Location: West Bank, Palestine
Governance: Area A, Palestinian Authority
Ramallah was very different to what I had imagined Palestine, in particular the West Bank, would be like. At times, I would be walking around the streets and I would forget I was in Palestine, thinking instead that I was in any other Arab country. The fancy restaurants (and bars), tall buildings, 5-star hotels, flashy cars; it didn’t feel like the Occupied Palestine I had seen on TV or read about in the history books.
This was probably because of my naivety rather than anything else. Reading up on Ramallah’s history now explains to me part of the reason as to why this city seemed so different. At the moment, Ramallah is considered the ‘de facto administrative capital’ of Palestine. This is because it houses the main government building of the Palestinian Authority (PA) around the area of the burial place of the late Yasser Arafat in the Mukataa. Although the PA officially ‘governs’ Ramallah; Israel and by extension the IDF has control (as with the whole of Palestine) over certain things such as the movement of Palestinians around the West Bank, into Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as ‘security’ control which allows them free reign to perform arrests (or worse) in the area.
I’ve often heard of Ramallah being called a ‘bubble’ by Palestinians. Most use this term to describe the economic growth that it has experienced over the past decade, which does not reflect the economic situation of the rest of the West Bank and Gaza where poverty is widespread. The international aid poured into this city, as well as the return of wealthy expats, are what most believe to be, the reasons behind this economic spurt. However, sitting in the famous Rukab’s eating ice cream and hearing conversations in English, German, Spanish amongst other languages, made me feel like Ramallah was a bubble in all sense of the word. It felt comfortable, eerily comfortable, like nothing wrong was happening in the world. It’s this sense of safety and security that I found most unsettling, and this was augmented after I had visited other cities in the West Bank and seen the drastically different situations there.
I heard from a Palestinian woman (living in the UK but coming to visit family) what her views were on Ramallah. She had warned us not to let the Ramallah delusion form our opinions on the realities of life in Occupied Palestine. I read an article recently that summed up: “Ramallah is a useful mirage for the Israeli authorities but behind the façade of economic peace and stability the Israeli government continues to colonise the land it is occupying illegally. The international community has been blinded by the limited economic success of Ramallah, while the rest of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip remains constricted in the most brutal way imaginable.” (MEMO), although written 2 years ago, this view still resonates with many today.
However, it would be wrong to assume that everyone living in Ramallah was happy to be living in this bubble and conforming to the unjust society around them. I would suspect that the majority of the inhabitants are not happy with the situation to say the least. They still live under occupation, and this is clear as soon as the buildings start coming in to view as the rickety servees drives in from Jerusalem. The black or white plastic cylinders on top of all the homes, buildings and apartment blocks are a stark reminder of the reality. These cylinders contain the water ‘allowance’ given to Palestinians by the ‘state of Israel’. Palestinians do not have the luxury of an unlimited supply of running water; water in the West Bank is a commodity controlled by the occupier. The average Palestinian family would be lucky to have enough water to last through the month, because once the tank fill is emptied, you would be required to wait until the next month, or sometimes wait until the Israeli’s decide to refill it. Of course, no such issues arise for Israeli citizens who enjoy a 24-hour unlimited supply of water illegaly siphoned from Palestinian land.
I was speaking to a friend of mine whilst I was in Ramallah, describing the views and telling her of my surprise at what I had seen life to be like, and she replied, “Do you blame them for living?”. That’s what it comes down to under occupation, earning enough to provide for your family. A lot of these families in Ramallah work hard to earn a living and go through daily struggles I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Who was I, an outsider, to come and judge their lifestyles and means based on the few main roads I had traversed in the centre of the city. It is important for us to try to understand the scope of the occupation. The issue of Palestine goes far
beyond an attempt to land-grab by illegal occupying forces. The occupier wants more than to take land, he wants to spread fear, unrest, enforce an ideology, and wipe out a people. It is this living in fear that we do not -nor will ever – comprehend as outsiders. The strong ones who have felt loss and pain will rise up and use all means necessary to resist. But not all are strong and react in the same way. Some are afraid, and have also experienced so much loss and pain that I could not blame them for getting on with their lives and trying, above all else, to keep their loved ones alive.
I overheard a conversation once while on a servees between the driver and a fellow Palestinian passenger. The driver had been in his profession for more than 30 years, his working life spent navigating roads and transporting people. “The IDF are ruthless” he was saying, I listened in on the ensuing conversation in Arabic, peeling my eyes off the beautiful mountainous landscape outside the window. “My friend has just had his taxi taken away, and not just that, he was fined a ridiculous amount of shekels, and he’s even been taken to court”. “Ya Allah, leesh? Allah yihlikhum”, the passenger asked why. The driver replied that his friend had been driving on a main road shared by Palestinians and Israeli settlers leading to Ramallah, when a settler began manoeuvring dangerously alongside his taxi and attempting to overtake him. The friend was not breaking any rules and was going below the speed limit, but just as this settler car overtook him, it drives up in front and brakes sharply. Thankfully, the friend was not speeding but a collision could not have been avoided, the friends taxi had rammed into the settlers car. The settler comes out of his car shouting and yelling profanities, takes the friends number plate and calls for IDF soldiers. The settler demanded compensation and took the matter to court. “Why didn’t your friend tell the soldiers what really happened, it would have been clear from the position of the impact that he was not at fault” the passenger asked. The driver scoffed, “You think they would have believed him. That’s what the Zionists do, they intimidate us and think they control us, what could he have done?”. “Allah yihlikhum w yintaqim minhum ya Rab”. The journey continued silently, it seemed like a sense of deflation and powerlessness had just filled the servees. “Luqmat 3eesh”. Sustenance.