Ramallah, the "New Paris of the Middle East"?

By Miri -

In terms of ancient history, Ramallah does quite poorly compared to other cities in Palestine, such as Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron and of course, Jerusalem. As opposed to many other places in the Holy Land, the relatively young city, whose history (only) dates back to the mid 16th century, is also not mentioned in the bible, or any other holy book for that matter. Yet, when it comes to getting a fuller understanding of the diversity of today's Palestinian culture and society, a Ramallah tour is actually indispensable. 

It is a common joke among Palestinians to say that Ramallah is no longer under occupation. But just like with every joke, there is a grain of truth in that statement. Since the end of the Second Intifada, Ramallah has experienced significantly less military interventions by the Israeli authorities than any other big city in the West Bank. While the lush green grass in the foreground of the Muqata, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, is regularly sprinkled with water, a large part of the Palestinian population is still denied basic access to water. Whereas in the rest of the West Bank, houses continue to be demolished, Ramllah has been experiencing a building boom, which does not only include apartment buildings, but also an increasing number of business edifices and luxury hotels. 

Ramallah's five star Mövenpick Hotel
Ramallah is booming. The city is already being referred to by some as "the new Paris of the Middle East". According to the Jerusalem Post, in 2010 within only a few months, “more than 100 Palestinians from Jerusalem have relocated their businesses to Ramallah“, where “they pay less taxes and have more customers“. Ramallah's growth has been so impressive that it even became the theme of a theory that suspects it to be the result of an Israeli conspiracy to make Ramallah the capital of Palestine, instead of Jerusalem. 

Divided from the claimed capital by the Separation Barrier and a number of checkpoints, Ramallah came to be the headquarters for the Palestinian Authority, as well as for many embassies and an immense number of international NGOs. 
The large amount of ex-pats working in those latter institutions surely also contributed to an ever increasing number of restaurants, bars and clubs, which also attract many Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, especially from Jerusalem, who regularly visit and enjoy Ramallah's night life. Although they have relatively more freedom than their compatriots living in the West Bank, many actually consider Ramallah a place of greater liberty. The vast majority of the bars and clubs in Israel, including those in cities with large Palestinian communities, are usually owned and mainly frequented by Israeli Jews, therefore, many Palestinian citizens of Israel feel more comfortable in the bars and clubs of Ramallah. 

Beit Anisa in Ramallah: bar, club and art venue
In addition to that, more recently, Ramallah also became a great venue for contemporary Arabic art from outside of Palestine and has already provided a stage for celebrated musicians, such as Egypt's Maryam Saleh, or Jordan's Autostrad, which are highly unlikely to play anywhere on the other side of the Green Line. 
It is therefore also not surprising that the buzzing cultural and party life in Ramallah has started to call the attention of the more progressive sections of young Israelis, who frequently breach the law and sneak into the city for a weekend night out. 

Ramallah obviously also brought forward an increasing number of local talents in different fields, who greatly contribute to the evolving Palestinian art scene, which finds more and more homes in a growing number of cultural institutions, such as art schools, galleries and theatres. 

The maze of Qalandiya Refugee Camp, Anne Paq/ActiveStills
Ramallah's boom does however also highlight the growing inequalities within Palestinian society and one does not have to move far in order to leave the economic bubble. 
The four refugee camps outside of Ramallah, Deir Ammar, Jalazone, Al-Am'ari and Qalandiya painfully show that the Occupation obviously does continue to dominate the lives of the Palestinian population and that the neo-liberal policies implemented by the Fayyad government mainly benefit large capitalist entities and serve to satisfy the donors that the Palestinian economy is depending on. The wealth keeps on accumulating in the hands of a few and fails to trickle down to the majority of the Palestinian society, who still suffers from unemployment and a general lack of opportunities. Economists warn that the boom may be only temporary and that the bubble is likely to burst, which would not only affect those who had invested in it, but the fragile Palestinian economy as a whole.

A Ramallah tour will show you both the glamurous sides of Ramallah and at the same time make you aware of the more complex implications of this boom and will therefore broaden your perspective on Palestinian society as a whole. 
In addition, Green Olive Tours also offers a special Ramallah Business Tour, which focusses on mainly on issues pertaining to the Palestinian economy. For more information or to schedule a private tour, please contact us.


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