Southwest of Nablus on a rise above fields of olive trees lies Deir Istiya, appearing to float on an ocean of green. The trees are ancient and, if observed, are each different. They have sustained and been a central part of all the people who have lived here. Though threatened, they also remain today one of the largest plantings of their kind. No visit to this beautiful countryside of thousands of trees can be complete without a walk on the winding trails through the Wadi Qana (Qana Valley) or to the Maqam Abi Zard (a Sufi shrine), or a hike from the village of Marda to the orchards of Yasouf.
Deir Istiya was built mainly in the Mamluk era (mid-13th – 15th centuries) and is considered a good example of a Mamluk village. The well-preserved houses of original design in the village’s historic center are of a size normally found in Mamluk cities, not villages, and speak to the wealth of its residents. During the later Ottoman period it was a “throne village” from which the Abu Hiljeh clan governed surrounding villages. A visit to the Palace of Deir Istiya will enlighten visitors on the village’s Ottoman architecture and history.
The Deir Istiya region includes the villages of Marda, Kifl Haris, Yasouf, and Jama’een. Ancient records attest to abundant harvests of grain and summer crops as well as honey and goats. The Occupation has made agricultural production, which could be the region’s great asset, more difficult, but oil presses (which tourists will see in operation) and honey-soap workshops (which tourists can visit) are still producing.
Sights and treks include:
Guests will be hosted in home-stays, guest houses or a Bedouin tent. Restaurants and women’s associations will serve three daily meals and snacks and will feature traditional dishes such as Mousakhan, Maqlooba and Fattet Hommus.
Guests may be offered activities such as olive-tasting, graffiti-writing, or participatory evening folkloric performances and dances such as the Palestinian wedding dance the Zajal, Dabka or Dalona. Other workshops and activities can be arranged.
Youth of the Deir Istiya CLC have been trained in guiding tours. They have good language skills and they know their area.
A CLC requirement is that it provides multiple opportunities for visitors to interact with the people of the villages. The activities, workshops, home-stays, use of local guides – all are designed to give tourists time and space to talk with their hosts and the residents of the villages. In fact, the youth have been encouraged to give visitors a “cultural-political touristic experience” and in some places, a special “graffiti-creating experience” (as only the youth the world over know how to do). In Deir Istiya there are art galleries operated by women and a community-based Society for Olive Oil Extraction, both places where visitors may talk with village residents about their lives in Palestine.
An important component in any CLC is the involvement of the people who live there – women, men, youth, the elderly. Men and women of the villages serve together in equal numbers on the CLC Committee. The older residents are the story-tellers who pass on the old stories and myths they inherited from their ancestors. Deir Istiya’s CLC encompasses several women’s organizations and youth groups who play various parts in providing services.