LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
30 June 2004
I made it to Ramallah mish mushkila (no problem). The
crossing was a cake walk. I just caught a cab to
Kalandia crossing, walked across a couple hundred
meters of dirt and rocks and market stands, and caught
a shuttle to Ramallah. No one checked my passport or
anything. It was similar at the Gates of Azzun last
time, getting to Jayyous. Either it was a nightmare
or it was nothing at all, depending on the mood of the
When I got to Ramallah's Main Street, I asked around
where the offices of Dr. Barghouthi were. They asked,
"Marwan ow Mustafa?" "Mustafa."
A very nice woman named Muzna interviewed me at the
al-Mubadara (Palestinian National Initiative)
headquarters. Muzna said what they really need now is
someone to finish a new website for the Initiative,
update the website often with press-releases, edit
several translations of pamphlets and informational
folders, that kind of thing. More projects will come
up as we go, too.
Many Palestinians in the diaspora are not aware that
there is a strong centrist movement committed to
non-violence and a just and lasting two-state peace in
Palestine. According to a recent poll, if
Palestinians voted for a new president right now,
Arafat would be first, Marwan Barghouthi would be
second, and Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouthi of the PNI would
be third. Arafat is very old and Marwan is in prison,
and the movement is only two years old, so it looks
very promising. Even fewer Americans, Israelis, and
Jews are aware of it as a possible extremely promising
partner for peace.
A demonstration was held the afternoon I arrived, and
several Palestinians marched down the Main Street to
the town square with signs and Palestinian flags. It
is part of a 56-day non-violent demonstration all
around Palestine in memory and protest of the 56 years
since an-Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, when the
Palestinians were first dispossessed on a massive
scale in 1948.
Cars trying to get through the town square kept
honking at the demonstrators and yelling, "Hey, you
hippies! Get a job!"
Fewer than half the women walking around town in
Ramallah wear a hijab, or head scarf. The scarves are
quite attractive if done right, or done wrong,
depending on how you look at it. You should see the
women wearing scarves in Cairo! God forgive me, but
many of them look absolutely stunning. Women mostly
wear fashionable Western clothing here, but some also
wear the elegant traditional long dress/coat.
The only major disappointment so far is that it is
going to be a nightmare trying to learn Arabic here.
Everyone speaks English! My coworkers, the
shopkeepers, the soldiers guarding Arafat's
compound... every time I try to talk in Arabic, they
answer me in perfect English. I know they are trying
to be helpful, but it is kind of frustrating. In the
village where I lived last time, only half the people
spoke English, so it was just about right. Maybe I'll
requisition some kids to talk to, but they'll probably
speak English, too.
I found a place to stay for about $120 a month, which
is cheap even for here. On the walk to my house, the
road has a gorgeous view of a gorge and some hills and
the western part of town and Arafat's compound. One
end of his compound looks like a giant hand came down
and crunched it up and scattered the pieces around
because of the Israeli shelling. I walked down the
hill and up another hill to the compound and saw an
apartment block there also bombed out, looked like by
Other than a few places like that, the town is very
charming. Built on a lot of hills like Amman,
stunning views everywhere, shops and shawerma stands
and coffee shops and restaurants and ice cream parlors
and markets line the long main street. I can get
kunafa (a Palestinian dessert I love) any day of the
week for 75 cents.
The houses in my neighborhood and beautiful, look like
they are made of cut stone, all very unique but
sharing a unified style. Almost all of them have flat
roofs and porches and balconies everywhere, usually a
yard or garden, big windows with decorative stonework
around them. I don't know how it works here, but in
Jayyous families often build their houses by hand with
the help of some friends. The family I lived with
were building an addition next to their house when I
lived in Jayyous.
I live on Shar'a as-Salaam. Peace St. I have my own
little balcony that has a sliver of the sunset gorge
view out in front. More of the view is visible from
the roof. My housemates are a Palestinian girl and a
Norwegian student of human rights who will, sadly for
me, move to Hebron soon. Hopefully I can visit her
there some time.
The first night I got here I was invited to a house
where some expats live, and we had pizza and beer and
watched 21 Grams on a British girl's computer. 21
Grams asks the important question, 'Can a movie
thoroughly depress an audience without teaching them
anything or making them think at all?' The answer was
a resounding 'Yes.' The foreign workers, mostly
student-age, were cool, and the pizza surprisingly
good, and the last men standing shared a nargila
afterwards. Apparently there is a public swimming
pool here, too, and on weekends, Fridays and Sundays,
my coworkers often go together.
In August I plan to visit some friends in Amman,
Jordan, and then swing through Jenin and visit Ammar,
and then spend some time in Jayyous again. Getting
all my visiting done in one go will save a months'
rent. Coming to Ramallah made me miss my friends in
Amman and Jayyous that much more.