This morning we got up early to go to Ramallah, the center of Palestinian government in the West Bank, with the Arab tour guide. I can’t put my finger on it, but I prefer him to the Israeli guide. I think it is because he is more reactive to what we would like to do and gives each religion more acknowledgement, besides Judaism, though he isn’t as blatantly racist (if that even is the right word). The first thing we did was go to the Qalandia checkpoint. Unfortunately, it is Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, so it wasn’t as busy as a typical day. The line wasn’t too long, especially in comparison to the thousands that can show up on a work day. The first thing I noticed was that it felt as if I was in a zoo exhibit. There were so many fences and bars that it seemed like the Muslims were animals being corralled and trapped inside a cage. The turnstiles were very small, and made it difficult for women with children, pregnant woman, tall or large men, or handicapped people to get through. There were more of these turnstiles as far as we could see. The soldier kept telling us to stop taking pictures and to move away from the fence, but one of the people from a human rights organization told us to keep going as there was nothing they could do about it. I wish we had gone on a busier day, so that the mistreatment was more apparent, but the general feeling of the place was still there. This was a feeling of entrapment.
After walking around the checkpoint for awhile, we walked over to the Separation Barrier (or Security Fence, according to whom you ask) to look at the graffiti. Immediately I remembered the piece on Helga’s slideshow that called the wall an “ugly gray piece of shit,” and this was all I could think about it when I saw it in person. Most of the graffiti is in English, and much of it is very profound, but at the same time, there is also swastikas on the wall. My favorite piece read, “The killing of Jews isn’t Kosher,” which I thought was interesting because it sums up how I feel about the situation. Of course the Jewish religion does not support the actions taken by the Israeli government. We also saw the Banksy piece of the girl floating over the wall with balloons. I was surprised nobody had painted over it, and was pleased to see the respect given for this piece. Our guide also explained that one of the towers was black because of the amount of times its been bombed. A few of us wrote on the wall in pen, including me. I wrote, “Security Fence,” in quotes, because I think I couldn’t stop thinking about the comment from the Jewish guide and how it contradicted the site in front of me.
When we drove into Ramallah, the overall appearance of the city changed to something completely different than that of Tel Aviv or the newer parts of Jerusalem. Garbage littered the ground as the Arabs don’t have garbage pickup, and water tanks dotted the tops of roofs as the Arabs aren’t given water either. The buildings were much older and more run down. The roads were busy and full of traffic as there weren’t any streetlights. In a way, it reminded me of my time in Africa because it looked very very similar. I even felt a sense of deja vu. It was strange to see a “third world” city only 20 minutes away from a “first world” city, and it kind of made me sad that such a big difference could be so close. The streets were filled mostly with men and only a very small handful of women. We asked Helga why, and she said it was because they were probably home cooking and preparing a big meal for the day of prayer. This also shows the male dominance in this culture and religion. We walked over to PACE, the company our guide works for. He made a presentation about how the occupation has led to the destruction of major archaeological sites. It was very interesting, and something I hadn’t thought about prior to the presentation. He argued that Israelis were excavating sites in the West Bank, and that they allowed the sale of antiquities which encouraged looting. Afterwards, we went downstairs to shop in the connected store. They buy items from local artisans and sell them without commission as a way of supporting the local economy. Afterwards we grabbed lunch at a local Palestinian restaurant. We had salads, dip, and pita (what a surprise) and rotisserie chicken and spiced rice. It was all delicious. After lunch we visited a few under appreciated Christian sites, a hotel where Jesus frequently stayed on his journeys and the first church (now in ruins), the Church of the Holy Family, which Muslims won’t build on top of in ancient respect for the Christian faith. I was very glad that the guide was showing us these sites, because even though he is Muslim, I thought it was very nice for him to acknowledge the importance of the other religions. He also explained how the tourism industry works in the country. He said that Israel makes billions of dollars in profit off of tourism, and receives about 95% of tourists, but that many of these sites are manufactured or the importance of which is exaggerated. Palestine only receives 5% of the tourism and much less profit, even though most of the truly important sites are actually in Palestine, not Israel. He said that the Israeli government does this intentionally to control the economy and opinions of visiting tourists. In fact, we were the only tourist group I saw all day, while Jerusalem is practically swarming with tourists.
Next, we got back on the bus and drove over to a refugee camp within the city. One of the organizers, who works for the UNRWA and was on strike protesting their increased cutback of various resources, talked to us before we walked around. He talked about the root of the conflict and potential solutions. Though he had to be translated, he said many moving things and was a very powerful speaker. One of the things that struck me was when he said that the Arabs were willing to make peace as it would only serve in their best interests. I think this is true, and it was nice to hear it said out loud. He said that the Arabs only wanted to live in dignity and nothing else, and when he put it this way, it was hard to argue against him. He also gave many examples of when settlers killed the refugees, many of whom were children playing in the playground at school. This was very hard to hear, and made me very sad. After speaking with him, we walked around the refugee camp, which is actually where our tour guide was from. We ran into many children walking around, and one boy showed us a bruise he got from being hit with a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier. What’s worse is that this was one of five times that he’s been shot. The camp itself is not actually a camp with tents, but is a run-down area of various old buildings squeezed into a very tiny area and overpopulated with 5 times as many as the intended amount of refugees. The roads are mostly dirt, and many of the buildings were falling apart in one way or another. It was sad walking through, but the people were so warm, nice, and welcoming. One woman even invited us into her home. I think they felt glad that someone was recognizing them and paying attention to their unfortunate situation. On our way out, we drove past a direct conflict between some young Arab boys from the refugee camp and some Israeli soldiers. The boys were throwing rocks at the soldiers and lighting fires along the top of the road. While we were leaving the boys asked if we wanted to join them in throwing rocks at the soldiers. At first we thought they were joking, but then they said it was a daily activity because they have nothing better to do. So far, this was the most direct face-to-face conflict that we saw between the Israelis and Palestinians and it really brought the overall conflict to life for me.
After this we were given some free time so we went to Stars and Bucks Cafe, a rip off of Starbucks that offers very similar drinks. Even the logo was very similar. Of course, American culture always works its way into other cultures, such as this case. Afterwards we got dinner at a nice restaurant. It offered foods from all different cultures and for the first time, we weren’t given a table of salads, dips, and pita. From the types of food and the service, I could tell that this restaurant was for the upper classes. After dinner, we went to a local bar. I tried arak, a Palestinian liquor that tastes like licorice. Again, it was nice to end such an intense day with a little socializing. Well I need to take a shower and go to bed. Tomorrow we’ll be in Jerusalem again and we’ll have lots of free time, so I am excited.
Helga’s Question- Based on our visit, describe in what “hard,” physical and territorial ways Ramallah was “bordered” making sure to think through how it is “bordered” from the outside (as in, around the city), but also from the inside (as in, what kinds of spaces are “exceptional” inside the city and how are they physically and territorially separated).
It comes as no surprise that Ramallah is bordered from the outside. It is surrounded by the Separation Wall, and is only accessible through the far inside of the West Bank or through Qalandia checkpoint. At this point, the Separation Barrier runs through the West Bank, not between the West Bank and Israeli territory. In this sense, it is unique because it is separating Palestinians from Palestinians.
Ramallah is also bordered in the inside, but not as directly and apparently. The refugee camp we visited was an exceptional space, and clearly the most bordered of all the areas. It was surrounded by walls and to enter, one passes through a gate. This area was more run down than the rest of the city, which was already underdeveloped in comparison to the Israeli cities. This made it distinct from the rest of Ramallah. The richer area of town was also bordered from the rest of the city, though not through walls. In this case, the distinction was made with buildings. The majority of the city was composed of run down, shorter buildings. The more expensive area of town, where the Palestinian diplomats live, is composed of much taller and newer skyscrapers. The buildings and roads were clean, and not covered with garbage and graffiti like the rest of the city. I think it made this area exceptional. The other bordered area within the city was between the commercial center of town and the surrounding residential areas. In the town center, there were lots of shops and the roads were very busy with people and traffic. It was quite busy, despite the fact that it was the Muslim day of prayer. The other areas of town were much quieter. There were much fewer people on the street and there were very few businesses in this area of town. The few businesses were restaurants or closed. Though these areas do not have distinct walls, I think they are exceptional from the rest of the city and have therefore formed a border of their own.