No other city says Palestine to me more than Ramallah. At the Kalandia checkpoint, a large Israeli sign warns visitors they are about to enter Palestinian territories and that as such their safety and security are under threat. The obvious separation wall Israel has erected is an eyesore that immediately sets a mood of desperation and isolation. The huge cement wall which Israel calls “security fence” is tall and lifeless. It separates, divides even West Bank residents from their schools and businesses. It explains in no uncertain terms how difficult and challenging life behind it must be.
After you cross the checkpoint, you are welcomed by graffiti symbolically sprayed on the wall expressing the Palestinian side of the story. First thing is a large photo of Yasser Arafat next to one of Marwan Barghouti amid many of the Palestinian sentiments of resentment about living under Israeli occupation and oppression.
Once you pass the usual industrial and market areas filled with mechanic shops, modest restaurants and street vendors, Ramallah opens up in front you with its many buildings and businesses and advertising posters larger than the roads and posts that carry them. Actually, the sight of advertising boards is ugly and distracts from the view of a beautiful city that continues to grow and struggles to thrive under very difficult economic and political conditions.
The deeper you get into Ramallah, the more peaceful and serene the view becomes. It ushers in a more settling feeling of a people full of life and a genuine desire to prosper and succeed. The buildings in those areas are modern and well kept, overlooking some of the city’s most picturesque views. The streets are clean and welcoming. This is Palestine I thought to myself. The Palestinian Authority’s headquarters, the courthouse, the shops, restaurants, schools, universities and homes, they all scream Palestinian pride, hope and hospitality.
A visit to the Mahmoud Darwish Grave and Museum is out of this world. The presence of Darwish in death is as large as his life in this unique place. He lies atop a beautiful hill overlooking Jerusalem and his voice fills the museum and touches you to the core as you look at his achievements and personal belongings. There is magic in the air of the museum as one checks his personal documents, his pens, his desk, clothing and even his keychain. His eyeglasses look at you deeply as his speeches and poetry recitals play in the background. The only sad moment is the realization that he is no longer there in the flesh and his own coffee cup and traditional Arabic coffee pot are there only as a memory for his lovers to cherish. Staring emotionally at them, empty of the coffee he so loved, how I wished to have a cup of coffee with him at that moment to ask him what he thought of what is going on and where he thought things are headed.
As part of my recent journalistic work, I interviewed some of Ramallah’s most prominent and most influential women: Palestinian icon Hanan Ashrawi, Judge Eman Nassereddin and Musician Rima Nasser Tarazi. Each of them a role model in their own right and as strong as a mountain. They carry in their veins the history of a struggle that defines Palestinians and, more importantly, charts a bright future as long as they are active and at the helm.
The streets of old town Ramallah spoke to me in ways only they can. They told me, “This is Palestine, full of life and hope for a brighter future.” In the faces of street vendors and ordinary passersby, there was a message of hospitality and love only Palestinians possess. Away from politics and the day-to-day woes, there was a deep desire to exist and be what an entire people are capable of being if only they were given the chance!
Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.