First, you should know that I’m a Debbie Downer. I get strange looks wherever I go in life because no matter how happy any one group of people wants to be for any reason, I’m always there to hoist a wet blanket over everyone’s shoulders and tell them why they should be miserable instead. That said: there’s a lot of reason to be depressed in the West Bank. This is the land of refugee camps and suicide bombs, of weekly protest marches against the wall being violently dispersed by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. And yet Ramallah is no place for a Debbie Downer like myself.
Reading the recent articles in the BBC and New York Times about nightlife in Ramallah, you might assume Ramallah is the new Beirut of the Middle East or something, described in the NYT article as a “a mirror city of Tel Aviv.” Go to a place like Orjwan on a Thursday night and you can see the who’s-who of East Jerusalem high society home from school abroad for the summer and mingling with attractive international aid workers. I can tell you I’d never be let into a place like this in the states, but by virtue of my international stature will be ushered to the front of the line at Orjwan and allowed in before a whole throng of locals who scraped together enough shekels to make it out. The fact of the matter is that if you’re an international you can go wherever you want in Ramallah. You’re VIP royalty. Ignore your college buddies in West Jerusalem who say you’ll get stabbed or whatever. Look around you at Sangria’s or Orjwan and tell me this is the development trajectory the refugees in Balata are happy with.
After all, the truth of the matter is that because of this kind of New York Times write up, Palestinians can hardly afford rent in Ramallah nowadays. Foreigners with a 5k per month job here think $500 per month for an apartment is a real steal, but this is practically impossible for most people. Great amenities, All within walking distance of a refugee camp. Jobs and apartments are offered to “Internationals only”. I wonder if any of these internationals driving BMWs around Ramallah have ever read Wretched of the Earth, if they realize they’re just a new class of missionaries selling beautification to a place that still has to pay with shekels.
Sorry, there I go being a Debbie Downer again. These guys just want to have a fun time and here I go raining on their parade. Who am I to tell Palestinians how to live or what kind of businesses to run? Unlike Thomas Friedman who comes in the dead of night to meet with the top crooks in the PA or BBC reporters at Snobar, I’ve talked to Palestinians who don’t particularly care for this cosmopolitan vibe emerging in Ramallah. It ends up drawing newspaper ink away from the issues that Palestinians really care about: land, justice, and peace. Pushing all the international money and offices and values into Ramallah makes people pretty suspicious that they’ll never see a capitol in Jerusalem. Plus, the importation of westerners imports western tastes, something Palestinians aren’t all particularly happy about. After all, a culture of removal from reality like one in the West results in overwhelming political apathy, like we have in the West.
Like a Palestinian told me, “these Palestinians, how are they fighting for their land?” Sure, we can write travel pieces about clubs, pizza, and women, but the New York Times has forgotten to examine other new cultural values being imported into Ramallah like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Mothers tearfully wring their hands when their boys say they want to move to Ramallah, and with good reason. Ramallah is the tube being shoved down the throat of the Palestinians, funneling Western tastes and interests into their stomachs. Ramallah would be what some experts on colonization would call a “port city”, creating a safe haven for foreigners and fostering an elite Palestinian class that will be much more inspired to guard their comfortable lifestyles than support a popular resistance movement that may result in undue hardship from the Israelis. After all, isn’t the globalization mantra “why do it yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you for less money”?