Wednesday 3 June 2015

First Days

My first day in Abu Dis opened my eyes to so much already. I was introduced to the local coordinator who showed me Dar Assadaqa and took me to Falafel King, the local eating place. They served me the most amazing humus I ever had in my life and I can’t even describe the pain that hit me when I realised I would never taste anything like this back home. We headed on to Al Quds University which as only up the road. Entering the university from the streets of Abu Dis is like casually stepping onto another planet. Abu Dis is a very poor town whose situation has greatly deteriorated since the construction of the separation wall divided it from Jerusalem ten years ago. Many of the streets are in disrepair and littered, the walls are crumbling. By contrast, the university is modern, bright, clean and well maintained. It’s also extremely beautiful. The buildings are white and spacious and surrounded by trees and gardens, such as the AndalucĂ­a garden. There are also small cafes and drink stalls dotted around the grounds where the students sit and socialise and sip ice coffees or fruit cocktails. I am informed that the university is maintained with donations from the Gulf countries and wealthy Palestinian business men.  

Andalusia Gardens, Al Quds University 

In the student advice office I meet a whole group of interesting people. One young man is in charge of an animal rights project that’s being developed, the Palestinian Animal League. That initiatives like these are being built despite all of the problems that this country has been facing for generations is really heart-warming to me. It’s obvious that all the young people want is to build a country for the future generations. There’s a lot of support for the Communist party here in Abu Dis and I can’t help but wonder whether an alternative political system that failed so badly in Europe might actually be a promising contender in a place like Palestine. It’s an interesting possibility.

A couple of days later we visit Ramallah, the city acting as the current Palestinian capital. It’s very crowded and just like in Abu Dis, it’s more common to walk in the streets than on the pavements. The city centre is hectic but as soon as we move to the outskirts, the atmosphere calms down completely and it suddenly looks and feels like a southern European suburb. This place is also a world away from Abu Dis. The streets are filled with cafes and restaurants with pretty terraces and it’s obvious that the economy is much stronger and the mentality is vastly more secular. After wandering around the city for a while, we travel up to a suburb called Birzeit, home to one of the biggest Palestinian universities. I can’t get over how gorgeous this place is, in a way it’s easy to forget the problems. It feels like what this country could look like if there was no occupation. There’s real cooperation in this town, the locals work hard to maintain and develop it. Birzeit is also a mixed Muslim/Christian town and it’s beautiful to see how these two groups who shared this land for hundreds of years still live side by side like family. They haven’t let the wars and occupation divide them.

I leave Ramallah feeling positive. I really like this place, although I feel like there’s still much more to discover here.

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