Nablus is the second city of the West Bank in population and, like so many cities in the Middle East, it goes way back. The name is an Arabic version of its original name, Neapolis (New City) — it was founded by Roman Emperor Vespasian in A.D. 72. It’s a socially conservative city and feels that way. They say if you go to Egypt you must see the pyramids, and if you go to Nablus you must eat kunafeh — a shredded wheat, cheese, and syrup-soaked delight. I’m not one to put desserts in the category of ancient wonders, but kunafeh was the tastiest treat I’ve encountered so far in the Middle East. I made a point to eat it everywhere I could.
Nablus was considered a capital of terrorism during the Second Intifada. Its residents hit Israel hard, and Israel hit back hard. Its old town streets still show bomb damage. Today, Nablus feels unrepentant, and the town center is decorated with posters of what locals call martyrs. Looking into the eyes of these young men (many of them just teenagers) and seeing how they are portrayed heroically in such posters — and then imagining the anger and hopelessness of the poor street kids today — made me feel sad…and not very optimistic. But there’s always ice cream.