History of Ramallah
Modern Ramallah was founded in the mid-1500s by the Hadadeens, a tribe of brothers who were descended from Yemenite Christian Arabs. The Hadadeens, led by Rashed Haddad, arrived from east of the Jordan River near what is now the Jordanian town of Shobak. Although the reasons for the Hadadeen's migration is attributed to fighting and unrest among tribes in that area, a more common rendition is as follows: Rashed's brother Sabri Haddad was once hosting Emir Ibn Kaysoom, the head of a powerful tribe in the region, when Sabri's wife gave birth to a baby girl. According to tribal customs, the Emir congratulated Sabri and asked for the infant's betrothal to his own young son once they both came of age. Sabri believed the request to be in jest, as Christian-Muslim intermarriage was not customary, and agreed to the request in what he likewise considered a joke. Many years later, the Emir came to the Hadadeens and demanded they fulfill their promise, which they refused to do. Many clashes ensued during the following months, with assassinations occurring on both sides. To avoid further bloodshed at the hands of the more powerful Kaysoom tribe, the Hadadeens fled west, and settled on the hilltops of Ramallah, which was only very sparsely populated at the time by a handful of Muslim families. Subsequently, the Hadadeen family elders (along with heads of a few other Christian tribes that arrived in Ramallah afterwards) each became the head of eight clans to whom modern-day Ramallah natives can still trace their ancestry. Religious influence Ramallah grew throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as an agricultural village, thus attracting more (predominantly Christian) inhabitants from around the region.
In 1700, Yacoub Elias was the first Ramallah native to be ordained by the Greek Orthodox Church, the dominant Christian denomination in the Holy Land at that time. In the early 1800s, the first Arab Orthodox church was built, and a larger replacement church, The Church of Transfiguration, was built in 1850 and remains the city's sole Orthodox Church to this day. During that same decade, the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church established its presence in Ramallah, and its church and adjoining compound remain home to the second largest Christian denomination in the city. The Roman Catholic Church also established the St. Joseph's Girl's School in Ramallah which still enjoys high enrollment; and Al-Ahliyyah high school for both sexes. Throughout the later decades, and with the influx of Muslim and Christian refugees and internal migration, numerous mosques were founded throughout the area, as well as a few churches. The Jamal Abdel Nasser mosque is one of the city's largest. A Melkite Catholic Church that also runs a school was also established, as well as other churches and schools including the Lutheran Church and high school, the Arab Episcopal (Anglican) Church and high school, and the Ramallah Baptist Church. Among the most noted religious groups that were to arrive and establish a presence in Ramallah was the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The first Quakers to come to Ramallah established a number of small schools for girls after what they saw as a dearth of education for girls and women. This included an academy for girls established by Eli and Sybil Jones in 1869. A clinic was also opened by the Quakers in 1883, with Dr. George Hassenauer serving as the first doctor in Ramallah. In 1889, the girls academy was inaugurated as the Friends Girls School (FGS). As the FGS was also a boarding school, it attracted a number of girls from surrounding communities, including Jerusalem, Lydda, Jaffa, and Beirut. In 1901, the Friends Boys School (FBS) was founded, and together with the Friends Meeting House for worship established in the city center in 1910, the three Quaker sites are famous landmarks in Ramallah. Though no longer boarding schools, the two Friends Schools have since become co-ed and renamed as the Ramallah Friends Schools, with the FGS campus housing K-6 classrooms and the FBS housing grades 7-12. According to the schools' official website, most high school students do not elect to take the traditional "Tawjihi" university matriculation exams as is the norm in Palestine, but opt instead for the "International Baccalaureate" exams that are more respected internationally. The schools also encourage students to take the American SAT exams. It is now the most expensive school in Ramallah, and as such it primarily attracts wealthier families in the area.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Ramallah was an active agricultural town. It was declared a city in 1908 and had an elected municipality as well as partnership projects with the adjacent town of al-Bireh. In World War I, a few locals joined the Turkish army, a number of whom were killed in battle. The Friends Boys School became a temporary hospital during the War. The British Army occupied Ramallah in December 1917, and the British Mandate in Palestine began in April 1920 and was to last until 1948. The area's economic boom in the 1920s saw a significant improvement in living standards for Ramallah's wealthy residents. The landed aristocracy and merchants who formed the Palestinian upper class built stately multi-storied villas during this period; many of these estates are still standing today as reminders of a more peaceful and prosperous time. The Jerusalem Electric Company brought electricity to Ramallah in 1936, and most homes were wired shortly thereafter. In 1946, the British authorities inaugurated the "Palestine Broadcasting Service" in Ramallah, the staff of which was trained by the British Broadcasting Corporation to deliver daily broadcasts in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. This station was later renamed "Kol Yerushalaym" (The Voice of Jerusalem). The activity of foreign churches in Palestine in the late nineteenth century increased awareness of prosperity in the West. In Ramallah and Bethlehem, a few miles south, local residents began to seek their fortunes overseas. In 1901, merchants from Ramallah emigrated to the United States and established import-export businesses, selling handmade rugs and other exotic wares across the Atlantic. Increased trade dramatically improved living standards for Ramallah's inhabitants. American cars, mechanized farming equipment, radios, and later televisions became attainable luxuries for upper class families.
