Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Toaster for Arabic Bread

Nothing tastes better than freshly baked bread. Second best option is toasted bread. Arabic bread, or elsewhere called Pita, is available in every little supermarket in Palestine for sensationally cheap price of around 2.5 Shekel for 10 pieces. It is by far the most consumed type of bread in Palestine.


Obviously, you don't want to go to the bakery each time you have a piece of bread, so many people like to deep freeze their bread and then reheat it or toast it before consumption. There are several devices suitable for toasting, but none of them very satisfying for this particular type of bread.

A common toaster is too small for the size of pita bread



A toaster oven works, but it would easily burn the toast, and takes much longer. Besides higher purchase prices and higher electricity bill.



A sandwich toaster is designed for exactly the size of western-style toast

A conveyor toaster works, but is quite expensive -- large pita bread might get stuck in the back of the machine instead of falling down.




Designing a Toaster for Arabic Bread

The design is pretty easy and straightforward: Take a standard toaster and increase the size of the bread slots to approximately 15 by 15cm.

If you don't find a local manufacturer who has sufficient knowledge to design and mass produce such a toaster, you can probably easily find a Chinese manufacturer on www.alibaba.com who will do the job.

You can market and sell it through Sbeitany and also through other distribution channels elsewhere in the region, in which that type of bread is likewise common.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Checkpoint Guide: Getting in and out of Ramallah

Ramallah possibly breaks a record for being the hardest accessible seat of government city in the world. Not true, I guess Thimphu, the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan might be even harder to access.

Below you find an overview of the points where the Palestinian road network meets the Israeli road network around Ramallah. Each of these points have their own particularities, which are rarely documented, so my motivation for this blog post is to make this mess easier for newcomers in Ramallah. This post is divided in two sections, one relevant for those who use public transportation, and the other one if you go by car.

But first, let's get an overview of where the Palestinian road network meets the Israeli road network. To avoid confusion: None of these points are actually located in Israel. But they link the road network of Ramallah with the road network of Jerusalem and the road network designed for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Those settler roads connect the urban islands under Palestinian administration together, and connect with Israel through hassle-free settler-checkpoints.

As a resident of Ramallah, it is not a comforting thought that Israel could at any moment close down these 10 points, and cut Ramallah off from the rest of the world.


(click map to enlarge)


1: Qalandia checkpoint: The main crossing towards Jerusalem. Tight controls, often traffic, Friday afternoons often clashes with stone throwing and tear gas. 
2: Jaba junction: An alternative to Qalandia leading through Hizme checkpoint into Jerusalem
3: DCO /Bet El checkpoint: Only for authorized persons, avoids Qalandia traffic on the way to Jerusalem
4: Ein Yabroud onramp onto Route 60 near Ofra settlement. For most northbound traffic e.g. Nablus.
5: Atara checkpoint, leading to Rawabi or other northbound destinations
6: Road from Deir Ibzi to Route 463. Best option for Westbound travel (e.g. Tel Aviv)
7: Exit only from Route 443 coming from Modiin, to go through Beitunia to Ramallah
8: Checkpoint for diplomat cars or Palestinian cars only. Quick way from Beitunia towards Tel Aviv.
9: Beitunia commercial crossing: For trucks only.
10: El Jeb checkpoint: For diplomatic cars only.


Public Transportation

Most Palestinian towns can easily be reached from Ramallah with the yellow minibuses ("servees"), however it gets tricky when your starting point and destination is not on the same side of the wall.

From Jerusalem, Damascus Gate/near Jerusalem Hotel, bus line 18 leads to central Ramallah through Qalandia checkpoint (1). This bus goes frequently until 8pm, and if you are lucky you find a bus as late as 10pm. Most buses go all the way through from Jerusalem to Ramallah bus station, without stopping at the checkpoint. Some buses will end at the checkpoint, and you will have to take a servees for a few shekel to central Ramallah. On the way back, when you come from Ramallah going to Jerusalem, you will need to get off the bus at the checkpoint, and walk through a cage with passport and baggage control. The queue tends to be messy and the procedure unpleasant, especially if you carry baggage.
Bring enough time, as the entire commute can easily take 2-3 hours -- if you are lucky it is just 45 minutes.

