Today I spent some time in Ramallah. If there are a lot of Israeli flags in Jerusalem, I’d say there are either as many or nearly as many palestinian flags in Ramallah. The presence of many flags, whatever the denomination, makes me uncomfortable because I associate it with nationalism – and I’m fearful of too much nationalism of any stripe. With all the construction in Ramallah right now, and the emergence of many institutions that suggest towards statehood like banks, a postal service, an army, newly paved streets, you can basically feel the emergence not just of a potential Palestinian state, but Palestinian state-ism or statist-nationalism. Walking by Arafat’s tomb is also an uncomfortable experience – the complex is huge, and while we didn’t go inside, it definitely suggests a kind of idol worship and statist nationalism. This was also my first experience of encountering a PA/PLO soldier (red beret). Their guns were AK-47s, rather than the Israeli M-16. But what was most interesting was their affect – they were incredibly warm and friendly, in stark contrast with Israeli soldiers. I know many people reading this will think that’s all my perspective – but I want to say that I’ve made a genuine effort several times to have a human and friendly interaction with an IDF soldier, in the context of asking them for some information, or apologizing for accidentally walking up to a checkpoint which I can’t cross. All of those attempts were failures, it’s as if while on duty the Israeli soldiers have a very thick skin. But these soldiers were immediately friendly. I hope to have more experiences of meeting with PLO/PA soldiers and getting their perspective on things. But at the same time this makes me a bit uncomfortable – I don’t want to be friendly with those soldiers just because I take a pro-Palestinian stance – I still have deep worries about nationalism and statist-militarism.
Edit: After writing this post I realized that Arafat’s Tomb is also the Mukataa – the offices and government/administrative centre of the Palestinian authority, so it makes sense that it is a large complex. Also, this complex was under Israeli siege only 9 years ago as part of Operation Defensive Shield, part of Israel’s war against Palestine during the Al-Aqsa intifada – so it makes sense that the area has a militaristic feeling to it.