The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Back in Ramallah

Andrea Becker, 04 July 2004

Relatively easy somehow: went through Israeli security ‘lite’: no body massages, or bag checks, and treated my security interrogator to a discussion of Jabotinsky, prompting ‘why are you interested in this stuff anyway? Well, whatever. Have a nice day.’

Early morning arrival at Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. Rose and gold sun lighting the familiar scene: dusty roads torn by use and Israeli military vehicles, cement blocks and the routined and ordered humiliations. Cars and trucks line up as far as you can see, barely 6 am –  but the wait has hardly begun. Once you’ve made the decision to try and get across by car there is no real way to turn back. Cement blocks on your left, a hill to your right. Cars in front and behind you. On foot, Palestinians wait in line, divided by cement blocks, divided into lines of relative privilege or discrimmination under the Israeli occupation ­ Jerusalem ID, West Bank ID. A line for women, a line for men. Israeli soldiers check cars and people at whichever pace suits them. Your day ­school, work, seeing friends, family, church, mosque, hospital ­ decided by some 18 year old with a machine gun. A claustrophobia of engines, lost hours and rising morning heat.

Checkpoint dust.  I walk through with that familiar sense of apprehension. Everything is quiet now, but this is a place of uncertainty, of teargas and barbed wire.  From hills above the scene is surveyed by more soldiers training their weapons with varying degrees of alertness ­on the people crossing. 

Away from soldiers and into Ramallah.­  Heavy incursions into Nablus by the Israeli military continue, but Nablus is a 45 minute drive away, hours away with checkpoints. Ramallah is calm. Surrounded by checkpoints, and slowly being closed in by dark grey cement walls, but a deceptive normalcy inside of people, shops, restaurants and markets.

It is incredible to be back here. It feels very normal, like I never left somehow. ­I am staying with my friend Nadya, who lives in a house hidden in a valley. It must be the nicest garden in Ramallah, where hours can drift by smoking shisha, reading, having barbecues.  After the tasteless vegetables and not having a kitchen in London, it is a treat to be able to roast peppers and garlic, and make marinades from
herbs you pick directly from outside, and olive oil from last year’s harvest. To cook with my hands. Fresh plums and white wine.

Salaamat to all from here,