Especially if the line of pedestrians is long, and if you travel with baggage, you might want to consider a not-so-official alternative. On the large parking area on the Ramallah side of Qalandia checkpoint, you will find white mini buses with yellow number plates that take you through Jaba junction and Hizme checkpoint to Damascus Gate, Jerusalem for 10 shekel. This way you can avoid the Qalandia procedure.

If you feel venturesome enough, and are not overly worried about political correctness, you may want to try to take buses by Egged company designed for Israeli settlers. Egged has a schedule on their website. To Jerusalem, you will need someone to drop you on Road 60 at Ofra settlement (point 4 on the map). Many servees buses with destination Nablus or Taybeh could do the job for a few shekels, and you'd have to walk the remaining meters to Ofra bus station. Alternatively, a friend who is authorized to drive through DCO checkpoint could drop you at Bet El bus station.
When venturing westbound (e.g. Modiin, Tel Aviv, Airport), you will need to start with a servees aimed towards Ras Karkar. As the servees goes down the steep road from Deir Ibzi, and goes onto settler road 463 (point 6 on the map) you get off, and walk a few hundred meters to the right to the settler bus station near Dolev.
The advantage of these bus lines designed for settlers is that you will usually not go through the hassle of passport control and baggage check when exiting the Westbank into Israel. 


Going by Car

A short intro in case you are not familiar... Palestinian cars (green plate) can not exit the West Bank. Israeli cars (yellow plate) can drive on both sides of the wall (however some of them are not insured for accidents inside West Bank towns). Diplomat cars (white plates) give you the greatest mobility, as they can go anywhere including special checkpoints (8 and 10 in the map).

You will find not a single navigation system or software that can guide you between Ramallah and other places. Still, a navigation system or an app on your smartphone can be helpful as it shows you a map and shows you where you are. For your smartphone I recommend Waze, Google Maps, or Open GPS Tracker which can use the detailed maps of openstreetmaps.org. As soon as you are on the Israeli road system, including settler roads, navigation software can guide you reliably.

To Jerusalem

Qalandia checkpoint is the shortest connection by distance -- however I would recommend it only between midnight and 4am. Avoid after Friday afternoon prayer -- there are regular clashes with stone throwing, tires burning, and teargas or rubber bullets in the air.
If you ever come close to teargas, act quickly and set your air blower to circulation:

Generally you may want to keep your doors locked around Qalandia checkpoint as the kids from the refugee camp sometimes open doors in an attempt to sell their merchandise.

From Jerusalem into Ramallah through Qalandia is usually less of an issue, because there are no checks. Traffic is smooth usually between 9am and 1pm and after 9pm.

You will want to avoid Qalandia checkpoint from Ramallah to Jerusalem if you carry Palestinians with West Bank ID in your car -- because they need to get off the car and go through the pedestrian check, which sometimes can be extremely crowded and cause unpredictable delays.

With them, you better proceed via Jaba Junction to Hizme checkpoint. That route passes by besides Qalandia checkpoint, where it is affected by the heavy traffic especially during peak hours around 8am and 4pm.

In peak hours, Al Jeb checkpoint (point 10 on map) is best, but only for diplomats, second best is DCO checkpoint (point 3 on map), but that is only for authorized people (working for international organizations or Palestinian VIPs). Without VIP status, you can still reach Jerusalem most quickly through Ein Yabroud, via Route 60 that you enter next to Ofra settlement. That takes 45 minutes including a 15km detour, but in peak hours still faster than the traffic mess of Qalandia. See route below.

(click map to enlarge)


To North (Nablus, Jenin)

The same route as depicted above is best to reach northern destinations along Route 60 such as Nablus and Jenin.


To West (Tel Aviv, Jaffa)

Drive from Ramallah towards Beitunia until you hit the big roundabout with the fruits and water fountain, from which you take the first exit. Continue that road for a while through three Palestinian villages. Last village is called Deir Ibzi. You will see a gas station on your right, drive past some olive trees and a mosque on your left, shortly after, you see a car dealer on your left. Take the next turn right (roadsign towards Ras Karkar), which leads a steep road winding down the hill. At the bottom you reach settler road number 463. Turn left and follow signs towards Tel Aviv. 

