Middle East Chronicles: Ramallah

“This is Palestine”. In 3 words Tore expressed it all. We were at the Sunday Palm procession up on the Mount of Olives from where you can get a great view of the Occupied Territories. TIP and nothing more. The view, the smell, the chaos, the history, the hatred, the blood, the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, the Samaritans and a lot more in this fertile byblical land.

Buses to Ramallah are quite regular but the trip’s duration can vary greatly, mainly depending on how long you have to wait at Qalandia checkpoint. It wasn’t our case at least. We just passed through even though it took us a good 2 hours to reach our travelling friends at the “Stars and Bucks” in the centre of Ramallah.

Ramallah currently serves as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority. It was historically a Christian town, but today Muslims form the majority of the population, with Christians still making up a significant minority.

Ramallah serves as the headquarters for most international NGOs and embassies and it is known for its religiously relaxed atmosphere—alcohol flows freely and movie theaters are well attended—and the cafes along its main streets. Ramallah is, without question, the cultural capital of the West Bank, with a highly educated and fashionable population. It is also the hub of Palestinian feminist activity; the city’s women frequently attend university rather than marry early, and several cafes run exclusively by women are used to fund local feminist organizations.Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid flowing into the city have boosted Ramallah’s economy greatly since the end of the second Intifada. In November 2009, Tony Blair told the New York Times that “there is more hope for Palestinians than many realize.”

The Ramallah construction boom is one of the most obvious signs of West Bank economic growth estimated at an annual rate of 8 percent. This has been attributed to relative stability and Western donor support to the Palestinian Authority. The city’s buoyant economy continues to draw Palestinians from other West Bank towns where jobs are fewer.

In 2010, “more than one hundred” Palestinian businesses were reported to have moved to Ramallah from East Jerusalem, because “Here they pay less taxes and have more customers.” This is also the reason that pushed our friend Amer, who we’ll meet later that night, to move here.

One thing to be seen (although Olga and I actually didn’t manage to do) is Arafat’s tomb. At least Tore managed to take a picture for us before our arrival. There isn’t actually much to see apart from that. It is an incredibly vibrant and chaotic place but we know that in our next destination we’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of history we’ll breathe. Next step: Nablus

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