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Shatha Group: Walking in Nature

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 30.05.2008:

By Saleh Abdel Jawad

A former Israeli prime minister used to say that he envied the Palestinians because they have patience despite the hardships of their daily life and because Palestinian labourers, when it’s time to eat, sit on the ground, take out their food, and share it.

If you happen to become a member in Shatha Group, which is a non-profit Palestinian association that promotes walking in the beautiful mountains and valleys of Palestine, you will have a chance to have a similar group lunch that consists of labaneh, jam, olives, bread, and tea boiled on a fire of burnt olive wood. Such delicious smoked tea cannot be bought or found in Ramallah hotels of cafés. It is a generous reward offered to hikers after long hours of walking.

Shatha Group represents a growing trend in Palestine towards walking in nature as a sports pastime. Such a trend is part of the general public awareness regarding recreation and athletic exercise. Walking in nature is becoming an increasingly popular sport because it meets one’s need for independence, self-reliance, originality, and protection of the environment. Such a sport is not costly and can be exercised by the rich and poor, who both harbour in their hearts and minds a strong desire for knowledge and exploration. It is cultural capital – an investment in natural and cultural heritage, and its banner is hoisted by “neo-mountaineers and hill climbers” who endeavour to reduce their relations with urban life and its pollution.

Meeting with nature seems to be a unique experience and, as Wordsworth says in “The Tables Turned”:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–

We murder to dissect.

In the face of the routine and monotonous style of contemporary life, a stroll in the mountains and valleys of Palestine seems like a journey to another world, to a world of verdure and beauty, a rich world that we see and read about in books of poetry.

Unfortunately, disorganised architectural expansion and the untiring machine of Israeli settlement activities are doing great harm to the environment. The mountaineers and hill climbers of Shatha Group seek to instil in individuals the love of nature and unite them with the natural environment. Group members shoulder their responsibility towards nature and its preservation, and reject the reality of oppression by resorting to nature for relief and freedom.

Shatha Group is open to people of all ages, religions, and races, including Jews. Through the efforts of well-known photographers such as Issa Freij, Emil Ashrawi, Bassam Mohr, and Gerard Hurton, and writers such as Raja Shehadeh, Shatha Group has managed to document and invoke the natural landscape in Palestine, which is on the verge of extinction. It is a nature that until a few decades ago held the Biblical scenes witnessed by Jesus, Abraham, Mohammad, Herod, and Alexander the Great.

Saleh Abdel Jawad is a professor of political science at Birzeit University and co-founder of Shatha Group for walks in nature. He can be reached at

This Week in Palestine

June 2008

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