Ramallah

SUMMARY

Located a mere 10km from Jerusalem, Ramallah was historically a Christian town, which today has a Muslim majority with a strong Christian minority. The city was ruled by the British until 1948, then by the Jordanians, and finally captured by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967; the city remained under Israeli rule for the next four decades. Ramallah residents were among the early joiners of the first Intifada in 1987, leading to an Israeli crackdown in the city. Normal life resumed as the peace process moved forward, and between 1993 and 2000 Ramallah enjoyed relative prosperity and optimism. But unemployment rose and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) remained in control of the territories and placed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. Another Israeli crackdown in 2002 increased Ramallah’s isolation. In spite of these challenges, Ramallah retains something of its entrepreneurial, progressive spirit. In 2005, local elections saw a woman voted mayor for the first time in the city’s history. By 2010, Ramallah had become the leading centre of economic and political activity in the territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and it is the de facto administrative capital of the state of Palestine. However, weakness within the PA has lead to the rise of Hamas, which beat the Fatah Party in the 2006 elections, and resulting in a hardening of positions on all sides. While Ramallah is considered to be the most affluent and liberal of all Palestinian cities, and widely hailed as an example of Palestinian economic success, it is a major recipient of international aid, which some have claimed has led to an economic bubble and corruption. [Source: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/resources/commentary-and-analysis/2085-the-economic-mirage-in-the-west-bank-ramallah ]

PROFILE

Ramallah is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank located 10 kilometres (6 miles) north of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority headquarters is currently located in Ramallah for most international NGOs and embassies. According to a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) census in 2011, there were approximately 310,218 living in the city. Ramallah was historically a Christian town, but today Muslims form the majority of the population, with a strong Christian minority. Sources vary about the current Christian population in the city, ranging around 25%.

Ramallah was declared a city in 1908 and had an elected municipality as well as partnership projects with the adjacent town of al-Bireh. The British Army occupied Ramallah in December 1917, and the city remained under British rule until 1948. With the creation of Israel in 1948 and the ensuing conflict, Palestinians from the coastal cities fled to the mountainous areas. Due to the population increase, Ramallah grew from a small town into a city.

By 1953, Ramallah’s population had doubled, but the economy and infrastructure were still not equipped to handle the influx of poor villagers. Natives of Ramallah left, primarily to the United States. Ramallah was relatively tranquil during the years of Jordanian rule between 1948 and 1967, with residents enjoying freedom of movement between the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere. Jordan had annexed the West Bank, applying its law to the territory; however, many Palestinians were jailed for being members of what the Jordanian government regarded as illegal political parties, including the Palestine Communist Party and other socialist and pro-independence groups. Jordanian law also restricted the creativity and freedom desired by many Palestinians at the time.

During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured Ramallah, imposing a military closure and conducting a census a few weeks later. Every person registered in the census was given an Israeli identity card which allowed the bearer to continue to reside there. Those who were abroad during the census lost their residency rights. For residents of Ramallah, the situation had now reversed itself: for the first time in 19 years residents could not freely visit or engage in commerce in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Unlike Jordan, Israel did not attempt to annex all of the West Bank or offer citizenship to the residents. Rather, Ramallah residents were issued permits to work in Israel. The city remained under Israeli military rule for over four decades. The Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) established in1981, was in charge of civilian and day-to-day services such as issuing permission to travel, build, export or import, and host relatives from abroad. The ICA reprinted Jordanian textbooks for distribution in schools, but did not update them. The ICA was in charge of tax collection and land expropriation, which sometimes included olive groves that Arab villagers claimed to have tended for generations. According to Israeli human rights activists, Jewish settlements in the Ramallah area, such as Beit El and Psagot, prevented the expansion of the city and cut it off from the surrounding villages. As resistance increased, Ramallah residents were jailed or deported to neighbouring countries for membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In December 1987, the popular uprising known as the Intifada erupted.

Ramallah residents were among the early joiners of the first Intifada. The Intifada Unified Leadership, an umbrella organization of various Palestinian factions, distributed weekly bulletins on the streets of Ramallah with a schedule of the daily protests, strikes and action against Israeli patrols in the city. At the demonstrations, tires were burned in the street and the crowds threw stones and Molotov cocktails.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Schools in Ramallah were forcibly shut down, and opened gradually for a few hours a day. House arrests were carried out, and curfews were imposed that restricted travel and exports in what Palestinians regarded as collective punishment. In response to the closure of schools, residents organized home schooling sessions to help students make up missed material; this became one of the few symbols of civil disobedience. The Intifada leadership organized “tree plantings” and resorted to the tactics used in pre-1948 Palestine, such as ordering general strikes in which no commercial businesses were allowed to open and no cars were allowed on the streets.

