Cafes Bloom in Ramallah…Just Ramallah

Ramallah cannot be seen as representative of the West Bank

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

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6 thoughts on “Cafes Bloom in Ramallah…Just Ramallah

  1. I wish I could contribute the local knowledge you’re looking for. I hope someone chimes in. I love reading colloquies by netizen journalists.

    The Sun Article seems like an old Pravda-style propaganda piece. They make it sound like an organic cultural phenomenon but you’ve caught them in several important lies, the most important one being the population, which is an easily demonstrable lie. The other ones are not as easy to see.

    We’ve learn in the Palestine Papers that the PA is cooperating with Israel on many levels and Israel is channeling resources and access to the elites in exchange for their cooperation.

    This is just a drop in the ocean of propaganda that saturates the American mind from the media.

    Look on the bright side. So far no one’s teaching anyone baseball. So far.

    Robert Elias: http://www.robelias.com/disc.htm

    Reader reviews at Amazon: http://amzn.to/gq1Zj9

    Good find. Excellent analysis. Thank you.

    1. It is important to get a look at places outside of Ramallah. The de facto capital is indeed very developed. But as soon as you step outside the comfortable compounds of the city, you are in a different world. Ramallah differs greatly from the other Palestinian cities in the West Bank – who also receive funding from the PA in Area A. Yet it is removed a million times over from the villages in Area C, which are denied the most basic of services. Check out, for example, my series on education in the Jordan Valley (http://bit.ly/gpbsFC) to get an idea of what the West Bank is really like. Area A is only 17% of the West Bank – unfortunately, you need to really search to see life in the rest of Palestine.

      Thanks for the note!

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