Ramallah: 'Slumming' in Palestine. By Gioia Forster - Weekly Exclusive - Views On The Latest Trends Monday, 7th July 2014
Exclusive Travel Feature: The West Banks conjures images of protests and military checkpoints, not tourists and holiday beers, but Ramallah, the vibrant, buzzing capital city of the West Bank, defies those stereotypes;
For outsiders it is the gateway into Palestinian life too often hidden behind tragic headlines. A mere short bus ride away from Jerusalem, Ramallah stands at the crossroads between Arab traditionalism and the raw, modern culture of Palestine.
For travellers in search of an enlightening trip, Ramallah is your destination.
Ramallah doesn't offer much in the way of interesting hotels: There are a handful of high-end ones catering to the business traveler and quite of few dingy and small family establishments.
But towering above the buzzing central market on the top floor of an apartment block is the stylish hostel ‘Area: D’ where the politically conscious travelers meet.
Colorful do-it-yourself décor and comfy leather sofas create a hip and relaxing atmosphere. The open, inviting space is a welcome reprieve from the bustle of Ramallah’s streets. And the large windows offer a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the spectacular Abdel Nasser mosque right next door.
Make no mistake: you are not meant to forget you are in an occupied territory. The name ‘Area: D’ makes a mockery of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that divided the land into a labyrinth of three administrative zones (A, B and C) peppered with military checkpoints, Arab towns and Jewish settlements.
The hostel invites you to tackle these political hardships. Coffee table books offer insight into life in Palestinian refugee camps; the lights are draped with black-and-white kuffiyahs, traditional Arabic scarves worn by many Palestinians.
Visitors can also go on organized tours with local guides that take you to the troubled city of Hebron where the occupation is most palpable, or to Qalqilya, a Palestinian town almost entirely engulfed by the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel.
Established by a Palestinian and a Swiss who came to Palestine for aid work, the hostel adheres to it’s motto, “Don’t visit Ramallah... live it!”
But within the framework of the stark political reality, the hostel creates a welcoming space to experience the city and its culture.
At dinnertime the spacious communal kitchen fills with backpackers chopping fresh vegetable brought in from the market, and at the juice and tea bar you can squeeze your own orange juice or prepare tea and coffee at decent street prices.
With the hostel’s argileh – the Arabic water pipe – fired up, visitors can watch the green lights of the city’s minarets illuminate the twilight sky.
The welcoming atmosphere of the Area: D hostel is an echo of the city’s culture. Bars and restaurants are packed with young Palestinians and travellers sipping juice or Taybeh beer, brewed in Palestine’s only brewery in a nearby Christian village. Early in the morning the church bells and the call to prayer act as alarm clocks.
In search of more than a relaxing holiday, here in Ramallah travellers can catch a glimpse of how Palestinians have made a life for themselves – in spite of politics.
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Gioia Forster is a reporter based in Amman, Jordan, who writes for local and international publications covering news and culture. Originally from Germany she has lived in South Africa and the United Kingdom. She loves to travel, particularly in the Middle East, getting off the beaten path.
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