Friendsand Family, today was a day of multiple experiences and conclusions: I had the opportunity to pass through my first checkpoint, a reality that millions of Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis to restrict their free movement; I got the chance to visit thriving Palestinian cities, both old and new, that are rebuttals against the common image of struggling slums and villages across the West Bank; I met my first Israeli settler, sitting as he refused to speak to us and was rewarded with a glare from Ronnie reminiscent of the ones I would get when caught texting in GOVT 108 spring semester. I also got the chance to realize my eternal love for gelato and falafel, each of which made the unbearable heat and humidity of Middle Eastern life a little more livable.
The city of Ramallah reminded me a bit of the big city grit and grind that made up my childhood. The city was bustling, and I could feel the slight surprise coming from each of us walking through such an environment in a location where many of us believed to be comprised entirely of the smaller villages we’ve visited in prior days. This, however, was unequivocally a big city, and in a way it provided me a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Any surprise we could have had in Ramallah was ten-folded in our first steps off the tour bus in the city of Rawabi. Privately funded by Qatari and Palestinian corporations, the beautiful sandstone structures almost oozed luxury down into its high-class fashion stores and breezy corridors. Still under construction and mostly uninhabited, it made even the best Israeli city seem inadequate, and it was easy to forget the surrounding violence, occupation, and oppression that plagued the Palestinian population in the surrounding areas.
It is for this reason that I could best describe it as a terrible illusion. It was a normalization of sorts for the Palestinian life under occupation, an advertisement for accepting the oppressive tactics of the Israeli government and instead hide away in a beautiful city doubling as an open prison. Surrounded by Israeli settlements and checkpoints, its inhabitants would never be able to freely move around. It’s luxury and extravagance is a distraction away from the Palestinians wish to one day return to the lands stolen from them, instead falling victim to the glass window fronts of Gucci and Versace stores. And when putting it into a larger context of the political reality around you, something difficult to do when immersed in architectural and economic strength, you begin to realize the troubling aspect of life within such a place. It was yet another reminder that every aspect of this conflict is beyond what even the word “complex” is prepared to describe, and that oppression can sometimes camouflage into something the oppressed are willing to subconsciously accept.