(click map to enlarge)

On the way back from the West to Ramallah, you can save 10 minutes with an alternative route through Bet Ghur Al Tahta. Warning: It seems this route is recently closed most of the time (as of May 2014). So for the time being, the safe option is above route past Modiin Ilit/Talmon/Ein Arik. If you still want to try (some are lucky), you will have to stay on route 443 coming from Modiin towards Jerusalem, and approximately 5 minutes after Modiin, you take a small exit labeled as "last exit to Ramallah", after the highway makes a right bend. This will get you very quickly into Beitunia. 


(click map to enlarge)


Sometimes they close the exit from 443 in the late night hours, but in those cases don't worry you can stay on the highway, exit towards Atarot industrial zone, and pass through Qalandia checkpoint, which is no hassle in late night.


Checkpoint policies

(as of November 2013)

Currently, none of the checkpoints check cars going out of Israel into the West Bank. Only occasionally cars are stopped late night at Qalandia and you will be checked whether your ID has an Israel permit that includes night hours. Open your iPhone app Waze if you want to be warned from such checks.

From West Bank into Israel, the following checkpoint policies are currently enforced:
  • Qalandia checkpoint stops every car, checks for IDs and trunk content. West Bank ID holders have to get off the car and walk through the pedestrian gate. International passport holders are checked for their visa vouchers, and often asked for whom they work. Passports might be registered in the system, so the border authorities will know about your stay in a Palestinian town, and might give you a hard time upon your next immigration at the airport. So if you are one of those many NGO workers that depend on Israeli tourist visa (the State of Palestine cannot issue any visa), you probably want to avoid Qalandia checkpoint.
  • Hizme checkpoint is used mostly by settlers, and therefore, if you look Jewish enough, you will typically not be stopped. Having non-veiled female company further reduces the chance of being stopped. A Jewish Israeli radio station and a smile on your face further helps. Some go as far as to hang a car air freshener in the shape of an Israel flag into their front window, or to wear Jewish headgear in order to pass the checkpoint without hassle. In any case you should be able to speak some "checkpoint-Hebrew" (shalom, manesh ma, kol bseder, yom tov, in that order).
  • Hashmonaim or Nilin checkpoint used to have a similar policy as Hizme, but got more strict recently. Most cars are stopped and asked for IDs. If you are not fluent in Hebrew, and lack a Jewish name on your ID, your car will be searched and you will be interrogated. Your passport might be scanned for the immigration database. But the whole procedure is a matter of 5 minutes, as there is usually no traffic. There is an alternative westbound checkpoint near the village of Rantees, on road 465, which leads directly to the airport.
  • Rantees checkpoint (road 465) stops most cars for a visual glimpse, and some "shalom, maneshma" conversation, but typically waves you through without further inspection, unless you raise suspicion of being not Jewish.

Hints for Israeli Citizen visiting Ramallah

By Israeli law, Israeli citizen are prohibited to visit A-Areas of the West Bank, i.e. Palestinian towns. Exceptions only upon special permit, or for military staff. Palestinians with Israeli Passport are usually tolerated though. But for Jewish Israelis, who go to Ramallah to visit friends or to participate in human rights or political activities, it is a bit more tricky.

Getting into Ramallah is no problem. When getting out, to avoid confrontation with Israeli law enforcement, you have make sure to get out of Ramallah into a C-Area unnoticed, and from there you can easily go through a checkpoint into Israel as if you were a settler.

Points 2,4 and 6 in the map above are the easiest transitions from A-Area into C-Area, and are usually checkpoint-free, although number 2 occasionally hosts a temporary checkpoint.

But even if you get stopped in number 2, or even if you decide to go through Qalandia (1), you are on the right side of the law. You just need to explain to the soldiers that you have legally visited Al Ram or Kufr Aqab for shopping or car repair -- these areas are part of C-Area and/or Jerusalem, so you didn't break any law as long as you didn't enter the actual city of Ramallah from there. Still it is not advisable to get into contact with the Israeli authorities, because it might get you into interrogation or future surveillance, given the suspicion you raise by visiting Arab areas as an Israeli Jew.

In case of dual citizenship, your US passport will help only as long as you have used it upon immigration, and accordingly have a valid blue visa coupon. They will ask about your visa especially at Qalandia checkpoint.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Mobile Broadband Internet for Palestine

One of the hot political topics between Israel and Palestine is 3G frequencies.