In 1991, the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid International Peace Conference included many notables from Ramallah. As the Intifada wound down and the peace process moved forward, normal life in Ramallah resumed. On September 13, 1993 the famous White House handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat took place, cementing the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority (PA). In December 1995, in keeping with the Oslo Accords, the Israeli army abandoned the centre of Ramallah and withdrew to the city outskirts.

The years between 1993 and 2000 (known locally as the “Oslo Years”) brought relative prosperity to Ramallah. Many expatriates returned to establish businesses there and the atmosphere was one of optimism. In 2000, unemployment began to rise and the economy of Ramallah declined. The Israel Defence Force remained in control of the territories; the freedom of movement enjoyed by Ramallah residents prior to the first Intifada was not restored. Travel to Jerusalem required special permits, and expansion of Israeli settlements around Ramallah increased dramatically. A network of bypass roads for use of Israeli citizens only was built around Ramallah, and land was confiscated for settlements. Many official documents previously handled by the Israeli Civil Administration were now handled by the Palestinian Authority, but still required Israeli approval. A Palestinian passport issued to Ramallah residents was not valid unless the serial number was registered with the Israeli authorities, who controlled border crossings. The failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000 led to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada (Second Intifada) in September 2000.

In 2002, Ramallah was re-occupied by Israel in an IDF operation codenamed Operation Defensive Shield, which resulted in curfews, electricity cuts, school closures and disruptions of commercial life. Many Ramallah institutions, including government ministries, were vandalized, and equipment was destroyed or stolen. The IDF took over local Ramallah television stations, and social and economic conditions deteriorated. Many expatriates left, as did many other Palestinians who complained that the living conditions had become intolerable. The Israeli West Bank separation barrier/wall has furthered Ramallah’s isolation.

In December 2005, local elections were held in Ramallah in which candidates from three different factions competed for the 15-seat municipal council for a four-year term. The council elected Janet Mikhail as mayor, the first woman to hold the post.

By 2010, Ramallah had become the leading centre of economic and political activity in the territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority. It was meant to be a provisional government of the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank, which would eventually be replaced by a sovereign Palestinian state after a final settlement was reached with Israel.

No final settlement was reached, however, and in 2007 the Palestinian Authority lost control of half of its territory. The Fatah party, founded by Yasser Arafat, who was the Authority’s president until his death in 2004, was beaten in parliamentary elections in 2006 by Hamas. The following year, Hamas gunmen drove Fatah out of Gaza and set up its own government there. The split left the Palestinian Authority in control only of portions of the West Bank. Some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control, and both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim East Jerusalem, which is now in Israeli hands.

Over the years, repeated rounds of negotiations meant to bring about the final settlement have made little progress, although former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said later that they had been on the verge of a sweeping deal when Mr. Olmert was forced from office in 2008. Talks with Israel stalled again in September 2010. Mr. Abbas said he would not negotiate while Israel continued to build on occupied lands, and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declined to renew a construction moratorium that expired three weeks after the talks began.

In 2011, as the revolts of the Arab Spring swept through the region, Mr. Abbas all but abandoned the possibility of productive negotiations with Israel and focused on two new tracks – healing the rift with Hamas and winning United Nations recognition of full Palestinian statehood.

In the most recent string of protests, Palestinians have been broadly represented through the demonstrations in the street, as the result of the increase in the prices of commodities. These increases over the past five months were coupled with the failure to pay regular salaries for Palestinian Authority employees as well as cost of living allowances. The protests have resulted in the closure of roads, shops, and schools as well as demands for the dissolution of the government for the cancellation of the Paris Protocol, which links the West Bank’s economy to Israel’s and is considered one of the reasons for the critical economic situation. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has attempted to calm protestors by decreasing prices, but not for all commodities. Moreover, the government is reviewing the Paris Protocol and is in negotiations with unions.

Elections in the West Bank are currently scheduled for 20 October 2012. The registration process for local elections ended on 11 September. Of the West Bank’s 353 municipalities, 200 registered only one bloc of candidates, which means that their seats will be uncontested. Sixteen municipalities in the Jerusalem area decided to run on joint lists, which also means candidates will be unopposed. Palestinian rights groups claim that the single-list outcome will leave local municipalities at the whim of interest groups, political and social pressures, and could even go back to the law of the clans.

The Ministry of Local Government has hosted every participating faction for discussions about how to hold the elections. The factions of the Islamic Jihad currently plan to boycott the elections.