LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's springtime and hiking season. For Israelis, hiking has long been a popular pastime. It's an expression of national identity, exploring the land. Hiking is also gaining popularity among Palestinians for similar reasons. NPR's Daniel Estrin recently spent the day with a Palestinian hiking group in the West Bank.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I'm with a group of about 20 Palestinians ranging in age from their late-20s to 60s. They're wearing backpacks. Some have trekking poles and large cameras. It's about 7 a.m. on a Friday, which is a day off here, and they just stepped off the highway into the desert.
JUWANA RAFIDI: The main challenge is to get up very early in the morning on Fridays because Friday is my holiday. But when I do it, I feel I have energy for the rest of the week.
ESTRIN: Juwana Rafidi is a longtime member of this weekly hiking group called Shat'ha, Arabic for picnic. Four Palestinians started the group in 2006 to get some fresh air after the end of the violence of the Second Intifada. Rafidi says it feels great to get out of her crowded city.
RAFIDI: (Speaking Arabic).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: Rafidi directs us down a steep hill to a valley, where 28-year-old lawyer Ammar Jawdat warns about snakes. He says he loves escaping to nature where there are no Israeli military checkpoints.
AMMAR JAWDAT: To walk for three or four hours without any checkpoint, without seeing soldiers, something like this, this make you feel, somehow, you can feel some free.
ESTRIN: The group spots a badger dashing across the rocks. Somebody coos at it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Cooing).
ESTRIN: Organized hiking has been big with Israelis for a long time - for fun and to strengthen their ties to the land. Now Palestinians are increasingly doing the same. Even out in nature, it's hard to escape the tug of war on this land. One Palestinian hiking group makes a point of carrying a Palestinian flag when hiking in the West Bank, which is still under the control of the Israeli military. And Israeli settlements often come into view. One of the Palestinian hikers spots Israelis trekking in the distance.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Cousins.
ESTRIN: Cousins, a nickname Palestinians sometimes use to refer to as Israelis and vice versa. Thafer Jarrar says he frequently sees Israelis on West Bank trails.
THAFER JARRAR: We see them sometimes but we don't interact with them. We don't talk to them. They don't talk to us.
ESTRIN: We reach a spring, where I see two young Israeli hikers. I start to approach them. Be careful, he's armed, a Palestinian tells me.
Like, a group that goes on hikes?
The armed man is a young Israeli who says he's originally from Florida. He's a soldier, and soldiers are required to carry their weapons even when off duty.
But do you feel safer armed when you're hiking in this area?
AVISHAI: Yeah, yeah. But, like, it's not like I expect anything to happen. It's more of just, like, a safety. But yeah, definitely I feel safer.
ESTRIN: He gives his name as Avishai before he sets off with his friend who's from an Israeli settlement nearby.
ESTRIN: The Palestinian group spreads a tablecloth on the ground for a picnic of grape molasses mixed with tahini, tomatoes with garlic and spicy cheese. The group's rule is no Israeli products allowed. After the picnic, we hit the trail again and meet another Israeli who asks, where are you from? Jawdat, the lawyer, answers, Palestine.
Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.