According to ITU and Geneva convention, all commercial mobile frequencies on the occupied Territory belong to the Palestinians. According to Oslo Agreement/Paris Protocol, Palestinians are entitled to approximately 30% of the frequencies. Currently, Israel gives only 4% of the spectrum to Palestinian mobile operators, excluding those frequencies that are commonly used for 3G internet.

Regardless of involvement of Tony Blair and Middle East Quartet, until today, Israel is unwilling to grant 3G frequencies to be used by Palestinian mobile providers. I dedicated another article elaborating on a possible commercial workaround using a MVNO licence, and another article on Israels economic benefits through the occupation, and why the status quo is unlikely to change.

Assuming that there will be neither soon an end to the occupation, nor an Israeli MVNO licence issued for a Palestinian mobile operator, this post is dedicated to look into technical work-arounds that don't need any political or regulatory interference. We will rely on the unlicensed frequencies of Wireless LAN in the approaches presented here.

Existing Wifi Internet Providers

Of course, I am not the first to look into the open frequencies of Wifi for internet service provision. There are several Palestinian companies (Coolnet, Globalcom, Yalla,...) who offer wireless internet to commercial, residential as well as mobile clients. One drawback they have in common is the limited coverage. The number of installed access points is very limited, and complete coverage of cities, let alone rural areas is far from reality. With the limited range of Wifi compared to 3G, a complete coverage would be way too costly, because too many access points are needed.
Globalcom is already experimenting with the bullet2hp meshing product of Ubiquity which uses meshing technique to extend the coverage for Globalcom customers only.

What is Wireless meshing? Follow this Link

Instead of meshing networks that are tied to one particular internet provider, we want to look into the option of establishing a non-commercial community-based mesh network with maximum coverage which is open for everybody to use and to sell uplink bandwidth...

Freifunk and The Art of Meshing

There is citizen's initiative called Freifunk, sparked originally in Berlin to mount optimized Wifi antennae onto residential roofs creating a meshing network that spans across wide areas of the city. A wireless mesh works independently of any commercial network, out of control of governments, and very resilient setup thanks to intelligent meshing. With a good antenna and eye contact you can bridge up to 10km+ with a single Wifi connection.
To make network deployment cheap and convenient, volunteers developed firmware for state-of-the art Wifi access points, to turn them into a part of the meshing network, which automatically finds the optimal routing between two nodes.
Also people developed cheap hardware called "Mesh potato" that you just need to plug into the wall, and it will automatically become part of a wireless mesh.
As a nice extra feature, you can connect a normal telephone to your VOIP-enabled mesh potato, giving entrepreneurs elsewhere in the mesh the opportunity to run IP-telephony micro-businesses using an Asterisk server and a phone line in their homes.
Another commercial producer of Wireless meshing nodes is Firetide.
For off-grid areas, you can look into this project for Solar/Wind-driven meshing nodes: Argus

Smartphones in the Mesh: Open Garden

One of the core developers of the famous Bittorrent filesharing network recently received 800k$ funding for his new startup business called Open Garden. Open Garden turns iOS and Android smartphones into a part of a mesh. Currently, this Wifi meshing software needs root access to your telephone, so you will have to ask your local dealer to "root" your phone. If you have good IT skills, you might want to try to root your phone yourself. Search on youtube for your phone together with the keyword "root", and you will find tutorials.


Mesh Potatoes Running on Car Batteries

Unfortunately, Wifi tethering consumes a lot of battery from your smartphone, therefore people might want to avoid having it switched on all the time. The mesh however can only provide good coverage if there are enough active nodes spread across the city.

Car batteries have much better capacities than smartphone batteries. You could use the existing mesh potato hardware, with a modified power adaptor to suit the 12V car battery, and then mount a long-range car roof antenna on your car. The power adaptor would need to make sure your battery is never completely discharged. The benefit of these meshing nodes in cars is an improved coverage, especially in the area where the driver left the car, so he will directly benefit from his contribution to the meshing network. In addition to the car, he could of course mount such a device on his domestic roof.