As residents of Jaffa and Lydda moved to Ramallah, the balance of Muslims and Christians began to change. By 1953, Ramallah's population had doubled, but the economy and infrastructure were not equipped to handle the influx of poor villagers. They also feared the establishment of kibbutzim in Israel might engender a socialist-collectivist ideology among Palestinians and that their personal wealth might be confiscated and redistributed. Natives of Ramallah packed their bags and left, primarily to the United States. By 1946, 1,500 of Ramallah's 6,000 natives (or about a quarter) had emigrated, and Arabs from the surrounding towns and villages particularly Hebron, bought up the property and homes the émigrés left behind. Occupation by Jordan and Israel 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, and elsewhere. Jordan had annexed the West Bank, applying its law to the territory. However, Jordan being a constitutional monarchy, 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, immediately imposing a military closure, and conducted a census a few weeks later. Every person registered in the census was given an Israeli "Identity Card" which was the sole document that allowed the bearer to continue to reside there. Any persons who happened to be abroad during the census lost all rights of residency. For residents of Ramallah, the situation had now reversed itself; for the first time in 19 years residents could freely visit Israel and the Gaza Strip and engage in commerce there. Unlike the Jordanians, Israel did not annex the West Bank. Ramallah residents did not have voting rights in Israel and could only work there by permit. Certain services, like banks, were not allowed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ramallah remained under Israeli military rule for three decades. The Civil Administration established in 1981, 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 CA reprinted Jordanian textbooks for distribution in schools but did not update them. The CA 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 the 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 neighboring countries for membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization. In December 1987, the popular uprising known as the Intifada erupted.
First Intifada Lion sculpture in Ramallah's central square, 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 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 began to take hold, life in Ramallah became closer to normal, with shops opening all day long and schools functioning fully. On September 13, 1993 the famous White House handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat took place, and an unfamiliar sight was seen around Ramallah: school children presented olive branches to Israeli soldiers who were patrolling the streets of the city that day. In December 1995, as part of the Oslo Accords, the Israel Defense Force abandoned the Mukata'a, the CA headquarters in Ramallah, and withdrew its forces from the city center to the outskirts. The newly established Palestinian Authority took civilian and security responsibility for the city, which was designated "Area A" under the accords. Second Intifada Residential neighborhood in RamallahThe years between 1995 and 2000 (known locally as the "Oslo Years") initially brought relative prosperity to Ramallah. Particularly, there was a significant surge in the number of new restaurants in the city. Many expatriates, particularly those who lived in the United States and had left because of the First Intifada (and even some descendants of long-emigrated natives who had never lived there) returned to establish businesses there. There was immense optimism in the mid-1990s about the future of the peace process. However, many of the promises of the process did not materialize. As unemployment among the Palestinians rose from single digits in 1990 to 37% in 2000, the economy of Ramallah suffered greatly. The Israel Defense Force still controlled all surrounding areas, and freedom of movement for Ramallah residents to that enjoyed prior to 1987 (the start of the first Intifada) was never achieved. On the contrary, Jerusalem, less than 10 miles south, was off-limits without special hard-to-obtain permits. Also, expansion of Israeli settlements around Ramallah increased dramatically, and the network of bypass roads for use of Jewish residents of Israel that were built around Ramallah cut off more and more area residents from surrounding communities, as did more land confiscations for settlements. Many official documents previously handled by the Israeli Civil Administration, including the residency-requiring "Identity Card" and permits to travel abroad, were now handled by the Palestinian Authority but still required Israeli approval. For example, a Palestinian passport issued to a Ramallah resident was not valid until the passport serial number was registered with the Israeli authorities, who still controlled all border crossings.
The Oslo process was no longer popular by the end of the decade, and with the collapse of the Camp David summit in July 2000, optimism had diminished. In September 2000, a second Intifada known as Al-Aqsa Intifada erupted. Young men and women from Ramallah participated in demonstrations against the Israeli army almost daily in the beginning, with marches to the outskirts of the city where Israeli checkpoints were set up. Over time, the marches subsided and were replaced by sporadic use of live ammunition against Israeli solders, and various atrocities against Jewish citizens. A number of Jewish settlers were also targeted, particularly on the bypass roads that crisscrossed the terrain to link settlements to pre-1967 Israel. The roads leading out of Ramallah were dug up by the Israeli army, and checkpoints were established to restrict all movement in both directions. Ramallah became the site of the first Israeli air-strike against the Palestinians. On October 12, 2000, after many Palestinians had been killed or injured in the Ramallah area by the IDF or settlers, two Israeli army reservists were captured near Ramallah and taken to the main police station. According to the Palestinian police chief, attempts were made to shield the two from an angry mob just back from a funeral of a Palestinian killed by Israelis, but the police were overcome by the men who stormed the station and killed the two reservists, mutilated their bodies, and dragged them through the streets. The IDF claimed that the two had taken a wrong turn into Ramallah, while Palestinians claimed that was unlikely because Ramallah was ringed with Israeli checkpoints, and they suspected that the two might have been an undercover assassination squad. Later that afternoon, Israeli army helicopters demolished the police station where the events had taken place, in the first of what has to be a common recurrence of air-strikes against Palestinian targets. In subsequent months, Palestinians resorted to increased use of firearms to target Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers, and suicide bombers began to attack Israeli civilian targets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere. Some of the bombers came from villages and refugee camps around Ramallah. In 2002, the Israeli army, which had already destroyed most Palestinian Authority police and security installations in Ramallah by air-strikes, re-occupied the city in what was dubbed Operation Defensive Shield. This operation was characterized by extended blanket curfews in Ramallah, as well as loss of electricity and destruction of public property. Schools and businesses were disrupted, and there were also incidents of random attacks by IDF soldiers on civilians.
