There Is Hope, by Talia Levin

There Is Hope

Talia Levin

Translated into English, as published in Maariv Online

All of the fears that affected me before the visit to Ramallah dissipated after a short time in the quiet city. For a moment, it was possible to forget about terror and begin to dream of coexistence.

A few hours in Ramallah are enough to turn your world on its head. It’s enough to wander the streets without almost any feeling of fear – but with certain tension, given the fact that we were taught to be afraid – in order to understand that we are acting unjustly primarily to ourselves when we behave like children and refuse to talk.

Even so, you can’t be naïve. When we enter the heart of Ramallah and pass by one of the squares in the center of the city, the picture of the cruel lynch in 2000 immediately comes to mind. It’s impossible to disregard, but I want to. Not to disregard it, of course, but to put it to the side for a moment. At least to try. I want my memory of Ramallah to be different. Because there is cruel terror, but there are also people who want to live in tranquility, who want to talk, who want coexistence. Call me naïve, but I don’t want to lose hope, and that’s why I’m here.

So I try to ignore the red sign at the entrance of the city that warns against entering Area A. It’s a legal violation and a mortal danger; this is written in black on red. I know it, and I don’t intend on violating the law. My entrance to Ramallah was coordinated under the framework of the Geneva Initiative’s enrichment program for journalists.

I try to ignore as well the knowledge of incidents in the area surrounding Ramallah. Shootings, stone throwing. Before us pass scenes of settlements and armed soldiers. Until we enter the area of the city that is part of the “bubble” of the Palestinian Authority, these pictures won’t leave my head.

About 30% of Ramallah’s residents are Christian and the rest are Muslim. Until 1993 it was considered something of a vacation city. In truth, the moment we enter the city and see the decorations left over from Christmas celebrations, it’s possible to mistakenly think for a second that we’re abroad. What with the yellow taxis passing on the street and drinking one or two “Taybeh” beers, we can imagine ourselves in New York. The cold weather (8-10 degrees in January) also adds to the atmosphere.

In parts, especially when we wander through the old quarter, Ramallah is somewhat reminiscent of Nahalat Shiva in Jerusalem or Agripas Street behind the market. It has a lively night life and a beer festival, hotels (fancy ones), bars, and good restaurants. It’s a tourist city that attracts young people, although not in large numbers. Well, that’s the situation.

It’s possible to enter the city from the Qalandiya checkpoint. We entered from the Beit El checkpoint for security coordination reasons. Half an hour from Jerusalem. A Palestinian police car joined us immediately after we crossed the checkpoint and accompanied us throughout the visit.

Ramallah is certainly surprising. After half an hour, the fears dissipate almost completely. Markets, stores, many bridal gowns, barber shops and even American chains that have undergone a local adaptation, such as Pizza-like Hut and hamburger joints.

If you happen to be in the area, look for the special knafeh with refined butter that can’t be found anywhere in Israeli territory. Afterwards, you won’t be able to wait in line for hours for any Israeli knafeh in Jaffa or on Dizengoff. I’m also excited by the hummus. Hadi tells me that while the hummus is tasty, if I come again he’ll take me to a much better hummus place in the old city.

The city is surprising in its tranquility and its hospitality; it doesn’t disappoint or disprove the fairytales tied to its name. We pass through squares and neighborhoods that have known better days. To get to the conference room on the fifth level of the Fatah building, where we’re meeting with Palestinian officials and former ministers, we climb up on foot so as not to get stuck in the elevator. The electric company cuts the power every day for three hours, without prior warning, due to non-compliance with payments.

So it’s cold because the power is cut, and we’re sitting in our coats in a freezing room, and it still doesn’t keep us from talking. From the moment we enter the conference room and warm up with coffee, the last fears left over disappear completely. Here 20 men and women are sitting around a table, talking and laughing and also arguing. They want us to ask all of the tough questions, and we don’t censor ourselves. They can’t answer everything on the record. But at least there is dialogue, even if the solution is distant.

The thought shared by all of us, at least in that period of time just a moment before we all went out for an (insane) meal at the well-known “Darna” (“our home”) restaurant in the old city, was that maybe as civilians we would be able to do something to, first and foremost, stop hating so much. And even if it won’t be a big step for mankind, it will at least be a small step for human beings.

For the original article in Maariv (Hebrew), click here.

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