Portrait of Palestine: KFC and Starbucks, But Where's the War?


As I walked through the crowded, and newly renovated, streets of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, I couldn’t help but to be overwhelmed by the sight of a bustling city. A city full of life, commerce, and a seemingly booming economy.

A wave of humanity circles the center of the city, to be met with the loud shouts of street vendors, and corner stores competing tooth and nail to  attract the many customers wandering around searching for the best deals. The call to prayer, and the sporadic church bells do not send the city to a halt, but add to its already confusing musicality. Cars honking, people shouting, police cars making their way and trying to  assert a broken authority: Beneath it all lies the deafening sound of quite despair.  

Ramallah used to be different. The many cafes, bars, nightclubs, and specialty restaurants seen today were not always a part of this hilly landscape. The sounds of eight years ago were dominated by the angry shouts of “Allah Akbar” and the cries of final goodbyes; bidding farewell to an olive tree uprooted, or land lost, or a loved one whose life was tragically taken.

Things change fast, and ramifications of the intifada seem more distant than ever. Today, even KFC has made its way into Palestinian bellies. In an effort to cash in on Starbucks, Ramallah also created its very own ‘Stars and Bucks’ where Cappuccinos and Arabic coffee — the best of the East and the West — not only coexist, but also prosper in a symbiotic, and almost natural relationship. Late night talks about politics are replaced with late night partying. And a booming housing market drives a lending frenzy, while donors and NGO’s continue to buy their way into Palestinian society.

The old pasttime of sitting in traditional coffee shops continues: someone shouts in their now waning voice “there is nothing to live for,” and a poet responds, “on this earth what is worth living for.” A mother warns her son of the ensuing battles, “don’t go near, my dear.” This is a picture of modern day Ramallah: Riddled with complexities, and varying identities. But despair remains constant, even as material wealth eases the disrupted landscape, and hides the canopy of a banal occupation.

But it’s the perseverance of silence that overshadows the musicality of this burgeoning city, perhaps similar to the sound of silence in the land of Pharaohs before the current vicious storm, or the sounds of Carthage roaring back to life. Silence is the currency of today, the question that remains is, until when?