THE BLOG
05/21/2013 12:47 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Ramallah, Palestine's De Facto Capital

Ramallah is the boom town of the West Bank. As, bit by bit (under the settlement policy of Israel), the likelihood of East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine is fading, Ramallah is emerging as the de facto capital of the country. It feels secular and relatively sophisticated, and there's no question that it's Palestinian. The PLO headquarters is here. Yasser Arafat is buried here. And it's busy with NGOs and international agencies working on Palestine's problems. As many Palestinian Americans have moved back home and live here, there are lots of American accents. The city of 70,000 people sits at about 3,000 feet above sea level. Its name means "God's Mountain," and it was cold when I was there. As it lacks the trouble-causing religious sites -- and is more liberal and cosmopolitan than other Palestinian cities -- it was the most relaxed place in the country for me.

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Coming into Ramallah, a road was closed off with chunks of broken concrete. A few tires were burning in the distance. And a group of teenage boys were throwing rocks at an Israeli police station. It's what some kids do here for a little "excitement" after school.

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Ramallah is considered the most cosmopolitan city in the country; there's nightclubs and fun after dark.

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In Ramallah I slept at a friendly and comfortable hotel called Beauty Inn. Their breakfast was delightful.

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Sadly, Christian churches throughout the Middle East are suffering from the rise of extremist Muslim groups. The Lutheran church in Ramallah is built like a fortress.

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My guide, Iyad Shrydeh, took me to everyone's favorite ice cream joint, Rukab's, for a bowl of delightfully stretchy Palestinian ice cream.

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Downtown Ramallah was the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and relaxed urban scene I found in Palestine.

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Perhaps the number one sight in Ramallah is the tomb of Yasser Arafat. While, to many, Arafat is just a terrorist, regardless of what you think of him, he was instrumental in raising awareness of the plight of his people. I found that, while many Palestinians believe Arafat squandered some opportunities for peace that they would love to have now, nearly all respect him as an important leader who committed his life to forging a free Palestinian state.

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Yasser Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organization and -- whether you consider him a terrorist or a statesman -- he raised awareness of the struggles of his people.


Growing up, the only Palestinian I was aware of was Yasser Arafat. But a thoughtful museum at the tomb of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish introduced me to the author and poet who wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Darwish, who died in 2008, worked with Arafat but used a pen rather than a gun as his weapon.

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