Jerusalem Stories and Tips

Ram Allah: The Heart of Palestine

checkpoint Photo, Jerusalem, Israel

For many, Ram Allah is the heart of Palestine -- it signifies the spirit of the Palestinian people. It is the financial center of Palestine as well as the seat of the Palestinian Authority. A city of around a half a million people, Ram Allah is the bustling center of Palestinian life. Thousands of Palestinians cross the checkpoint outside of Ram Allah every day to go work in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. Ram Allah is not a typical tourist area. There are no historical sights to see, most of those having been destroyed long ago, and it not a place to go for nightlife. One goes to Ram Allah to see the spirit of the Palestinian people, to talk with locals, sit around, smoke a shisha, and take in the sights and sounds of this city that has seen so much in recent years, but still finds a way to maintain its vibrancy and sense of daily life.

Getting to Ram Allah is rather easy. It is just a 3 Shekel, half-hour minibus ride to the checkpoint and then a short taxi ride into the center of the town, to the square called "Minara," the lively center of town, a square containing towering statues of lions that have been littered with graffiti and posters of dead Palestinians.

If you are going to make the trip to Ram Allah, I suggest you get a guide. We found ours through our hostel and if you are staying in the old city as well, you should have no trouble finding someone who can take you through Ram Allah. Getting a guide gives you the benefit of having someone who knows the city and can show you around with ease. Your guide will also be able to introduce you to people with whom you can talk, and he will be able to show you where you can get the best shawerma, shisha, and masteka (Palestinian ice cream). If you go alone though, you will have no trouble finding your way around and finding people who will help you. One of the great parts about Ram Allah is that, unlike Jerusalem, nobody will try to lure you into your store to rip you off, or ask you to just come take a look.

Our tour of Ram Allah began with a wonderful shawerma sandwich at a local café. From there, our guide took us to meet a group of Palestinian lawyers that work with Amnesty International in helping victims of injustices bring cases against both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. After a very informative session with them, we met up with some female students from Beir Zeit University and talked with them about the female perspective on the issue of Palestine. The students were extremely friendly and intelligent. Any visit to Ram Allah should include a visit to Beir Zeit University, as this is the intellectual center of Palestine and the point from which numerous activists emanate. Our guide then took us around to show us some of the houses that had been bulldozed by the IDF, as well as a police station leveled by Apache helicopters, and then the most shocking site, the compound of Yasser Arafat that was destroyed and besieged just last year. Seeing all these piles of rubble that were once symbols of the move towards Palestinian sovereignty showed just how strong the will of the Palestinian people had to be to move on with their lives, even under such a state.

Walking around Ram Allah you get the feeling that you could be in any other normal Arab city. The streets are full of life, shops are open and people run about their daily lives with smiles on their faces, but there are still things that hint as to the state in which these people live. Graffiti is sprayed across the walls of the destroyed police station saying, "Resistance is not terrorism." The local ice cream shop has cartoons in the window of Kofi Annan with the American flag in one eye, the Israeli in the other, and blood dripping from his hands. Right next door, there are posters of the American woman who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer earlier in the year, "Rachel Corrie: Victim of Justice."

Visiting Ram Allah is not a pleasure visit, but it an enlightening experience, one that will bombard your eyes and your ears. When you cross the checkpoint into Ram Allah, you will immediately notice the difference between it and the rest of Israel. It lacks the same modern amenities and it is generally not as clean. To come to Israel and not visit the West Bank, to not see the other side, is a crime. While Ram Allah does not have the history and monuments to offer that other parts of Israel do, it can offer you an unforgettable chance to experience the hospitality and friendliness of the Palestinian people that will overwhelm any of the preconceived notions you may have carried.

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