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 (10 mi) north of Jerusalem. Since the inception of the Palestinian National Authority, Ramallah has acted as the de facto capital city of the Palestinian administration.
Ramallah is known for its religiously relaxed atmosphere — movie theaters are well attended —and there are 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 women are used to fund local feminist organizations.
Modern Ramallah was founded in the mid-16th century the Haddadins, a Jordanian tribe of brothers descended from Ghassanid Christian Arabs. The Haddadins, led 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 descendants 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 ba 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 fulfil 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 the town has a Muslim majority, Ramallah retains its title as a historically Christian Palestinian town.
Ramallah’s Christian roots mean that it can be seen as a more liberal and metropolitan city compared to others in the West Bank (e.g Nablus and Hebron). Alcohol can be purchased freely and is served in many restaurants and bars. Many women do not wear headscarves and the although certain behaviour and dress code is frowned upon the locals, visitors can get away with it if they are prepared to be stared at.
One unique and great thing about visiting Ramallah as a traveller is that there are currently so few of them around – so it does feel like a venture into the unknown and foreign, which can not be said of many locations in the world. Of course there are many foreigners in the West Bank, but the vast majority of these work during the day and it is quite special to interact with Palestinians as a true visitor.