Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trip to Ramallah - Palestinian capital

It's time for my field study for my "Palestinian Society and Politics" class.  Today we are travelling to the West Bank, to visit the huge city of Ramallah, which is the headquarters for the Palestinian government (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority. This pic was taking while sitting on the bus, waiting to leave...that's the walls of the Old City and the Tower of David, near Jaffa Gate.
 Ramallah is not too far north of Jerusalem. Here is the checkpoint we need to go through to get into the city.
 On the other side of the checkpoint, you can see the security wall behind the traffic, a huge wall that was erected in the early 2000's to decrease terrorism and suicide bombings.
 As we came into the city, the professor was explaining that there is a lot of dust right here. We are near a quarry that digs out huge limestone blocks that are used for building in Jerusalem. So the dust is from the quarry. This pic was taken while passing a car junkyard and all the cars are covered in this dust. I don't know, it just seemed to represent something about Ramallah to me.
Now we are inside the wall...take a look at the graffiti, expressing a lot of emotions and frustration of the Palestinian people.
 Passing a beautiful fruit stand. This lady is keeping the street clean in front of her shop, which is commendable because there was a lot of garbage everywhere else.
 I don't usually take pics of garbage, this was taken looking down from the bus, but there was so much litter everywhere when we were first entering the city. It just seems so strange, why isn't this picked up??
 The first thing we did in Ramallah was attend a mass at a Catholic church. Our professor is a Palestinian Catholic, so that's probably why. He wanted us to get a sense of the Christians in the area (who are a minority - only 2% of the population in the West Bank are Christians, the rest mostly Muslim)
 The sanctuary was beautiful, the church was full, the singing was really nice with the acoustics in there.
 We are walking back to the bus for our next destination. The man in the suitcoat is Dr. Sabella, our Palestinian professor.
 A scene out of the bus window....yellow taxis EVERYWHERE!!
 Now we will visit the "Palestinian Legislative Council" (PLC). This is the legislative branch of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization - the Political entity of Palestine), and the building where Dr. Sabella works. He is also a member of the Palestinian Parliament of the PLO, very involved in government.
 The "PLC", I am wondering what will happen here...this should be interesting. By the way, this is a glass door, and something is in the sky in the reflection...I don't know what that is, does anyone have any ideas??
They brought us into a huge conference room, complete with drinks and pastries. We are about to hear a speech from a PLC member.  He is anxious to talk to the Americans about their position.
 But first, there's a TV crew there who will be filming the interview (and us:) They are asking Dr. Sabella who we are and what we are doing in Ramallah and at the PLC.
 This picture is right behind our chairs....look familiar to you?
 So here's Dr. Sabella with "Jamal Abu Alrub", who discussed the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with us in Arabic, and Dr. Sabella interpreted.  Basically he said how disappointed they are in the US and how they have stood with Israel, and seemingly ignored the Palestinian plight. He talked about their plea at the UN to be recognized as a state, but how US has blocked this. He feels that since the US has so much influence on this situation, that in effect the US is illegally occupying the West Bank, not Israel. During a time of questions and answers, I asked him what should happen to the West Bank Israeli settlements should a 2-state solution be realized..He answered me that they are all illegal per international law and all would need to be disbanded. (From 30 settlements in the early 1970s, West Bank settlements now number 121+, and the Israeli settler population is more than 300,000. An additional 17,000 Israelis live in the Golan Heights and 193,000 in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state).
 Next to Arafat's pic, is Mahmoud Abbas...he's the current leader of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.
 I'm posing with Jamal after the interview.  He is very intense and passionate and about the Palestinian people. There is certainly no easy solution to any of this.  He also told us that he is suspected by Israel of terrorist activity, and that they won't let him leave Ramallah except on very rare occasions. Dr. Sabella told us he was involved in the 2nd Intifada of 2000, i.e terrorism. Seemed like a nice man to me...
 Our class outside the PLC building. This was an experience that most tourists don't get, that's for sure.
 From the PLC, we travel to a luncheon back at the Catholic Church. They are hosting a discussion by a group of Italian agriculturalists who have done research on 8 ancient olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane back in Jerusalem.  These are the 8 oldest olive trees in the world. They are estimated to be slightly less than 1000 years old. What they don't know is how old the roots are....none of the trees date all the way back to the Jesus' time, but it's possible that the roots do, so they are still researching this.  This picture is an Italian Catholic priest who is interpreting into Arabic what the Italians are saying.
 Here comes the lunch!! It was this Arabic pizza thing with onions and spices on it  that was so delicious.
 Onward ----we go across the street o Al-Haq - a Palestinian Human Rights organization, funded by the United Nations.  They investigate (using field workers) any infraction upon the rights of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza and the write up extensive reports about it, often sending them to the US Media.  They say there has been a huge increase in 'settler violence', meaning acts of violence by the Israelis from the settlements in the West Bank against the Palestinians.
 The 2 Al-Haq employees who spoke with us. Definitely very pro-Palestinian, He told us several stories of atrocities that have been committed against Palestinians by Israelis. Of course we didn't hear any of the opposite. There are no end to the complaints against Israel for their illegal 'occupation' and infringments against the Palestinians.
Walking down the street on a search for an ice cream store. It's Sunday, and this pizza shop is closed, but the name of it caught my eye....
We found the ice cream store!!  Arabic ice cream has a different texture than American, more sticky rather than creamy, but very good!
 Walking down the city streets of Ramallah, I looked up to see these guys watching us pass by.
Lots of congested city traffic.

 Three Palestinian young women on their way to somewhere.
 Don't ask me why, but here it's "Stars and Bucks", not Starbucks (lol)
 Three women stop to talk as we pass,  still walking back to our bus.
 A man on the sidewalk is playing a crudely-made instrument, hoping to sell one. Wasn't my kind of music, but added to the 'ambience' of our stroll.
 Another entrepreneur on the street is drawing a portrait.
The last stop of the day was at...Arafats tomb!!  That's it that square building at the end where the wreath is. The site was not opened, we were told we couldn't come in by the friendly looking soldier. This is a brand new complex of his tomb and a large museum about Arafat that was donated and paid for by..... JAPAN.
 Well, this has been quite a day. The sun is setting in Ramallah, and we need to get back to Jerusalem. It may take me a little while to process everything I have seen and heard today.

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