Israelis, stop going to Ramallah, it's dangerous - opinion

“Israelis are banned from entering Palestinian Authority territories… entering endangers their lives and endangers the security forces who are called to rescue them.”

 SOLDIERS GUARD a bus stop at the entrance to the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah, in this 2018 photo. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
SOLDIERS GUARD a bus stop at the entrance to the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah, in this 2018 photo.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

By all accounts, Ramallah, the cultural capital of the West Bank, is one of the more relaxed Palestinian cities. Here, alcohol flows and the cinemas are packed. Its population is highly educated and it is widely held as the center of Palestinian feminism.

Tourists can while away the hours watching the world go by from one of the many street cafes in the sunshine, or explore its rich and varied history. Ramallah can be easily reached on buses 218 or 219 from Jerusalem, just 24 km. north of the city. A perfect place for a day out.

That is, unless you are Israeli or an Israeli passport holder, in which case, it is forbidden to enter Ramallah under any circumstances.

The reason is that Ramallah is in Area A, and as such it is illegal for Israelis to enter. Area A includes eight Palestinian cities, each under the full control of the Palestinian Authority: Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and 80 percent of Hebron.

Notwithstanding this, Israelis often ignore this prohibition laid down by their government.

 A general view shows the area where Israel plans to build a settlement, over the West Bank boundary, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah November 25, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN) A general view shows the area where Israel plans to build a settlement, over the West Bank boundary, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah November 25, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

I met one such person recently, who casually dropped into the conversation details of his plans for the following evening – to have dinner at the home of some friends in Ramallah.

When I questioned him, it became apparent that he had not received special permission to go there; it was merely a social visit and he would be fine as he was traveling on his American passport (his words not mine). I was horrified and I told him so.

He insisted that he was doing nothing wrong. As far as he was concerned, he should be able to visit his friends. Dialogue was paramount, he said. Yes, of course, dialogue is important, but at what cost, I asked him. 

The fact that it was illegal for him to go there, as an Israeli (he had made aliyah recently), didn’t seem to register with him one iota.

The fact that he was putting himself and by extension others in danger, didn’t seem to bother him either. 

I went one step further and pointed out that if he and others like him got into trouble, it would most likely be the IDF and the security forces who would have to come to his rescue.

Unbelievably, this had not even occurred to him. It still did not stop him from going, however. 

THE DAY after the arrangement, he messaged me: “We did have a very nice dinner in Ramallah last night, used an east Jerusalem taxi driver to get there and back, which worked out quite well. My friend and his family could not be nicer or warmer hosts.”

I was very surprised by the message and asked him if he was aware of the heightened tensions in the region on that particular day, given the incident involving the Israeli taxi driver (see below).

He was fully aware, he told me, and brushed it aside adding that Ramallah was “quiet/normal.”

There my patience with this reckless individual ended. “Things are difficult enough as they are... why add to the problems there and put others at risk?” I asked him. He replied simply to say that we would have to agree to disagree, or words to that effect.

I wasn’t prepared to do this. Having only made aliyah a short while ago, I replied: “Most of us here think the safety of our soldiers, our boys and girls who risk their lives and in some cases lose their lives keeping us all safe is paramount... and they wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that... even those who don’t have children serving in the army think this way. It’s a shame you don’t share these core values.”

I haven’t heard from him since. 

Another Israeli (the taxi driver mentioned above), by coincidence, on the same day, thought it wise to take his taxi to Nablus for repairs. Worryingly, this is a common practice as it is cheaper there. Unfortunately for him, unlike the American, his foray into the forbidden city did not end well. His vehicle came under attack by the locals who recognized him as Israeli. He managed to escape to a nearby military checkpoint where he received treatment for his injuries and was questioned by police.

I ADMIT to having some skin in the game as the mother of two serving soldiers; nevertheless, I’m certain most would agree with my sentiment. Sadly, such people who flagrantly ignore this prohibition are not few in number.

There are those like the foolhardy American who, through some misguided sense of self-importance feel that it is incumbent upon them to open up a dialogue between the two sides, regardless of the dangers into which this puts both them personally and others on both sides of the conflict. Then there are those who do it for economic gain, like the hapless taxi driver.

Both are reckless and irresponsible. It goes without saying that a peaceful solution to the conflict must be found as soon as possible. Without it, I and many others like me will have to face the prospect of watching not only our own children, but our grandchildren too risking their lives to keep us all safe.

There are ways of doing this and blundering in there on a frolic of one’s own is certainly not one of them. It must be done through the proper channels without running the risk of further inflaming an already delicate situation.

As the Israel Police reiterated in a recent statement, “Israelis are banned from entering Palestinian Authority territories… entering endangers their lives and endangers the security forces who are called to rescue them.”

It’s as simple as that.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.