It wasn’t until two years after my first trip to Palestine that I finally visited Jenin – and that was only due to work. I expected very little, but discovered a vibrant city, a friendly community, and a place steeped in incredible history.
One of the oldest cities in the world, 4000-year-old Jenin has so much to offer. Yet it is often shunned by tourists, pilgrims, and activists who prefer to go to the well-known, and easier-to-get-to destinations of Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, and Jericho.
However if you are living, working, visiting or even passing through the West Bank, a trip to Jenin should be on the cards. Here’s my top five reasons why.
1: The olive oil
Olive oil is famous in Palestine for being of incredibly good quality, but in Jenin it’s exceptional.
It was on my first visit to Jenin that I was offered my first taste of Jenin olive oil. A local official I was interviewing offered me some to dip bread in as we talked – I had to halt the interview to tell him that this was the best olive oil I had tasted! With a smile, he told me that everyone says that.
So maybe you’re thinking a trip to the north of the West Bank for a bottle of olive oil isn’t worth your time – but what about experiencing the whole process as well as the product? Well at Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil just outside of Jenin, near Burqin, you can visit their factory, do a tasting, and go out to their farms and meet the farmers. It’s a fantastic way to spend a few hours, while supporting an important Palestinian produce.
2: The third-oldest church in the world
Jenin may be bypassed by almost every tourist and pilgrim that comes to the Holy Land, but it is, in fact, home to one of Christianity’s most important sites.
St George’s Church, in Burqin, just outside of Jenin, is the third-oldest church and the fifth-oldest Christian holy site in the world.
Ok, so maybe third-oldest isn’t as exciting sounding as “oldest”, but consider how many churches there are in the world, along with the fact we’re in the holiest region of the world, and you can see just how special this place is.
It is here that Jesus is said to have cured ten lepers of their illness, a miracle that is told to this day in churches, schools, and in books around the globe. You can read it in the Gospel of Luke 17,11-19.
Still in use by Jenin’s small Christian community, this church is a special place and well worth a visit.
3: The Architecture
It goes without saying that in a land as old as Palestine with it’s richness of history, there are countless incredible buildings that are steeped in historical significance.
Jenin is no different in that respect.
The old city and market (al-Souq) are picture perfect, with products hanging above your head as you wind down Jenin’s ancient winding pathways.
Or why not visit the beautiful Fatima Khatoun Mosque – a 16th century renovation of a mosque from the 7thcentury.
4: The Freedom Theatre
It’s become something of an institution in Jenin, and no wonder.
Based in Jenin Refugee Camp, the Freedom Theatre has battled the odds to stay open, with it’s founder even being killed by masked gunmen in 2011.
The theatre remains one of the only places for Palestinians to develop the arts in the north West Bank, and works with refugees to put on productions from around the world as well as ones that focus on the occupation of Palestine.
If you check out the Freedom Theatre’s website before your visit, you can see if anything will be on during your trip.
5: To support a community that needs it
Jenin remains under occupation, and has suffered economically because of that. It’s a farming region, and produce is directly influenced by Israel’s severe movement restrictions.
Of course that’s true throughout the West Bank, but while Ramallah is Palestine’s business hub, Bethlehem the tourist hub and Jericho has the Dead Sea, there’s little that brings outsiders to Jenin.
That means money spent here – from grabbing a coffee, shisha, a souvenir or visiting a museum – can go a long way, and can really help the community.