Nablus (Arabic نابلس, Hebrew שכם, Shechem) is a large city (population, approximately 125,000) within the Palestinian Territories, located in the Central Highlands of the West Bank, some 63 km north of Jerusalem. Located in a strategic position between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, it is the capital of the Nablus Governorate and a Palestinian commercial and cultural center.
Nablus is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly first established 9000 years ago. It was originally called "Shechem" by its Canaanite inhabitants. The Romans built a new city (Flavia Neapolis, in honor of Flavius Vespasian) a short distance from Shechem. The name Nablus comes from Neapolis. The old city of Nablus is located on the site of Neapolis, but in modern times the city has grown to include the site of Shechem as well.
Nablus is distinguished by its location in a narrow valley between the two mountains Gerizim and Ebal. This makes for an impressive view when you are within the city itself.
Schools were first established in the middle of the 19th century during the short reign of Ibrahim Pasha, but maintained their existence in the following years when the Ottomans regained control of the region. On 11 July 1927 the town suffered a major earthquake. Much of the consequent damage to buildings was never repaired, and the ruinous condition of many of them may well have encouraged the inhabitants to move outside the old city to build their new houses, although some new building to the north and west of the old city had already been undertaken before 1927. The arrival of the motor car has increased emigration to the slopes of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, where new roads allow vehicles the easy access denied them in the hilly and partly-stepped streets of the old city.
During the British Mandate (1918-1948), Nablus became the core of Palestinian Nationalism, and it was the center of resistance against the British. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Nablus was occupied by Jordan, and 2 refugee camps were built near the city. In 1967, during the six days war, Nablus was occupied by the Israeli army, the infrastructure of the city was damaged and 3 refugee camps were added to accommodate the people who fled to the city. Jurisdiction over the city was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority on December 12, 1995, as a result of the Oslo Accords Interim Agreement on the West Bank.
During the Second Intifada (2000-2006) Nablus was a center of violence between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militant groups. There are many damaged buildings and debris-filled fields around Nablus, the result of past Israeli attacks, but today most of the damage was repaired. Israeli restrictions on the city are generally looser than they used to be, and a visit to Nablus in the daytime is a safe and worthwhile trip.
The majority of Nablus' inhabitants today are Muslim, but there are small Christian and Samaritan communities as well. Much of the local Palestinian Muslim population of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans who converted to Islam. There are seventeen Islamic monuments and eleven mosques in the Old City. Nine of the mosques were established before the 15th century. In addition to Muslim houses of worship, Nablus contains an Orthodox church dedicated Saint Justin Martyr, built in 1898 and the ancient Samaritan synagogue, which is still in use.
Ramallah and Jerusalem: From Jerusalem, take the #18 bus to Ramallah. The bus departs from the bus station off Nablus Road north of Damascus Gate and the Old City. A #18 bus leaves every 10 minutes throughout the day, and it costs 7 NIS. This bus will drop passengers off at the main street in Ramallah, but stay on until the main bus station. From the Ramallah Bus Station, a bus runs to Nablus (10 NIS as of July 2010) but the last bus leaves early, often around 4pm. If the last bus has already left a servees taxi will take you to Nablus from Ramallah for 17 NIS (as of November 2011).
As of July 2010 there are no check points for buses/servees taxis entering Nablus from other West Bank cities, although you will need your passport and visa stamp to enter back into Israeli territory upon your return. As of June 2009, the IDF is now allowing many cars and buses to pass through the checkpoints surrounding Nablus without dropping their passengers off at the walking checkpoint. This is subject to change without much warning.
Leaving Nablus through the Huwwara checkpoint on foot is more complicated and on average takes half an hour (except during work "rush hours," during which the process can take several hours). Women undergo less security in the rightmost queue and as a foreigner one might try this row as well. The time of this process depends on the attitude and the mood of the Israeli soldier. If you carry bulky luggage, this will be x-ray scanned by a portable scanner across the road. The military will keep your passport whilst you have your bags screened. Walk through and look for a taxi or servees taxi to your destination.
Servees minibus taxis leaving Nablus tend to congregate around the center of town, ask the drivers which cities they're going to until you find yours. There's also a servees taxi station near the center of town, ask where the "muHattat al-busaat" is. There is a bus that goes to Ramallah (10 NIS) from the station, but the last bus leaves at 4pm. A servees taxi to Ramallah costs 15 NIS, and from Ramallah the bus to Jerusalem is 7 NIS and leaves from the main bus station in Ramallah. As of July 2010, you won't encounter any checkpoint or need to show your passport to go to Jenin or Ramallah, although you will need your passport and visa stamp to enter Israeli territory.
Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) Is the main international airport serving Israel and the West Bank. From Ben Gurion it is cheapest to take a "sherut" (shared taxi) to the bus station on Nablus Road by Damascus Gate, and then follow the directions above to Nablus. A sherut from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem costs 50 NIS and runs constantly 24 hours a day.
Most of metropolitan Nablus is small enough to be navigated on foot. The public transportation in Nablus is informal, and normally is done by sharing servees taxis. The black-and-white taxis (sometimes with a Hebrew "Monit" sign on top) will take you anywhere in Nablus, and it's easy to find people to share the taxi with for many locations.
*Nablus olive soap, "Nablusi Soap" has been very famous for centuries. It is handmade in factories located in the Old City. The factories will be more than happy to offer a very interesting tour of their facilities. The soap, 100% organic and freshly made is an extremely inexpensive (not more than 2-5 NIS per bar) souvenir for friends and family
Kunafa (sugary pastry on top of melted goat cheese) is a popular Palestinian treat. Nablus residents boast that Kunafa Nablusy is the best in Palestine, and no trip to Nablus is complete without it.
You can get other sweets from Nablus as well, ha-lawa (baklava) and zalabya (sweet fried pastry) are very delicious.
Alcohol is difficult to find in Nablus. Try one of the many fine sheesha (water pipe) cafes downtown instead. You can buy alcohol in the samaritan village at Gerizim.
If you don't know their addresses, you can ask anybody in the street or get in a taxi and tell the driver to take you to any one of these hotels.