When you think of Ramallah, you probably think about the conflict. Why wouldn’t you? It’s the West Bank, the Palestinian Autonomy – an actual part of the Israel – Palestine story. If, on the other hand, you don’t have the Israeli – Palestinian relations on your mind, you might wanna think about Palestinian culture. It’s true that if you want to know about Palestine – really feel the atmosphere of the Palestinian street – East Jerusalem is not enough. You have to come and visit Ramallah.
It is here where the Palestinian leader Yaser Arafat and the poet Mahmoud Darwish – were buried. Those two crucial for Palestinian identity people connected with the city throughout their lives.
Politically speaking – Ramallah – this once Christian – now Arab city – is de facto capital of the Palestinian Autonomy. Yaser Arafat chose the Mukataa – a complex in Ramallah – and decided to set up his headquarters there. The place still serves as an official West Bank office for the Palestinian President and other PA offices.
THE YASER ARAFAT MAUSOLEUM
Next to Mukataa – or a part of it as you wish – is a Mausoleum – the resting place of Yasser Arafat.
The Mausoleum includes his tomb, a museum and a mosque. The whole complex is built with beautiful beige Jerusalem stone. It’s light and spacious, with lots of trees and water. What’s really interesting – you will find many symbols hidden in the layout or general idea of the place.
There are exactly 75 meters leading from the entrance to the tomb itself. This is to represent the age of Arafat in the moment of his death.
The cube where his body rests is 11×11 meters – this is to represent the date of his death – which was 11th of November (2004)
The 3 Palestinian flags represent the 3 burials he’s had – in Paris where he died, in Palestine and in Egypt (the military funeral).
The water around it is to make you think about the passing of time which brings attention to the fact, that some Palestinians want Arafat to be laid to rest in Jerusalem. The city that they want to become the capital of free Palestine. In fact – the entire complex faces Jerusalem. There’s also a blue laser light coming from the minaret of the mosque that points in this direction as well.
If that’s not enough – there are the pillars around the mosque. Each pillar stands for the village on the way between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Never counted them, but looks likes like quite a number.
Some of the trees and shrubs planted in the complex were put there in specific groups in order to symbolize the dates. Various dates from Yaser Arafat’s life.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Ramallah is officially recognized by many countries as the capital of the Palestinian Autonomy. That’s the reason you will find here many diplomatic missions and international organizations. Ramallah – the “God’s Hill” – is situated around 16 km north of Jerusalem/Israel. The plan for Ramallah was to be a small town – you can tell by looking at the architecture. You will notice old villas – summer houses – built on big plots of land. They were later replaced with the residential blocks of flats and government buildings – as the city started to change – soon after the creation of Israel in 1948. It was then when the refugees started to come to Ramallah from many villages in the area.
Today there’s around 60 000 people living in Ramallah – while in the nearby Jerusalem 860 000 to put it in perspective.
The history of the city is much like the history of many others in this region. Multilayer, tearful and complicated. Looking at just the modern times it’s sort of like the kid whose parents had split and sent him away. And then punished for being unhappy. It was the British mandate first, then – after the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 – The Kingdom Jordan took control, and from 1967 on an off the State of Israel.
THE FIRST INTIFADA
In 1987 the First Intifada started; protests, demonstrations, tires burnt, rocks thrown, arrests, punishments – people dying on both sides. Truly, I don’t know anyone who would fully understand the complexity of the underlying conflict between those two nations. It’s been severe for decades and doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.
In 1995 – under the Oslo accords – IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) left Ramallah. The newly established authorities of the Palestinian Authority could then take the responsibility of the city. Not for long though. Soon enough the prosperity that was slowly emerging started its decline. Palestinians would now need special permits – as you can guess – not that easily obtainable – to enter the neighbouring Jerusalem. More and more settlements emerged in the areas surrounding Ramallah. That was possible in part because of the confiscation of the Palestinian land. There are new roads in the area, but some of them are for Israeli citizens only. Crucial documents – such as passports – earlier issued only by Palestinian Autonomy – now needed Israel’s approval. Not quite autonomous if you think about it.
SECOND INTIFADA AND THE WALL
Failure of the next step of the peace process in 2000 – in the United States’ Camp David – sparked the second violent Intifada – called the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Both sides escalated – Palestinians murdered two Israeli citizens, which resulted in the Israel’s severe retaliation strike. Suicide bombers and other terrorist activity on the Palestinian side was the reason for intensifying Israel’s military presence in Ramallah. Curfew, electricity cuts, closing of the schools. The list goes on. Many left the city, as life there became unbearable.
And then there was the erection of the Wall; the wall that made Ramallah even more isolated. It’s called ‘the West Bank barrier’, ‘the security fence’ but also the ‘Apartheid wall’, or the ‘separation fence’. This structure between Israel and Palestinian Autonomy is yet another source fueling the conflict. Some call it a necessary precaution against terrorism, others – a segregation wall – isolating civilians. I will post a separate article about the wall soon.
WALKING AROUND THE CITY
When you stroll around the city, it might be surprising how crowded it seems. Nothing like a 60000 city – seems so much bigger.
One of the focal points in the city is the Al Manara Square. The most characteristic thing about this place is the 4 lions, that represent the 4 ‘pillar’ – Christian families of Ramallah.
The other one you’ll see is the Yasser Arafat Square – the one with the pole;)
“A day will come when one of our boys or girls will raise the flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem, the minarets of Jerusalem, and the churches of Jerusalem”. Those are the words that many Palestinians live by.
WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK:)
There’s so many small and bigger places in Ramallah. They are all full of fresh Middle Eastern specialities – shawarma, falafel, all sorts of salads and meats. No point in recommending a specific one. They all serve really good and fresh food – that is – if you like this kind of food 🙂 You’ll also find a variety of sweets – baclava, knafeh as well as other semolina and wheat pastries.
If you’re not into sweets you may wanna try Palestinian alcohol – they are proud of their arak, wine and beer. If you have more time you can visit a nearby brewery – Taybeh. They even hold Octoberfest there:D
A couple of more photos – it’s difficult not to want to show you everything;)
Have you been to Ramallah? Have I missed something you think is a must-see? Let others (and me!;) ) know in the comments:)
If you want to read some more about West Bank, history of the conflict or the area you may wanna read my post about HEBRON. If you’re interested in Israel as such – try the one about “What to do in Israel”.
And stay tuned – more will come for sure!