Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ramallah And Jenin: Formerly Terrorist Strongholds--Now Developing Economic And Cultural Centers

In Bombs in Gaza, Parties in Ramallah, Rinat Malkes wrote last summer about the amazing turnaround in Ramallah:
While the Palestinian political world remains in turmoil, the West Bank still struggles for normality — and achieves it, but only selectively. While northern West Bank cities like Nablus and Jenin remain tense, in the heart of Palestine the city of Ramallah seems more effervescent than ever — full of tourists, crowded coffee shops, and active daily life even as the headlines spell trouble; it is as if the city is in a strange quiet before a storm.

The violent escalation over the past week may challenge Palestinian and Israeli analysts who are currently asking themselves whether the situation can deteriorate even more, but the news doesn’t seem to bother Ramallah’s citizens. Many new and trendy Western-style coffee shops and restaurants have opened this summer, tourists came back to the streets around al-Manara Square, and despite the price index high of 10.20% during the first quarter of the year, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, commerce is buzzing.

It’s easy to notice a huge variety of languages, cultures, and Western faces among the crowded tables of Cafe de la Paix, next to Ramallah’s city hall. Pilgrims, foreign NGOs’ personnel, journalists, and Palestinians from other West Bank cities have found a perfect place to spend some quality leisure time. [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing.

Now, a year later, it seems that Jenin is catching up:
The skies lit up over Jenin last month, and it wasn't tracer bullets or flash bombs but celebratory fireworks, set off to mark the occasion of the opening of Hirbawi Home Center, a new luxury establishment on the city's outskirts.

The five-story building near the Jalame checkpoint cost $5 million to build, says its owner, and it is filled with deluxe, foreign-made products seen mostly in the pages of newspaper supplements.

This shopping opportunity is intended to interest the upper crust of Jenin, and while some might think the proposition suggests financial suicide, the profit forecasts for the project have been so favorable the owner plans to open four more shops in the West Bank and one in Jordan.
Considering the commonly accepted image of the West Bank, one would assume that there is no demand for the luxury items that Hirbawi Home Center is offering--but the truth is that the demand for those luxuries exists and so do the means of acquiring them.
This may not sound like the familiar description of the occupied territories - the impoverished Palestinian village or the overcrowded refugee camp, a population sustaining itself on international aid. But it turns out that quite a few Palestinians consider a plasma screen, a surround sound stereo and comfortable chairs to be fairly essential items.

Here, on the fifth floor of the Jenin operation, overlooking the fields separating Israel from Jenin, are the in-demand electric gadgets: enormous TV screens, vacuum cleaners, espresso machines, and the list goes on and on. [CEO Ziad] Turabi points out that some products are only available in Home Center shops. "This is an espresso machine that grinds the coffee beans," he says. "People want more and more of these products. They ask for the finest quality." Most of the products on sale are imported through the port of Ashdod. "We have exclusive deals with quite a few brands," says Turabi. "They'll only market their products at Home Center."

..."We've been working for a few months now and every day had been like opening day. We are very pleased, and the profits have been very satisfying so far. Don't worry, we're not going to lose, and we truly believe that. It's true that Jenin is like a big village and wealthy people here are few. Everyone told us to start off with Ramallah. But I came here a few months ago and ran some profit estimates."
Read the whole thing.

The face of the West Bank is changing--albeit very slowly, and with lots of external help. The West Bank still does not have the infrastructure to exist as an independent state, but it is not the impoverished and overpopulated hellhole that Palestinian apologists claim.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Have you seen the work of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin? Might be worth a look: