Ramallah

Travel Guide Middle East Palestine Ramallah

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Introduction

Ramallah (Arabic رام الله Rāmallāh) is a small city (population, approximately 57,000) in the Palestinian Territories, located within the West Bank region, some 15 km north of Jerusalem. Since the inception of the Palestinian National Authority, Ramallah has acted as the de facto capital city of the Palestinian administration.
Modern Ramallah was founded in the mid-16th century by the Haddadins, a Jordanian tribe of brothers descended from Ghassanid Christian Arabs. The Haddadins, led by Rashid Haddadin, arrived from east of the Jordan River near the Jordanian town of Shoubak. The Haddadin migration is attributed to fighting and unrest among clans in that area. According to modern living descendents of original Haddadin family members, Rahid's brother Sabra Haddadin was hosting Emir Ibn Kaysoom, head of a powerful Muslim clan in the region, when Sabra's wife gave birth to a baby girl. According to custom, the Emir proposed a betrothal to his own young son when they came of age. Sabra believed the proposal was in jest, as Muslim-Christian marriages were not customary, and gave his word. When the Emir later came to the Haddadins and demanded that they fulfill their promise, they refused. This set off bloody conflict between the two families. The Haddadins fled west and settled on the hilltops of Ramallah, where only a few Muslim families lived at the time. Today although town has a Muslim majority, Ramallah retains it's title as a historically Christian Palestinian town

Ramallah is known for its religiously relaxed atmosphere—alcohol flows freely and movie theaters are well attended—and the cafes along its main streets. Ramallah is, without question, the cultural capital of the West Bank, with a highly educated and fashionable population. It is also the hub of Palestinian feminist activity; the city’s women frequently attend university rather than marry early, and several cafes run exclusively by women are used to fund local feminist organizations.

While there, it is easy to make small talk with the locals. Unless you are firmly anti-Israeli occupation, it is advisable that you do more listening than actual talking yourself, however. For the most part, Palestinians are glad to share their problems and plight to any western visitors.

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Sights and Activities

The city is one of the most vibrant ones in the West Bank. In Ramallah, a few historic and religious sites are present. However, the downtown streets are a must see during the day, as the city is often really congested.

  • Old City. While not resembling any 'Medina'-style old city, several churches and mosques can be found that may be of interest to visitors. edit The Friends Schools. One of the oldest schools in the region, are also a must visit as there is one near the old city, and another in the entrance of the downtown coming from Jerusalem.
  • Yasser Arafat's mausoleum (700 m northwest of the central roundabout). 10am-5pm, except Mondays. The mausoleum is the only part of the Mukata'a two-block complex tourists can visit. You will be asked by the armed guards at the gate to leave any bags (large or small) with them but they will allow you to take your camera with you to visit the tomb. Inside you will find a couple of soldiers standing guard over the tomb. This seems to be a ceremonial guard and they will not object to your taking photos inside there, even of yourself or others next to the marble gravestone. Next to the mausoleum is the museum building where Arafat was held under siege by the Israeli Army in 2002. The museum is interesting in a way that it displays the Palestinian, sometimes a little questionable but interesting view of the difficult past. Mausoleum is free - Museum is ₪5.
  • The West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. Closed for public. The Mukata'a is a two-block compound with a white tower that is lit up at night and visible from most parts of the city. It contains some government offices and conference rooms, as well as the above mentioned Yasser Arafat's mausoleum.
  • Dar Zahran Heritage Building (750 m west of the central roundabout). Mon-Sat, opens 11am. A protected and family-owned building and one of the top sights in Ramallah, displaying the history and art of Ramallah's past and present. A nice and helpful host takes care of the place with over 200 years of history. It is also a hotel and you can buy souvenirs. edit
  • Al Tireh. A fortress from the 12th century.

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Events and Festivals

  • Birzeit Heritage Week - At the height of summer, the still-sleepy city of Birzeit comes to life in a five-day festival of music, dance, cuisine, film, poetry, and theatre, all within the beautifully restored old city
  • Palestine International Festival - Perhaps the oldest and largest of annual festivals, the PIF was founded in 1993 to organise and host the first international cultural events in Palestine. The festivals have brought music and dance groups from Spain, Greece, Chile, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq and Turkey. It is truly the most international festival held in the West Bank.
  • Taybeh Oktoberfest - annual village festival

To know more about the festivals and events visit the Visitpalestine website..

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Getting There

Tourists with passports outside the Middle East have no problem entering or exiting Ramallah. Make sure to have your passport and visa stamp with you. Even though you will probably not need your passport to enter, you will be required to show your passport and stamp in order to re-enter Israel. Once through the checkpoint, it is a short drive to downtown Ramallah. Bear in mind that it is illegal for Israelis to enter Ramallah, under Israeli law.

On the way back, if you have an Israeli visa stamp or visa paper with your passport from when you arrived in Israel, then just stay on the bus as it arrives at Kalandia. (Many passengers will get off here to go through a different security check.) A couple of border guards with huge guns will come on to the bus to check passenger ID documents. They will probably speak English well and may ask some questions about where you are from (even though they can read it on your passport).

By Bus

There is 1 one bus station on Al-Nahder St. that serves buses from/to Nablus, and probably other destinations north. There are at least three other bus stations in the city which also serve various destinations. Nevertheless, they are all pretty close to each other.

From Jerusalem the best connection to Ramallah is bus/sherut/serves 218 (and sometimes 219). It departs from the Nablus Road station close to Damascus Gate on Nablus Rd (aka Derech Shchem) and will take you all the way to before mentioned bus station near the central square of al-Manara. The price is ₪10-20, and it takes around 45 minutes.

From Bethlehem take a shared taxi (Sherut/serviis) from the Bethlehem bus station at Manger St. in the center. The trip takes 45 min all the way around Jerusalem and costs ₪20.

From Jericho take a shared taxi (Sherut/serviis) from the central roundabout with the garden in the middle. The taxis are waiting on the western side of the roundabout. To increase your "luck", you can also wait at the roundabout out of the city with the mosque. Even hitchhiking from there makes sense. The trip to Ramallah takes less than an hour for less than ₪15. The exact price is listed in the tourist information on the central roundabout in Jericho centre.

From Nablus the trip is ₪10.5 and it takes about an hour. Ask around from which bus station in Nablus the correct (big) bus starts.

It is worth asking the drivers before you get on to double-check the bus is going to the right destination. You might be surprised how many of them can speak basic English. There are two main types of buses. There are small ones with about 20 seats, and biggers ones that look more like coaches and are much more comfortable. They all cost the same, and there is usually a rush of passengers pushing their way onto the buses.

By Taxi

From Jerusalem's Damascus Gate you can find taxis to Ramallah for approximately ₪80-100 depending on your bargaining skills. You can also take a taxi to Kalandia checkpoint and walk through, picking up another taxi on the other side. It costs about ₪30 from Kalandia to Ramallah centre.

By car

Heading north from Jerusalem on road #60, you will arrive to Ramallah very quickly. You will have to pass one Israeli checkpoint on the way: Kalandia.

By Plane

There is no airport with scheduled passenger flights in the West Bank, so the only nearby passenger airports are Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, then heading towards Jerusalem or Queen Alia in Amman then heading towards Allenby Bridge aka King Hussein Bridge and passing through it - Visa on arrival for Israel is available for most common nationalities. Ovda Airport near Eilat also sees international flights, but the connection from there to Ramallah is not all that straightforward and more time-consuming.

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Getting Around

It is easy to find a taxi to get around Ramallah (for ₪10 fixed charge, or the amount specified by the fare-meter). Car rentals are also available, but seldom needed. As the city center is relatively small, it is not hard to walk to most destinations downtown (including the old city.) Service shuttles (shared taxis) are also available from downtown to most suburbs and to the outskirts of the city at relatively low prices (₪2.5 inside the city and up to ₪6 to nearby towns and villages). Make sure to confirm a price before getting into a taxi.

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Eat

Eating should be no problem in Ramallah, regardless of the budget of visitors.

The bakery on Al-Quds street where the buses emerge from the bus station is one of the best in town. The staple is 'kmaaj' or pitta bread. A bakery in the Old City (Ramallah Tahta) produces brown kmaaj and sliced bread.

Also the Arabic variety of ice cream in many places in Ramallah is worth trying - a very different and more gooey and sticky version of what is available in the west. Regular ice cream can be found everywhere also. Try Rukab's and Baladna ice cream shops on the main street.

There are a huge number of Falafel and Shawarma places on all of the main streets. A filling falafel or hummous pita sandwich with a drink should run you around ₪4-6 from any of the common downtown restaurants. At nicer restaurants, such a combination will run you a bit more.

A large Shawerma, Kebab, or Chicken sandwich goes for around ₪10-15 in most restaurants. A hamburger, fries, and a drink go for around ₪15-25 depending on the restaurant. Abu Alabed is an excellent Shawerma place located in the old city next to fish and chips restaurant. Big Bite located at the end of the main street offers a wide range of hot and cold sandwiches.

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Drink

Although predominately Muslim, Ramallah is still a Christian town, hence Ramallah's large restaurants usually serve alcohol. Expect a selection of imported beers (Heineken, Corona, etc.), spirits, and perhaps red or white wine. Do not display public intoxication, as at best, it is rude and inconsiderate to your Muslim hosts. At worst, it could be dangerous.

The city's active nightlife and its relatively liberal culture makes it a hot destination for visitors from other cities including Jerusalem during the weeknights and weekends.

During the night, a good number of shops are still open, especially during the summer. A common habit of the citizens of the city is going out for a drink, dinner, or a 'Argila' (flavoured tobacco waterpipe.) The cities various coffee shops, bars, and restaurants are a must see/visit. The nicer ones are often available closer the older city, and on the road going to Betunia, while some good ones can also be found outside the city center.

Ramallah offers a wide variety of coffeeshops ranging from the local low-scale ones serving Arabic Coffee for ₪2, to those fancy places serving the same item for ₪10-15. Try the Arabic drinks (arabic coffee, mint tea, sahleb, etc ), cappucinos and lattes, and fresh juices and cocktails at the numerous cafes around downtown and in the suburbs.

'Coffee shops' are places to drink coffee and smoke waterpipes. The term Argila is often used in Ramallah to describe the waterpipes, while Shishah is also used at some places. You might even see 'Hookah' or 'Hubbly Bubbly'. You can also smoke Arghila in almost any restaurant, although some have special areas for them. You can order normal ('aadi') or fresh ('fresh'). Fresh means the tobacco is placed in a piece of fruit like an orange (or even a watermelon). It has a smoother flavour but is more expensive. You should also choose your flavour. Common flavours are double-apple ('tufateen') and lemon and mint ('limun-w-nana').

Depending on the location and type of restaurant of cafe, the price of smoking a nice and soothing tobacco waterpipe costs anywhere between ₪8-30. The cheapest places do have an unwritten men-only rule, however.

Popular local places to get served alcohol are Zan's, Zryiab, Stones, Angelo's, and Sangria's. They all serve food as well and the local Palestinian beer "Taybeh" (which can challenge most European beers). For more robust beer lovers, Taybeh also comes in a delightfully rich tasting dark version although this isn't as widely sold as the lighter ale.

Most neighborhoods, particularly traditionally Christian ones have a couple of stores that sell beer, wine and spirits.

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Sleep

Ramallah has a good supply of hotel accommodation, especially in the mid-range, upmarket and luxury brackets, but none of it is particularly cheap.

  • Hostel in Ramallah (hostel), Arafat square al-nuzha street (Almaktaba) 12 (from Ramallah bus station walk 5 min to Arafat square (ask at silwadi juice at al-manara square)), ☏ +972 569001020, toll-free: +972 22963555, ✉ info@hostelinramallah.com. Check-in: any time, check-out: 12:00. The first youth hostel in Ramallah. Including breakfast and city tour, political yours and introduction to Palestine, roof terrace and bar local beers cooking Palestinian food great city view. Close to night life in a safe zone in the city at night. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and many other activities can be organised. If you stay here you can collect a stamp for the AubergInn in Jericho for a discounted dorm bed of ₪60 there. Also, the Nablus Youth Hostel offers a discount of ₪10 (₪70 >> ₪60) if you say, you got recommended by Hostel in Ramallah. Dorm bed ₪50.
  • Area D Hostel, Top Floor, Maliki Building, between Jerusalem bus station (#18) and main mosque al-bireh (At the bus station arriving from Jerusalem, take street towards big mosque and enter the second building on your right. Take the elevator to the top floor. You will see our sign on the building from the bus station. At night, enter via the parking garage using the doorbell there.), ☏ +972 569349072. Check-in: 24/7, check-out: 24/7. Area D was recently selected as the Lonely Planet editor's top choice in town, and it focuses on the political situation, with lots of information and tours. A place to relax for a few days, get to know the city and its people, and learn more about this fascinating part of the world. Dorm bed ₪70, Private room ₪200, Apartment US$400 per month.
  • Al Wehdeh Hotel, Al Nahdah Street, ☏ +972 22980432. Great Hotel, but a little run down but the cheapest in town.. single ₪150.

