Before going to training in Ramallah, we ventured out to roam the Christian and Arab quarters a bit, the bazaar area where there are no obvious tourists. Shopkeepers who have always hawked their wares now plead with the tourist, using their plight as manipulation to buy: “We are starving, the Occupation is destroying us, you must buy a lot to help us” (I didn’t). This was one area where it would have been easier if Jenny had not been with me. She does not like bargaining, and insisted on paying asking price in order to support the merchants. She was very uncomfortable if I began to bargain, so I didn’t and didn’t buy anything. So much was Iranian! All the pottery that I couldn’t find in Iran was here – very little was made in Palestine, but as in Iran, is passed off as local. We felt immediately comfortable in East Jerusalem, but merely crossing the street into the West sent chills through us: immediate tension, hardness, coldness, rudeness.
Walking through the narrow alleys, as people on mules and horses cross our path, instantly immerses us in the history and culture of this land. The merchants in the doorways imploring us to “take a look! No charge!”, the Arab shops filled with hideous t-shirts extolling the IOF, teenage Israeli soldiers in packs pressing through ancient corridors en route to the Jewish quarter, so “modern and western”, establish the scene. The reverie is destroyed by the constant army vehicles and their noisy and arrogant intrusion.
We go to the New Gate. The Old City is encircled by a stone wall with numerous gates like Bab Jdid. We take a van to Ramallah to our next hotel, the Retno. Unlike the quiet dignity of Knights Palace, where our room was comfortable and welcoming, Retno is newer with a few Palestinian families. Knights Palace had its share of travelers, some Christian groups, other peace groups from Europe. At Retno we pretty much take over the hotel. This was our first time going through a checkpoint -all rubble and sand – vans can’t travel through, so we have to pay, get out, drag the baggage over the roadblock and find another van to take us to Ramallah. This is Qalandia, considered a site of much violence.