Citizen and Restaurants as Uplinks

Of course, you will want to communicate not only with other members of the meshing network, but also with the outside world, so you need uplinks to the Internet in your network. Some people may be volunteering to share their home DSL connection to the mesh, or other people who sit in the restaurant connected to their Wifi, may be sharing this connection into the mesh. To get good connectivity, you need to find enough people to share their uplink bandwidth to the internet for free. 

Wardriving

Another semi-legal option to improve the uplink bandwidth can be achieved through a so-called "war-driver". If you open Wireless on your smartphone or laptop, you will notice that the majority of residential Wifi access points in Palestine are still using the insecure WEP encryption technique. With a set of wardriving equipment (a car, a laptop with car charger, a backtrack DVD, and a decent Wifi adapter with long range antenna), you could gather a list of wireless access points, their location and with some patience also their WEP password. Such an access point list could be used to improve the internet uplink of any meshing network. Note that you are probably crossing the line of legality here, even though there is probably weak enforcement. However, if the traffic on domestic DSL lines with WEP encrypted access points is significantly increasing, DSL internet providers, who have to buy their bandwidth from Israel, may consider providing their clients with WPA2 encrypted access points and randomized keys (as it is common in Europe), which are believed to be secure against wardrivers. This will again leave the mesh with a lack of uplinks. So the long-term effect of this wardriving exercise may be just generally increased security of domestic WLANs.

So What is the Business Case?

It seems realistic, with some citizen initiatives, to build a meshing network with decent coverage in most populated areas of Palestine. This will require technically skilled volunteers to get involved, and some form of campaign to spread the use of mesh potatoes among households.

Regarding the Internet uplink, it remains unclear whether the community is willing to share sufficient bandwidth for free into the mesh. This is where a business case could be developed around internet uplink bandwidth, as well as VOIP telephony.

The mesh potato provides a connector for a standard telephone, which connects through the mesh to a VOIP server. The business case of telco micro-enterprises running an Asterisk VOIP server in the mesh is described here.

Also uplink data can be sold for a few cents or agorot. You could act as a middle man between the mobile clients and the established internet providers of Palestine, creating a highly competitive market for uplink data, because end customers are no longer tied to a specific provider over months.
This will require micropayments, partnering with PalPay for example. You could also contact Open Garden developers, whether they are willing to integrate the authentication and payment mechanism into their mobile app. Then the established internet providers in Palestine can sell their uplink bandwith on a spot market into the mesh, and you resell it, adding a tiny and transparent profit margin, to your end customers.

While Israeli 3G customers are still paying up to 1 Shekel per Megabyte, Palestinian Wifi meshing users could soon be paying just a few agorot for the same.

Political Leverage of Technical Solutions

Israel's Shin Bet secret service is using to large extent SIGINT (singnal intelligence) for gathering information about terrorism suspects. The widespread use of cellphones for communications is an extremely helpful source of information, because it provides comprehensive information (even more comprehensive than facebook) on who communicates with whom, and about the location of people.

If more people switch to using decentralized Wifi meshing infrastructure, instead of using centrally managed infrastructures of Paltel, Jawal and Watania, the data quality of SIGINT gathered by Shin Bet will decrease dramatically. Concerned Shin Bet management might start to lobby at the Israeli government to give a larger share of mobile frequencies, including 3G frequencies to Palestinians, to encourage Palestinian users to revert to centralized telecommunications infrastructure of Jawal, Watania and Paltel. The Palestinian economy would greatly benefit from the availability of these frequencies.

Assuming that Shin Bet has better lobbying leverage to the Israeli government than Tony Blair has, finally Israel might be willing to give Palestinians access to their mobile frequencies.

See Also:

http://www.popularresistance.org/creating-an-alternative-internet-to-keep-the-nsa-out/

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

100 Billion $ Away from Peace

It's The Economy, Stupid

In the past 60 years, the armed conflicts of the world had one major motive: The economy. Hence, it would be surprising not to find economic motivations in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Indeed you find a lot. This post argues that Israel, which is the occupying power over Palestine, unilaterally imposes several regulations that have a double effect -- on the one side improving Israels security, and on the other side benefiting the Israeli economy at the cost of the Palestinian economy. In some cases the emphasis appears to be on the second objective.
The article concludes that the status quo of the occupation is the economically most attractive option for the Israeli government, while the Palestinian governments have no power and nothing to offer in negotiations.
Therefore, in order to change the status quo, an external incentive of roughly 100 billion $ is needed to make sustainable peace attractive for the Israeli government. This could be a negative incentive (economic sanctions against apartheid-like situation), or a positive incentive (financial aid for Jewish settler relocation back into Israel), or a combination of the two.

