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Published: January 20th 2006
During my short stint in Jerusalem, one of the most memorable experiences was being able to spend a few hours over in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The trip started with a bus ride to the Israeli side of the security fence (read concrete wall). From there, a short walk to the Palestinian side and another bus to get to Ramallah. We arrived at around rush hour, and the traffic was fairly intense considering the limited space available for the buses to load. It took about 25 minutes to get to the center. I was surprised to see that the city seemed to be better off than many other parts of the Arab world. The explanation I was given was that the majority of NGO's and wealthy Palestinians live in the big cities, and that Ramallah was the most popular due to the proximity to Jerusalem.
From the center square, my friend and I had some great juice at a shop on the southeast corner. The shopkeeper had some interesting stories to share about the changing nature of life under Israeli supervision. He had a very positive spin on life there now, indicating that while it was still not great,
it was better than it has been for most of his life and he only expects things to improve. We walked around the center for bit, and then ate some Shawarma a few blocks off the center. For the first time in my Middle East travels, I was seated by the manager of the fast food joint, who proceeded to personally take my order and see to our every need. It was a truly random experience, for it was obvious that he did not seat anybody else, and everybody else just placed their order at the counter as usual. Nonetheless, I don't think that I paid more than the list price, and most certainly felt welcome.
On the way back to Jerusalem, I experienced the tough aspect of everyday Palestinian life: the checkpoint. While taking pictures right at the checkpoint was a certain no no, I think the pic leading up to the location gives the general idea. It took me about 20-25 minutes to get through. The IDF shut down our line because we were pressing too fast. As soon as I got to the metal detectors, I took my backpack off and did the usual airport thing. Unlike
the airport, nobody bothered to check my pack. Which, if you ask the Criminal Justice grad here, seems to defeat the whole point of having a metal detector. Oh well. The passport check went without drama, no questions, just a grunt from a female soldier and then I was on my way back to Jerusalem. An experience well worth the few hours it took. Should be on anybody’s Jerusalem sightseeing list. Beware though: the checkpoint is occasionally shut down on no notice, stranding people in Palestine. Well worth the risk.
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