Many Ramallah institutions, including government ministries, non-governmental organizations, human rights institutions, schools, and shopping malls were vandalized, and equipment was either destroyed or stolen. Many residents reported missing items such as jewelry and computer equipment after IDF soldiers had raided their homes, and former soldiers did acknowledge that looting did in fact occur. The IDF also took over local Ramallah television stations, and allegations were made that they were responsible for broadcasts of pornographic material to residents. Social and economic conditions in Ramallah have dramatically deteriorated since the Intifada began. Most of the expatriates who arrived during the "Oslo Years" left, as did many other Palestinians who complained that the living conditions had become intolerable, largely due to the effects of the closure.
Recently, large sections of the Israeli West Bank barrier have been completed around the city, furthering its isolation. Government The Mukataa in Ramallah, The tomb of Yasser Arafat, Ramallah became famous after Yasser Arafat decided to establish his West Bank headquarters (known as Mukata'a) there, since it was considered as the northern extent of Jerusalem. Although considered as an interim solution, Ramallah has become the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, hosting almost all governmental headquarters. In December 2001, Yasser Arafat was at the Mukata'a in Ramallah for regular meetings that he sometimes held in Ramallah (Arafat usually held his meetings at his main headquarters in Gaza City, where he lived with his wife and daughter). Twin suicide bombings occurred in Haifa during Arafat's stay, after which the Israeli government decided to ground him, confining him to the Ramallah compound. In 2002, the compound was partly demolished by the IDF's bulldozers and Arafat's building was cut off from the rest of the compound. Israel showed pictures of illegal weapons allegedly found in the Mukata'a and said it proved Arafat's link to terrorism against Israel; the Palestinians countered that these weapons belong to the Palestinian security services. On November 11, 2004 Arafat died at the Percy training hospital of the Armies near Paris and on November 12, 2004 Arafat was laid to rest in the courtyard of the Mukataa. The site still serves as the Ramallah headquarters of the Palestinian Authority as well the official West Bank office of Mahmoud Abbas. 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.
Culture Ramallah is generally considered the most affluent and cultural as well as the most liberal, of all Palestinian cities, and is home to a number of popular Palestinian activists, poets, artists, and musicians. One hallmark of Ramallah is Rukab's Ice Cream, which is based on the resin of chewing gum and thus has a distinctive taste. Another is the First Ramallah Group, a boy- and girl-scout club that also holds a number of traditional dance (Dabka) performances and is also home to men's and women's basketball teams that compete regionally. During the annual "Saturday of Light" religious festival (which occurs on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday to commemorate the light that tradition holds shone from the tomb of Jesus), the scouts hold a parade through the city streets to receive the flame from Jerusalem. (The flame is ignited in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is passed on through candles and lanterns to regional churches.) A variety of mosques, as well as churches of many denominations, dot the landscape. Many foreign groups, whether musical or dance troops, perform in Ramallah in usually their only stop in Palestinian territories, while some others (such as renowned Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim) perform often. The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre was founded in 1996 and is a popular local venue for various artists. The Al-Kasaba theatre is the venue for performing stage plays and also screens motion pictures. In 2004, a state of the art facility, the Ramallah Cultural Palace, opened in Ramallah and is the only venue of its kind in the Palestinian territories. It houses a 736-seat auditorium, as well as conference rooms, exhibit halls, and movie-viewing rooms. It was a joint venture between the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Japanese government. Also in 2004, Ramallah held its first annual international film festival. While the traditional Palestinian costume produced in Ramallah is no longer as ubiquitously worn or made as it was prior to the establishment of Israel, Ramallah remains famous for its distinctive traditional dress of white linen fabric with red cross-stitch of silk thread. The headdress or smadeh was of a type that was once also worn throughout northern Palestine: a small roundish cap, padded and stiffened, with gold and silver coins set in a fringe with a long veil pinned to the back, sometimes of silk and sometimes embroidered.
Bibliography Azeez Shaheen "Ramallah: Its history and genealogies", Birzeit University Press, 1982