MESS Report / This Ramadan, the Occupation Is Not the Hot Topic in Ramallah

These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

On Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the month-long fast of Ramadan, the weather in the West Bank was cooler than it had been earlier in the week, making it more conducive to fasting. But with temperatures still hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, it is easy to understand that fasting from dawn to dusk is no great pleasure.

Emil Salman

When we arrived in downtown Ramallah on Wednesday and looked for parking, we saw that city authorities had designated the area for metered parking. But it's the West Bank, so what could possibly happen to a parking scofflaw? A parking ticket?

But a local merchant warned us that anyone who doesn't feed the meter is almost sure to have their vehicle immobilized with a Denver boot. That is the new West Bank reality: Order prevails in Palestinian towns.

"The security situation is as good as it could be," said a Ramallah furniture and appliance merchant. "Things are stable, quiet and orderly, and thank God the government is in control of what happens in town. But work is hard to come by."

It's not easy to be a merchant in a city like Ramallah, where a large proportion of the residents are civil servants who earn just NIS 2,000 to NIS 2,500 a month and the cost of housing is very high, he explained. He himself is from Nablus, but moved to Ramallah several years ago due to the tight closure Israel maintained on his hometown at that time.

"I thank whoever decided to remove the roadblocks around Nablus," he added. They had fomented hatred toward Israel, he said, and their removal has thus lowered the level of hostility.

Shoppers were relatively sparse on Wednesday, especially during the hottest part of the day. The fast begins at about 4:30 A.M. and ends at about 6:30 P.M., since the Palestinian Authority turned its clocks back to standard time from daylight savings time on Wednesday. During those hours, observant Muslims are required to refrain not only from eating and drinking, but also from smoking. But just as is true of Jewish religious law, those whose health would be endangered by fasting are exempt.

The fast ends with the evening iftar meal, when believers celebrate into the night. This meal consists of beef, chicken and lots of rice, and the favored dessert is a local pancake specialty, kataif. Staff at one local restaurant, which is closed during the day throughout the Muslim holy month, said they sell kataif "to go" during Ramadan.

Another local eating establishment, which specializes in grilled meat, takes a different approach: It sells a variety of pickled products during the day, but then reopens as a restaurant in the evening. Its owners complained that business is a little slow, perhaps because of Ramadan. But at Ramallah's legendary Kataif Abu Adnan, a shop specializing in kataif, the lines of people waiting to buy the pancakes for NIS 8 per kilogram were long.

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was "the occupation" - unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

Samir al-Aghbar, the appliance salesman, explained that the first 10 days of Ramadan are devoted to the stomach, and the next 10 to clothes, in anticipation of the Id al-Fitr celebration that concludes the holy month. Other things, like appliances - or perhaps even the occupation - are less on people's minds during Ramadan.