The Baltimore Sun (how did I every find this story?) ran an article yesterday detailing the rapid rise of the cafe culture in Ramallah. Comparing th West Bank to Paris’ Left Bank, the article describes the explosion in cafes ans restaurants in Palestine’s de facto capital:
Until recently a small town in the occupied West Bank, Ramallah has seen its population double in the last decade to around 100,000, and plays host to a growing army of NGO workers, diplomats and an increasingly wealthy, middle-class elite.
“These people need food, need to sit down and talk, need to hold receptions. This explains the increase in restaurants,” said Mohammad Amin, head of Ramallah Chamber of Commerce.
The Palestinians dream of establishing a capital for their longed-desired independent state in nearby Jerusalem. But that city is fully controlled by Israel and with no Middle East peace deal in sight, Ramallah has rapidly risen to the fore.
Although the description of the cafe culture in Ramallah is generally true (though it seems that all Ramallah restaurants are for Italian food), the article paints an inaccurate portrait of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has been dedicated to a state building program for several years now in order to prepare Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) for independence. Yet because the PA only has authority in 17% of the West Bank (due to antiquated Oslo era demarcations) and none of Gaza (due to Hamas), the state building initiatives are implemented almost exclusively in Ramallah. Look anywhere outside of the major cities in the West Bank and you would be lucky to find access to water, much less a thriving cafe culture. Entrepreneurs come to Ramallah to make money because it is impossible outside of the big cities. Moreover, the Palestinian economic growth – even in Ramallah – is unsustainable and depends nearly entirely on state-funded projects, which are in turn funded by foreign aid. So yes, Baltimore Sun, Ramallah probably is home to 120 restaurants and 300 coffee shops, but the West Bank is nothing like Paris.
Mohammad Amin, head of Ramallah Chamber of Commerce said “These people need food, need to sit down and talk, need to hold receptions. This explains the increase in restaurants.” The growth in dining options in Ramallah has nothing to do with the need to eat and talk. Rather it is simply a consequence of PM Salam Fayyad’s economic strategy which favors development in Ramallah over areas in Palestine that actually need the help.
Moreover, there are some terribly lines in this article (for those familiar with Ramallah):
- “Restaurants are good business,” said Nasir, whose popular Azure restaurant lies close to the city center. Not far, but near may be stretching it
- ‘Stones’ survived that dark period, only to suffer in the upturn, says Hassan, with his income plunging 40 percent in 2010 because of the “mad increase” in competition. Maybe you should try lowering your prices?
- “This is a small country. We have no places for fun and entertainment besides the restaurants,” said Jaber Khader, who opened ‘Karaz’, featuring French and Italian cuisine, in March. Interesting, another Italian place…located directly next to Stones!
- Until recently a small town in the occupied West Bank, Ramallah has seen its population double in the last decade to around 100,000, and plays host to a growing army of NGO workers, diplomats and an increasingly wealthy, middle-class elite. 100,000? Ramallah was 27,460 in 2007. Ramallah and al Bireh reach only 65,662!
Any Ramallah-ites out there with to weigh in?
Photo from Baltimore Sun