Ramallah is in fashion, it's clear. For anyone who's had his fill of the Berlin scene and is sick of India already, Ramallah is waiting.
On Tuesday toward evening you could see them - the trend-hunters from Tel Aviv, promenading in the streets of Ramallah, speaking English just to be on the safe side, without realizing that their Israeliness sticks out a mile, in the way they walk, in their body language. They came for a performance by Boney M which was due to start at 8:30 P.M. in the plaza of the Ramallah Cultural Palace.
It is doubtful whether they would have bothered to go to a nostalgic performance like this if it had taken place in Tel Aviv. But in Ramallah, it's a different story. It feels dangerous, it embodies a whiff of the longing for a world without barriers and fences and separation walls. Come to Ramallah to dream of a better world.
From the moment you enter Ramallah, after overcoming the pressure and ugliness of the Qalandiyah checkpoint and forgetting who you really are, you feel a bit of foreign-style freedom. True, it's synthetic freedom - a bubble of freedom, closed within a hermetically-sealed tin can. But it's better than nothing, right?
Because we arrived early, the film crew and I, we sat in the Tiki-Taki cafe and drank iced coffee. Then we went to the apartment of an old friend on Clock Square for a gin and tonic. In the background a German recording of Greta Keller was playing; those in the know prefer her voice to that of her compatriot Marlene Dietrich. Greta Keller was the loser, the one who remained a New York bar singer after escaping from Germany, and never enjoyed Dietrich's fame. Which teaches us that this place, Ramallah, is the metaphorical kingdom of those who were skipped over by history and who stayed behind as an item of nostalgic chic.
This is what I discovered: Unfashionable chic is the charm that Ramallah has to offer. And that's why Boney M suited it so well on this particular evening. Boney M, the band that made the youth dance with hits like "Daddy Cool" and "Rasputin" in the distant days that I don't recall, when I myself was supposed to be a dancing youth.
The performance was about to begin. In the rows around us sat large multi-generational families. I looked at those fathers, more or less my age, balding and with bellies, who know like me that the faraway days of youth were not innocent and carefree, but just as bad as these days are.
And in spite of that, we leaped and jumped and moved around and waved our arms together with the band, in the knowledge that they were not even its original members, but only the shadow of an illusion of the brand name Boney M - just as we, too, the audience of balding, pot-bellied folks with families, were nothing but a shadow of an illusion of what we were and what we would like to be.
"Ramallah, we love you," cried the Boney Ms. And the audience roared back. "We love Palestine," the band shouted, and the audience waved a mass of hands right and left to the beat. "We'll take you to a place by the sea," called the soloist. "Yes," roared the audience, the vast majority of whom know what the sea looks like only from pictures. "Everything will be all right," sang the band. And the audience: "Everything will be all right."
Suddenly, there was an electrical blackout. The stage was covered with darkness. Young people behind me shouted, "Welcome to Palestine." But in fact, everything was all right after a few minutes: The electricity returned, reactivating the mikes and electric guitars and colored spotlights. The happiness returned. Women in hijabs danced, women with exposed hair danced, and some festooned in glittering paper chains moved to groove near the stage.
That's what Ramallah had to offer. It cannot give more than that. At the end of the show, children went onstage to touch these living legends, who were rumored to be the real members of Boney M.
And those in the house who are equal and more equal ended their evening at Bayt Anisa, which is considered the new hot spot in the city: a stone house that used to belong to a respectable lady, where, after her death, her son opened a pub-restaurant that serves alcohol and salads - at Tel Aviv prices.
This is an enclave within an enclave, and here too the naked eye detected a table of Israeli diners trying to look like someone or something they weren't, until a noisy gang of beer-drinking young Palestinians at the adjacent table shattered their illusion and spoke to them in fluent Hebrew. One of them called out to me: "Kol hakavod [good for you] - you have a big heart for coming here. We hate Israel."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now