05 August 2007

First Arrival

When I first arrived in Palestine I headed directly from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to my final resting destination in Ramallah. The scenery from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is very similar to that of driving in southern California around the LA area or even in Las Vegas. The houses are stucco with red terra cotta roofs. The highways are wide and smoothly paved. I thought for a moment that I was in America not Israel. When I requested to be dropped off at the Damascus Gate the driver stopped short on the highway, pointed over to the right and said to me to hurry and leave. He just took my money, threw my backpack on the ground and took off. You see, not many jewish drivers will venture near the Damascus Gate. It is part of the muslim quarter. It is not as nice and new of an area as most of Israel. Still it was where I needed and wanted to be.

From there the scenery to Ramallah was quite different. Once you pass through the Qalandia checkpoint things get a bit rough.

The roads are bumpy and sometimes not paved. The service was crowded with 7 passengers, all Palestinian except myself. It was obvious that I was an outsider however I was treated with much respect. We had to wind through smaller streets that pass through neighborhoods with Palestinian children playing in the streets as well as donkeys towing carts with many supplies for their owners. It was obvious that the people were living in poverty. Buildings had missing windows with graffitti on the walls and trash all over the streets. This did not remind me of America, well not as a whole anyway. This was the beginning of a true Palestinian experience.

Finally I arrived in Ramallah which is considered to be one of the more modern cities in Palestine. It is the acting capital and a lot of money is being pumped into new construction all throughout the area. Christians and muslim palestinians inhabit this city along with many internationals. It is quite a contrast from the ultra-conservative muslim city of Hebron where I was living during most my stay in Palestine. In Ramallah it is common to see women sans hijab as well as wearing short sleeved tops. This is not so in Hebron, of which I will write much more later.

The money being given to Ramallah for development is rumored to be invested there in order to create more of a divison amongst Palestinians. Those living in the north in cities like Jenin and Nablus as well as those in the south such as Hebron do not necessarily receive as much funding. Therefore, many Palestinians living near Ramallah tend to be content, as content as one can be under occupation because the entire country is still occupied despite new construction and development. However, those in the north and south still face more economical hardships as well as internal and external problems. Those same problems just seem to be masked in Ramallah for the moment. At least that is the feeling I had while there.

I really didn't spend a lot of time there, but I did get to check out the wadi and have some coffee at the Americanized Starbucks offshoot, Stars & Bucks.

Here you can sit and watch the people walk around shopping and the cars fight traffic around the circle in the menara. The hustle and bustle of Ramallah from the cafe for just a moment made me feel like I was at home, but just for a brief moment. Here it was difficult to really understand what life under occupation was going to be like. For that brief moment, it seemed as though there really weren't any of problems that I had read about in the news. At least they were not apparent on the suface. Everyone was smiling, shopping and enjoying their nargila as well as their cappucinos. Life was moving on. That is one thing I've noticed in Palestine. The people are strong and adapt to situations of hardship better than most Americans I know, including myself.

It was only a very short time later that I was exposed to the true hardships and realities of life under occupation.

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