Peace has broken out in the West Bank city. Why is there a conspiracy of silence about it?by Nathan Shachar / November 18, 2009 / Leave a comment
Palestine’s new US-trained policemen at a ceremony in Ramallah in 2008
It was in April this year that my old friend Kan’an called me. “Something is happening here. You must come and have a look. Rafidiya is coming alive again.” The Rafidiya quarter is part of Nablus, the largest city in the northern West Bank. The quarter is home to its upper classes, its budding bourgeoisie and one of the largest universities in the West Bank. Before the lights went out in spring 2002, Rafidiya’s boulevard was the best shopping and dining stretch in the whole of the Palestinian territories.
To get there I had to pass an Israeli checkpoint on foot and squeeze into a yellow collective taxi on the other side. I introduced myself to my fellow passengers: “Please tell me what has been happening here lately, with you and with the economy.” The first time I dared to make such a declaration, many years ago, I winced with embarrassment. In Sweden, where I live, a request like this from a stranger would be met with awkward silence. But in Palestine, within seconds I was in the midst of a heap of complaints, tragedies, rumours, and pleas for help, while the cab rolled and spun wildly along the teeming road. The detachment of the young driver was impressive. To him the children, fowl and donkeys in our way seemed no more real than the obstacles in a computer game.
Such reckless driving is a hot issue in Nablus. Frequent taxi accidents often lead to clan blood feuds, and it is a measure of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s fearlessness that he has begun to set up speed traps. Fayyad is a strange politician in this part of the world, seemingly not content with siphoning public assets into his relatives’ bank accounts. He believes in changing things, one student tells me with awe. In Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital further south, the government is routinely cursed, but its leader is usually exempt, and even called bayad, the term for a chicken that lays many eggs.
Fayyad’s competence is much resented by the old-school, pocket-stuffing, back-door dealers of the Fatah movement. But the effect he has had on Nablus is remarkable. The town’s revival, and in particular the overhaul of its police force by the US general Keith Dayton, has been little reported in the western media. But…