Merryland Hostel, 3rd floor of Al Ramoni building close to al-mactaba, ☏ +972 22987176. No dormitories, so not really a hostel. not sure it is still running. Single ₪150, Double ₪180.

  • Al-Hajjal (on Jaffa Road), ☏ +972 22987858.
  • Grand Park Hotel, ☏ +970 22946800. The most common destination in the city for businessmen and government officials. Room prices vary according to season, but often exceed the US$80 per night..
  • Royal Court Suites Hotel, 24 Jaffa Street, ☏ +972 22964040. An all-suites hotel where every room has a kitchenette and A/C. Daily and monthly rates in a tourist area close to restaurants and bars. Prices US$50-140, depending on type of suite.
  • Millennium Palestine Ramallah (Formerly the Mövenpick Ramallah), 10 Emile Habibi Street, ☏ +970 22985888. It is the only five-star hotel in Ramallah so far. Room prices start from US$180, depending on the season and type of suite.

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Work

Ramallah is a vibrant Palestinian business hub, especially as most international agencies and governmental offices are located in the city. However, with the immigration of Palestinians from other cities in the West Bank to Ramallah, there is a highly competitve job market and many Palestinians, especially young men come to the city seeking work. The most popular career portal In Ramallah and Palestine is Jobs in Palestine .here you can find most jobs advertised by INGOs,NGOs,and local companies

Major working opportunities in Ramallah include information technology, pharmaceuticals, development cooperation, and the public sector. Restaurant and coffee shop jobs are also available, mainly during the summer. Agricultural jobs are minimal in the city, but a few can be sought in neighboring villages.

For foreigners, work opportunities tend to include consultancies in certain private sector markets - IT is most common. The vast majority of foreigners working in Ramallah are doing development or humanitarian work. A significant number are focused on human rights and advocacy. A number of UN agencies work directly in the West Bank and many, such as the UNDP, maintain office in Ramallah.

Volunteering opportunities are common in small and medium sized Palestinian NGOs as well as some international NGOs. Volunteering is an excellent way to get to understand an organisation and the field they operate in. Most local NGOs will appreciate foreign volunteers, particularly if they have good written English skills, enabling them to support fundraising work.

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Learn

Ramallah is the home of the Friends School in the Palestinian Territories. The school has two campuses, one for grades 1-6 and is located near the old city. The other is for grades 7-12 and is located near the old police station destroyed by an Israeli air strike. The schools are famous for their international learning environment, intensive English language focus, and liberal learning atmosphere. The schools are private and have a number of notable Palestinian alumni.

The city also has a number of public and private schools that serve a good number of the West Bank youth population. Private schools with specific religious affiliations can also be found.

In the twin city of El-Bireh, there is also a school for the blind that also serves as a vocational center.

Birzeit University, which is in the neighboring town of Birzeit, is one of the Palestinian Authority's leading educational institutions. The University offers a large number of study options and at different levels for students. It also has several links with international institutions, and often has a number of international students attending it. The PAS (Palestinian and Arab Studies) program is popular with internationals visiting or working in the West Bank who want to learn Arabic and take classes on the history and politics of the Palestinian Authority.

The city also has branches for Al-Quds Open University, which offers continuing education opportunities to many Palestinians.

There are a number of vocational training centers in the city, neighboring towns, and refugee camps.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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This is version 19. Last edited at 7:07 on Jul 9, 19 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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