlpin]

Stab! A young member of Israel's militarised border police had apparently taken issue with a bus stop-like shelter in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City.

The see-through structure located behind the barriers where he was stationed had clearly caused some offence that day in late August – enough for him to take his knife to it.

Had this happened before? The shelter's plastic panes were visibly scratched.

The officer talked loudly on the phone in Hebrew as he flicked his blade open and closed. I couldn't understand but it didn't really matter – his actions spoke a thousand words.

The officer was part of a group of three. A picture I took shows at least one of them, a different policeman, was armed with a rifle but it's the knife that's forever lodged in my memory.

Israeli border police officers. One has a knife, while another has a rifle.
Israeli border police officers in East Jerusalem's Old City, one of whom is holding a knife. Only two of the three officers present are visible in this view [Nick McAlpin]
A zoomed-in image showing a man holding a knife in his hand.
A zoomed-in view of the knife in the border police officer's hand [Nick McAlpin]

I recall being scared. But what fright must Palestinians feel without the protection of my whiteness? What must they see during a lifetime?

For his part, our guide didn't appear particularly phased. What happened was understandably not so remarkable to a Palestinian.


I was in the Old City as part of a four-day tour with Travel2Palestine, a not-for-profit company based in the UK. There were around half a dozen others on the visit.

I'd briefly been to Jerusalem before, years ago when I lived and studied Arabic in Jordan, but I didn't venture beyond the holy city.

Travel2Palestine took us to Ramallah, Bethlehem, the well-known village of Nabi Saleh and beyond. This highly recommended trip to the occupied West Bank focused on political issues: the Israeli occupation, illegal settlements, human rights and more.

"I recall being scared. But what fright must Palestinians feel without the protection of my whiteness? What must they see during a lifetime?"

It featured meetings with activists, civil society figures and a politician, as well as visits to religious sites and museums. After the tour, I stayed for a few days more, connecting with friends and learning about the Palestinian art and animal rescue scenes.

'Ethical moments'

As a journalist and supporter of Palestine, I benefitted greatly from the insights of the experts our group heard from.

Reflecting on the visit, however, it's startling moments like the one I experienced in Jerusalem that have stayed with me most. Travel2Palestine's value was in putting us in the right places to have these experiences – to see the reality.

But such moments mean nothing if they don't spur you into action. To travel to see the situation in Palestine for its own sake would be self-indulgent and exploitative of Palestinian suffering.

Instead, I consider my experiences a series of something like what anthropologist Jarret Zigon calls "ethical moments".

That is, what I saw jolted me. It made me question whether I was acting morally – whether I was doing enough in support of Palestinian human rights and self-determination. I needed to step up, I concluded.

As for what this further action should look like, the message given to us by the Palestinians we met was loud, clear and consistent: go home and tell people – particularly politicians – about what you saw. That seems the right place to start.

Regrettably, I don't have the ear of many officials. But by recounting for the world the stories that moved me, perhaps someone who does will have an ethical moment of their own.

"What I saw made me question whether I was acting morally – whether I was doing enough in support of Palestinian human rights and self-determination. I needed to step up, I concluded"


After all, how could they not be disgusted by what's happening in Hebron, where hundreds of the most-radical Israeli settlers live?

The regime of apartheid and control Israel enforces there to cement these extremists' presence is among the worst anywhere in the occupied territory.

During a tour of Hebron's Old City, we were taken to a spot where we were told settlers living above throw bleach and urine down at Palestinian market stalls.

Israeli violence is widespread across the West Bank but to be targeted with human waste must be unfathomably degrading.

Later that same day, we found ourselves at the Bab Al-Zawiya checkpoint, which splits the part of Hebron administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA) from the area controlled by Israel. A member of PA security was standing not far away, a human symbol of this division.

A view of the Bab Al-Zawiya checkpoint in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
The Bab Al-Zawiya checkpoint is a stark reminder Hebron is an occupied city. Photo taken in late August [Nick McAlpin]

Shuhada Street

Crossing the checkpoint, we entered Shuhada Street, previously a flourishing market road but now, not so much. This hub of Palestinian economic life has been reduced to a truly miserable state. The area has been called a "ghost town", a description I can confirm is accurate.

The shops have all been closed by Israel and while I saw a few cars with Israeli number plates pass by, Palestinians are not allowed to drive here. They're not even permitted to walk on most of the street but naturally, settlers and foreigners can.

