Establishing new climbing routes in Nablus: Why Naturefriends from Nuremberg support climbing in Palestine

by Manfred Eiselt (Naturefriends Nuremberg-Mitte)

When we entered the country, we felt a little uneasy. After all, we had brought along 80 kilos of drilling hooks, drilling hook plates and chain stands, plus ropes, belts and helmets: Can we just pass through Israeli border control with it? We could! We also passed the border to Palestine without problems, and after a one hour drive we arrived in Nablus.

„Marhala!“ means „welcome“ in Arabic – and we were given a very warm welcome. Shaking hands, taking pictures, invitations for dinner. This trip was not supposed to be a sightseeing tour – we came to establish climbing routes. And by doing that we want to build bridges between Nablus and Nuremberg, bridges between the local teenagers and hopefully also bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. The latter is necessary, but very unlikely as we now know.

A climbing wall above the city

It’s no coincidence that we were visiting Nablus. The cities of Nuremberg and Nablus are linked by a long-standing partnership, Nuremberg supports various projects in the Palestinian university city. When a Naturefriend from Nuremberg visited Nablus a year ago to look for starting points for common grass root projects, she discovered a rock face above the city that seemed perfect for climbing.

Photo: Manfred Eiselt/NaturFreunde Nürnberg Mitte

But the climbing community in Nablus is small and there are hardly any climbing routes. Actually there are not many possibilities for leisure activities for the people living there. „Many children don’t have enough exercise and rarely get out of the city due to the security situation”, a youth worker told us. „They hardly get to know the native plants and animals any more. Travelling abroad is also difficult, almost impossible. Palestinians are simply not allowed to fly from or to Tel Aviv.“

We have been planning our climbing project for a long time. Some of our coaches attended special classes for drilling climbing routes. We established contacts to people in Nablus, we purchased material, and the Naturefriends Nuremberg-Mitte provided us with a lot of climbing equipment. Donations are the financial foundation of the project – donations which have been collected at the funeral of our member Hannes Schäffler. Hannes loved climbing and he loved Palestine, he also learned Arabic. We will name one route “Hannes Concept”.

Finally we started working. We met climbers from Ramallah where Americans founded the frist indoor rock climbing gym in Palestine: „Wadi Climbing“.
People from Nablus interested in the project joined us. We only had five days to complete the project.

Five days, hard work

Building climbing routes on rock is hard work. Drilling, dowelling and cleaning – removing grasses and cutting loose stones – are done hanging in the wall. This work is important for the safety of the routes.

Parents and children from the neighbourhood visited us and wanted to climb the easy routes. We provided the equipment and helped them climb and made sure they were safe.
The fact that we collected the garbage at the climbing site surprised them at the beginning, but finally they helped too. Many of the children speak only little English. Nevertheless they wanted to start conversations with us, they were extremely friendly and brought us lots of tea.

Photo: Manfred Eiselt/ NaturFreunde Nürnberg Mitte

When we ask about the Israeli base on the hilltop above our heads, the carefree atmosphere was gone. Nablus is almost surrounded by these bases. Living here is very unsafe. Inprisonment in jail of family members is very common. A 25 year old climber told us about his one-year stay in prison as if it happened yesterday. He had been arrested by the Israeli military seven years ago. He talked about interrogations, physical and mental violence. He still is afraid of being alone. Sports activities, especially climbing, help him to forget his time in prison. We listened and learned. We do come from another world …

We introduced the Naturefriends to the mayor of Nablus as a political and leisure organization which has encountered persecution in the past. We hope that the climbing project in Nablus will be successful and beneficial for the people in Nablus. A fundamental political change for the people of Palestine is not in the near future. 2000 new settlements are supposed to be built on Palestinian soil. The firing of missiles by Hamas aggravates the situation.

Photo: Manfred Eiselt/ NaturFreunde Nürnberg Mitte

Back to the rock. A female student from the college visited us. The college considers to make climbing a new university course – and the Naturefriends intend to offer trainings for coaches, one of our members intends to send plans for a climbing wall. We also consider to establish a Naturefriend group in Palestine.

Photo: Manfred Eiselt/ NaturFreunde Nürnberg Mitte

Climbing Palestine – A guide to rock climbing in the West Bank
Timothy Bruns (USA) helped Naturefriends to build climbing routes. He and Benjamin Korff (AUS) and Markus Maier (D) have helped to establish a climbing community in Palestine for years. They have written a guide for rock climbing in the West Bank. It will be published at the end of 2019 and will also include the Naturefriends´ climbing routes in Nablus.