Burqa, Stone Oasis Amid Olive Groves

By Bassam Almohor – 7.7.2014

We enter Burqa from the south, walking from the ancient town, Sebastia, the 10,000 years old town, home of many successive cultures. We leave the ruins, and the modern day town with its past and present, and enter Burqa, a village so close together. The walk uphill speeded our breath, left us speechless, a few young kids welcome us with their curious looks, we head to the center of the village where Saif was waiting to welcome us.

Burqa main square from the roof of Abu Saif house

Modern houses, built with white stones and aluminum framed glass windows, side by side with old brick houses alongside old stone houses with capers grown on their walls. Burqa takes you in, the sun is about to set, the smell of spring filling the air, it was early March, green is everywhere, the village is totally living among olive groves, like a stone oasis.

We reach our host whom we never met before, our day ended there and we coordinated a stay in that village. The welcome was warm, it was as if we were family returning from exile. I only experienced that warm embrace by my family after six years living abroad. I felt at home.

Abu Saif

Abu Saif, a compact mustached man with dark hair and skin, with an always-lit cigarette in hand, calmly lead the way to his spacious sitting room with simple furniture, we talk about many things, life in the village, their painting jobs in Ramallah and elsewhere, the journey we are taking through Palestine on foot.

My companion and I arrived to Burqa in our 12th day on foot across Palestine. I walk along with Paul Salopek, an American journalist, slightly crazy, who is retracing human migration of our forefathers, in an epic journey of some 33,000km on foot that will last for seven years. His journey started 18 months ago in Ethiopia and will end in Tierra del Fuego in Chile by 2020.

Breakfast with Saif and Abu Saif

I do the talk, Paul on deadline, he had to finish a dispatch for his National Geographic editors, and he needs time for himself. He doesn’t speak Arabic, so he is excused, I tell the story of Out of Eden Walk, I answer all the questions, I feel tired. But the warmth our hosts give us let us forget our day’s 25km walk.
Burqa is like all Palestinian villages, with scattered houses all over the town, old and new, natural growth of a village, simple yet beautiful, with no today’s complications of systems. Why do we need strict planning? The natural growth is chaotic, that is why it’s called natural, like wild grass growing everywhere. Abu Saif lives in the center of the village, just in the village square. His two-story house is funny, with it natural additions, it started with an old stone two-rooms house and later expanded with bricks and more construction was done on the upper floor. His house is like an archeological site; every age adds a room or two.

“Everybody is welcome in our house, we live in the center of the village, some nights we have 50-60 women lining up on our roof, watching the only-men wedding party in the main square down,” Abu Saif proudly tells us, “women from the village and outside it, Bizzaria, Bet Emrin, Ejnisinia, Asira, Sebastia, Naqura, Ramin.” The town, recalls Abu Saif, was a market center for all the surrounding villages, especially during the olive harvest. The village had 5 stone olive presses up until the eighties, when modern presses replaced old ones.

The House

But Abu Saif does not have land in the village. His 15 dunums of land lie inside the long evacuated Homesh settlement above the village. Ironically, the settlement was evacuated in 2005 but the land was never returned to its owners. An individual settler or settlers guard the hill threatening anyone from trespassing.

We wake up early on the smell of tea with meramiya, Abu Saif prepared the breakfast: marmalade, labaneh, eggs, pickled olives, olive oil, zaatar with sesame, tea, bread. We walk uphill between Abu Yazid mountain and the not-so-much-evacuated Homesh. On top of the hill, a dark being on two walks in parallel. We depart Homesh “border” and descend to Fandaqomieh.

Read it in Hebrew here 

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