There was a great commotion here in Ramallah last night. I’m not sure what time it was. It was quite late in the evening. I had no idea what was going on. It sounded like a big demonstration or even a riot. Having seen some stone-throwing at a checkpoint a few days ago, I decided not to go out and investigate. The noise continued and I even heard what sounded like gunfire.
This afternoon I found out from The Guardian website that the commotion was a big celebration of the release of 26 prisoners by the Israelis. Most of the prisoners were returning to homes in the West Bank and were welcomed as heroes in Ramallah. They had served more than 20 years in prison for killing Israelis in one way or another.
I would not have been able to join in the celebrations. Although I support the Palestinian struggle for justice, I consider myself pro-Israeli as well as pro-Palestinian. I cannot condone killing people, even in pursuit of a good cause. The release of prisoners who have committed acts of violence is always a contentious issue. But it seems that it sometimes has to be done in order for a peace agreement to be reached, whether in South Africa or Northern Ireland or now in Israel/Palestine.
Even without such a commotion this is a noisy city, crowded with people and full of traffic with much hooting of horns. However, I have found that people are friendly. And the traffic gives way to pedestrians. Several times a day I hear the call to prayer broadcast over loud-speakers. This contributes to the oriental feel of the place, which I rather like.
The Friends Meeting House and the Friends International Centre, which is tagged onto the back of the Meeting House, are just a couple of hundred yards from the Manara where six roads meet in the centre of Ramallah. There are shops, cafés, restaurants and banks all along the street and along the other streets radiating out from the Manara. If, instead of turning left to go to the Manara, I turn right, I pass an ice-cream parlour on my way down to the Old City.
I couldn’t resist a visit to the ice-cream parlour yesterday evening (before the commotion). They do serve rather good ice-cream. I noticed one or two other Europeans there. In fact I have seen quite a few Europeans around. I guess they may be diplomats or people working for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) or tourists of one kind or another.
One or two friendly shopkeepers have enquired where I come from and what I’m doing in Ramallah. They tend to have heard of the Friends Schools, if not the Friends Meeting House. The Friends Schools are clearly well respected.
Whilst I was out shopping today it rained for a short while. Fortunately I was inside a shop at the time. Since I arrived in Israel two weeks ago there have been no more than a few drops of rain, so I haven’t been used to carrying an umbrella. This must now be the beginning of winter. It is certainly rather cooler here than it was in Tel Aviv yesterday. This is largely due to the difference in altitude. Before leaving Tel Aviv yesterday I went paddling in the Mediterranean. It was a balmy 29 degrees.
As well as T-shirts I’ve packed scarf, hat, and gloves in anticipation of cold weather in November and December. There is an electric blanket on my bed here, so I should be warm enough at night.
I received a warm welcome yesterday evening from Hekmat, a member of the Quaker Meeting who was waiting for me along with two daughters and a son. I hope to meet her husband tomorrow. He’s going to take me round to one or two local cafés and introduce me to a few people. I spent some time this afternoon reading about the archaeological and historical sites in and around Ramallah. But I’ve come here to meet people and learn about the life of Palestinians in the West Bank today. I want to take the opportunity to visit both Hebron and Nablus whilst I’m staying here in Ramallah. I don’t know when I might come this way again.