A Holiday in Other People’s Misery? Not Exactly…
Jamie, the prodigal nephew of the King of the Jews was in Jerusalem. The King used to send me articles Jamie wrote when he was in Yale and the promise of a brilliant future in writing was realized when he got a gig working at the New Republic. I ran into Jamie accidentally at the shuk and after realizing our common connection, somehow we decided it would be neat to visit Ramallah while he was in town. So I called Lisa from On the Face, who hooked me up with Louai, a Ramallah-based fixer. Louai in turn hooked us up with a driver and a translator and interviews with representatives from Fatah, Hamas, and the PFLP. I know, I know, some of you are thinking “What the fuck?” but a trip to Ramallah is really not that remarkable – loads of people have done it and lived to tell the tale. In fact, getting in was super easy – from Jerusalem, the ride to the Kalandiyah checkpoint took maybe 20 minutes, and once there we got in without even having to stop and present ID.
Ramallah is a Fatah stronghold and is considered a relatively liberal place. The city is full of smart and elegant cafes where stylishly dressed women mingle easily with their more religious chador-wearing sisters. There’s new construction everywhere and large parts of the city could double for the tony Jerusalem suburb of Rechaviah. Ramallah also has the local version of arsim, indistinguishable from the Israeli variety, and you quickly get used to the AK-47 toting Palestinian “policemen” because they look exactly like their Israeli counterparts, albeit significantly less unkempt.
Our day began with Jamie interviewing Ayman Dragmeh (pictured 1st on the left), a member of Parliament for the Change and Reform list – basically Hamas. He was personable, reasonable and friendly, hardly a foaming at the mouth Islamic fundamentalist, intent on chopping our heads off at the first opportunity. Ayman described the situation in Gaza as stable and safe and talked about families who were now able to go to the beach for the first time in a long time. Our next interview was with Dr. Abdallah Abdallah, a member of parliament for Fatah and the former PLO ambassador to Canada. His take was that the situation in Gaza was chaotic with people afraid to leave their homes for fear of the rampant violence. I guess that means that things in Gaza are great for those aligned with Hamas and dire for those aligned with Fatah… Oh well. Our last parliamentary interview was with Khalida Jarrar of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). She was very articulate and tried to strike a balanced position noting that “The occupation does not differentiate between Hamas and Fatah.” Obviously our conversations were more detailed than that but I’ll save all the good lines for Jamie’s article which we will link to when it appears.
The rest of the day was spent hanging out in cafes and talking to locals about everything from Paris Hilton and Homosexuality to politics and the recent death of Farfour the Mouse. With respect to Farfour, it was noted that the show appeared on Al Aksa TV which is only broadcast in Gaza. While most people interviewed knew about Farfour, few were up to date on the latest details. They all mentioned that even when Al Aksa TV used to broadcast in the West Bank, they’d never watch it because “We are Fatah!” I showed some young Fatah stalwarts the video of Farfour’s death and the hysterical laughter that ensued was oddly disturbing. I think the lesson learned was that treating the Palestinians as a monolith is a mistake. Also, trying to make sense of them is often very, VERY difficult. Well, at least I am going to have a leg up on all that because they are now all my facebook friends. Go social networking!
Our day ended with the requisite visit to the Muqata and Yassir Arafat’s grave. It was a hot day and I sat down for a few minutes while phone calls were made to the ISM reps in Ramallah to see if they would agree to an interview. I read a bit of Heeb and a bit of Guilt & Pleasure (that’s gotta be a first!) until we got a call back from the ISM people. Apparently they were too busy to meet – big things going on all week and all that. Oh well. The drive back to Jerusalem was as uneventful as the drive into Ramallah and as I sit here writing this post, I am already planning my next trip back. For the Hummus of course. It’s all about the Hummus. If our people will ever achieve peaceful co-existence, I am certain Hummus will play a pivotal role. You can quote me on that But only really good Hummus.
P.S.: 10 points to the first person who correctly identifies the
2 3 punk rock references in this post.