Up until August 2011, I had no idea that there was a “back” entrance to Ramallah used for diplomats only, which enabled them to get in and out of Ramallah with ease and avoid going through the Qalandia checkpoint.
I learned about this special entrance when I was escorted to the offices of the Palestinian Civil Police by a media officer from the European Union Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS) which has been funding the training of the Palestinian Civilian Police.
The instructions my EU contact (named “DJ”) gave were that we’d get to Ramallah through an entrance at the back of Givat Ze’ev, (a suburb of Jerusalem, over the green line) and I’d be picked up at “the gas station, that also has a canteen and a shop.”
“If you come from the 443 and turn left at the Ofer intersection you should drive by entrances to Givat Zeev East and Givat Zeev West and about 500 meters afterwards you will see a traffic light and the green gas station on your left.”
Givat Ze’ev, with approximately 15,000 people, is located over the green line five kilometers northwest of Jerusalem and is one of five settlement “blocs” that most Israelis believe should remain part of Israel.
My Israeli taxi driver Eyal, a Moroccon Jew, drove me from Netanya to the Givat Ze’ev gas station for the appointed meeting time at one o’clock. But throughout the hour and a half drive he kept on insisting that there was no such entrance from Givat Ze’ev to Ramallah.
“You must be wrong. I know the roads here, I worked for the Jerusalem police in the old City for a few years. I don’t think there is such an entrance.”
When we got to the gas station and Eyal could see the checkpoint/gate for diplomats he said, “I am not sure it is so safe for you. Maybe I should come with you.”
I turned to him and said, “There’s two reasons you can’t, Eyal.”
“The first is that you are an Israeli and you aren’t allowed into Ramallah, unless you have clearance, which you don’t. And the second is even if you were allowed in I wouldn’t take you. My EU contact knows I am a Canadian journalist but doesn’t know I am Jewish. The last person I want to go to Ramallah with is an Israeli Jew who looks, acts and talks like an Israeli. You’ll probably even forget yourself and begin to speak to me in Hebrew–which will be a dead giveaway.”
“Do you really think they’ll automatically know I am an Israeli?”
“Yes, Eyal. And by the way there’s a third reason I won’t take you. You’ll probably not only give away my cover but you’ll charge me for your time!”
Eyal laughed, “Beseder–but I’ll call you later this evening to make sure you’re back safely.”
“OK, Eyal–and if I’m not back, please dress up like a Moroccan diplomat and figure out a way to get into Ramallah through this back entrance and come to get me! And before you do, don’t forget to fill up for gas at this gas station as you may need a full tank to find me. And if it’s at night I know I’lll be charged the increased night tariff!”
Eyal chuckled, insisted on treating me for coffee at the gas station and decided he’d wait around just to see what my EU contact DJ “looked like” before he left.
DJ, an affable and pleasant guy showed up on time and we drove right to the entrance for diplomats (see photo) where we were the only car and after DJ flashed his EUROCOPP card we went through the gate easily.
The most interesting part of the very short drive to Ramallah was that I was able to get a clear view of just how close the outskirts of the growing city of Ramallah actually are to Givat Ze’ev. I snapped a photo to show there is now only one hill that separates the two. I began thinking that if Ramallah keeps on growing, the two could come close to merging one day.
On the way to Ramallah, through the villages of Bir Nabala, Rafat, and the back of Qalandia, we passed a youngster riding a mule, a newly renovated conference centre that “has been closed since the second intifada”, a Palestinian police man hiding behind a tree off the road whom I would not have noticed had DJ not pointed him out, the Movenpick hotel and the Ankars Suties Hotel, and the Cairo Amman bank and the Arab Bank.
We then passed the Orjuwan Lounge, which DJ recommended as “a good place to go for drinks when you are back next time.”
It was next to the Orjuwan Lounge, as we passed the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, I noticed that the main thoroughfare was called Khalil Sakakini Street. The big sign explaining who Khalil Sakini was caught my eye (see related photo), as there weren’t any other street signs with English explanations like it. DJ drove by it too quickly, but I made a mental note to look up who Sakakini was.
Had I known then who Sakikini was, I would have asked to stop so I could carefully read what the sign said about him.
Sakikini was a Jerusalem born Christian Arab Nationalist, teacher and poet who supported the Nazis believing that Nazi Germany might weaken the British and ‘liberate Palestine from the Jew’. He wrote that Adolf Hitler had opened the World’s eyes to the myth of Jewish power, and that Germany had stood up to the Jews and put them in their place, much like Mussolini had done with the British.
Sakakini vehemently opposed allowing Holocaust survivors into Palestine, arguing that they were a human problem that needed to be solved by all humanity. He was against allowing the Struma ship that was trying to take several hundred Jewish refugees from Axis -allied Romania to Mandatory Palestine (the ship sunk in February 1942). He believed that an independent Palestinian Arab government should have used force to prevent the Holocaust survivors from landing, and that a thriving Jewish community under British protection should be forbidden. He believed that the Jewish right to the land had expired but the Arab right was a “living one.”
During the 1936-1939 Arab revolt, he applauded the Arab attacks on Jews, concluded that the ‘the sword was mightier than the book’ and praised the “heroes” responsible for a grenade attack of a Jewish civilian train.
Khalil Sakakini believed that the Holocaust was being exploited parasitically by Jews demanding a homeland in Palestine. Due to what he said was Jewish influence in the United States, he believed that their right to vote in that country should be revoked !(He was a supporter of Haj Amin Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who had a pact with Hitler to wipe out the Jews of the Yishuv in Palestine had the Nazis won the war.)
Sakakini was part of the extremist Arab leadership who was unable to consider sharing the land and recognizing the partition plan in 1947.
From Sakikini Street we got to Al Jihad Street (another moderate name) and DJ continued to drive past the Palestinian Ministry of Information, until we got to the EURO COPP Building–the EU Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support. Inside he and his Palestinain colleague would brief me on the activities of the Palestinian Civil Police.
TIME FOR A RUM AND COKE
Before we got there, I noticed Ramallah’s Coca Cola Plant. A couple years earlier I had taken my kids to the Coca-Cola Plant which began operating in Israel since 1968 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak.
The Coca-Cola Plant is a relatively new addition to the Ramallah landscape since after the 1967 Six day Arab-Israeli war, the Arab League led a boycott of American products effectively banning distribution of Coke in Arab countries. The boycott lasted until 1990 but was extended for two years in the West Bank and Gaza. The Ramallah Coke plant, owned by a consortium of Palestinian businessmen and called the National Beverage Company, opened in 1998 after an interim peace accord granted the Palestinian Authority autonomy over several West Bank cities and parts of Gaza. Until that time, Palestinians drank a locally produced soft drink called Club Cola, which was made in the same plant that Coke uses in Ramallah.
In 2011, the Palestinian National Beverage Company received the award for sustainable development in Eurasia and Africa at a ceremony for Coca Cola affiliates out of over 100 bottling companies affiliated with The Coca – Cola Company. But some Palestinians still see the company as Zionist.
Irrespective of this political issue, I was getting thirsty for water or a soft drink. “Come inside and we’ll sit in the air-conditioning and get something to drink,” DJ said.
End of Part One. Stay Tuned for – Part Two -Inside the EUROCOPP building.