Israeli forces on Shuhada Street in Hebron in 2020.
Israeli forces on Shuhada Street in 2020 [HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty]

A short way along Shuhada Street is a beautiful building set back from the road. Sadly, this wasn't to be the good news you're probably hoping for. The building turns out to be part of the Beit Hadassah settlement.

Occupation authorities began squeezing the life out of Shuhada Street, sometimes called "Apartheid Street", following a 1994 massacre at the nearby Ibrahimi Mosque.

That year, US-born settler Baruch Goldstein shot dead 29 Muslim worshippers, injuring scores more at what is the second-holiest Islamic site in Palestine.

Professional empathy

Seeing Shuhada Street gave me a renewed sense of professional empathy. Too often we in the media forget the issues and places we cover are part of people's real lives.

Palestine rightly hits international TV screens and print presses when Israel brutally pounds the Gaza Strip or violently raids the West Bank, as when its forces killed celebrated Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.

But where are the cameras during the in-between moments – those deemed not newsworthy?

"Too often we in the media forget the issues and places we cover are part of people's real lives"

The occupation doesn't go away. Palestinians must still face the indignity of living under Israeli military control, of passing through checkpoints, of settlers trying to take their land. They aren't suddenly allowed to take a stroll up the full length of Shuhada Street.

We need the media to look at occupation and colonialism as chronic issues lived every day – not a bunch of disconnected flare-ups.

Otherwise, rather than a rotten system of apartheid that needs dismantling, the public sees a series of unfortunate-but-unrelated incidents – accidents, even – that may or may not require redress.

Resistance through art

But the story of Palestine is not one of oppression without response. Palestinians resist Israel from the West Bank to Gaza through their dogged determination to remain despite the gross violations they face.

Through their street artwork they also take a stand, memorialising people and homes lost and spraying slogans of freedom.

In Bethlehem, graffiti of all kinds adorns the Israeli separation barrier, often called the "apartheid wall".

This illegal barrier – which stretches for hundreds of kilometres – disconnects the West Bank not just from Israel but also Jerusalem, snatching vast swathes of Palestinian land in a blatant annexation attempt as it does so.


Criticisms have been made about the graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem – including about whether art belongs on such an oppressive structure to begin with. Besides, much of the graffiti there was created by internationals.

But Palestinians like artist Taqi Spateen have made the barrier their canvas too.

Not long before US President Joe Biden visited Bethlehem in July, Spateen painted a mural of Abu Akleh. In this striking piece, a "justice" vest stood in for the "press" jacket she'd been wearing when Israeli forces fatally shot her.

The message for the world's most-powerful man? "This mural says to Biden: you're not welcome here," its creator said at the time.

Washington has faced criticism over its handling of American citizen Abu Akleh's killing, including from her family, who had called for a US investigation for months. Then, it was revealed this week that the FBI had decided to probe her death.

A mural of Shireen Abu Akleh on the Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem
Taqi Spateen's call for justice for Shireen Abu Akleh [Hisham K. K. Abu Shaqra/Anadolu Agency/Getty]
A picture of a mural of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces, on the separation wall in Bethlehem. Text to her right reads: "Live news still alive."
'Live news still alive': Spateen's Abu Akleh mural in Bethlehem [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty]

'Nothing lasts forever'

As we walked through the city, however, it wasn't such grand works that struck me. Instead, what I remember most is a black ladder covered in barbed wire that scaled the side of the wall.

Towards the bottom, a sign stuck on the barrier read: "Viewpoint: From this point you can picture how north Bethlehem is imprisoned by walls."

For me, the ladder represents the Palestinian people's iron will to be free from domination. It's a small but potent reminder they'll stand defiant for as long as necessary.

Graffiti of a black ladder covered in barbed wire that scales the side of Israel's separation barrier in Bethlehem.
A ladder to freedom spray painted on the apartheid wall in Bethlehem [Nick McAlpin]

After all, as I was told by another work of art, itself starting to fade: "With love and kisses. Nothing lasts forever."

The world's job, then, is to help make sure it doesn't.

Nick McAlpin is a journalist who has worked at The New Arab since March 2021. He holds a master's degree in social anthropology and a BA in French and Arabic. He lived in Jordan for a year during his undergraduate studies. Nick started his journalism career as a freelancer in 2019.

Follow him on Twitter: @NickGMcAlpin

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@newarab.com

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.