The Governmental Rationale of Israel

To be more precise, we should talk about the rationale of the ruling coalition of Israel. Generously simplified, Nethanyahus coalition consists of ultra-orthodox who would agree to virtually anything, provided that their generous welfare is paid. There is people with military affiliation, that would like the defence funds to be increased. And there is a very well organized settler lobby, which likes to benefit from using Palestinian resources virtually for free (land, water, limestone, telecommunication frequencies etc.)
In order for the ruling coalition to stay in power, they need to keep all those fat and happy -- which Nethanyahu seems to manage quite well, looking at the election polls.

Some argue that the occupation is a high economic burden for Israel (mainly defence expenses). That's true, but for the ruling coalition it is a welcome redistribution of wealth taken from the general population (including Palestinian tax payers of Israeli custom fees etc.) and allocated to the defence sector which is part of Nethanyahus constituency.

Once the general public goes to the streets, calling for social justice, Nethanyahu plays the "external threat" card of either terrorism, nuclear threat, or distributing some gas masks. This card has worked again and again pretty reliably during recent years to silence any protests or critical debates.

In its pursuit of beneficial or profitable agreements with the Palestinian side, the government of Israel is interested in keeping the Palestinian administration at the brink of bankruptcy, because this is where those are most likely to give in for compromises, as explained in the next paragraph.

The Governmental Rationale of Palestine

Also the rulers of Palestine primary interest is to stay in power. Since there are no elections, all it needs (whether Fatah in West Bank or Hamas in Gaza) to stay in power is enough money, which is used for governmental and police salaries, and a number of other things to stabilize the regime.
Negotiations with Israel can be very unpopular (like Oslo, which resulted in an Israelization of 60% of the Westbank land and 80% of its water), but sometimes it is the last resort for a government to acquire enough money to stay in power. The Arafat regime, who signed Oslo and received western funding as a consequence, would otherwise have disappeared in oblivion being entirely bankrupt.
The current West Bank government is on the brink of bankruptcy again, and they recently signed an updated version of paris protocol for economic cooperation, secretly negotiated with Israel. Palestinian demonstrators are burning this agreement on the street these days. The PA intends to acquire more tax revenues through the new agreement by tighter control of goods shipped into the West Bank.

Israel has the power to replace Palestinian governments any time -- either by military intervention, or by convincing western governments to stop their aid flows, which last happened after the 2006 elections with the Hamas majority that couldn't maintain its government not being able to pay public servants salaries -- so Fatah took over, which is more ready to sit on the uneven negotiating table with Israel. With Fatah in power, however, Israel can not threaten to overthrow the Palestinian government, lacking attractive alternatives. Therefore, the aid flows will continue for the foreseeable time, keeping an acceptable standard of living at least in the West Bank, while the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy is further deteriorating.

Real Estate Business

Originally intended for security reasons to protect the border with Jordan, Israel built a couple of military sites in the West Bank, which soon turned into or were accompanied by settlements. Today there is half a million Israelis living on Palestinian land. From the original security intention, it turned out to be a very profitable business to sell Palestinian land to Israeli investors. Basically, because you can take the land for free, especially those 60% of the West Bank (C-Areas) that Arafat generously "sold" to Israel within Oslo accords. Within the Oslo negotiations, Israeli justification for the need to control this land was purely security reasons. However, only a tiny fraction of the vast C-Areas is in principle eligible for Palestinian dwellings, and even there, 97% of Palestinian building permit requests are denied. This leaves more Palestinian land to be sold to Israeli investors.

Limestone and Marble Business

Palestine has an excellent limestone quality which makes it the number one export good of the Palestinian economy. Palestinian limestone quarries are mostly located in A-Areas under Palestinian administration -- mostly urban areas. Existing quarries are rapidly depleting. Just like for building permits, hardly any Palestinian has ever gotten permission to create a quarry for stone in a C-Area. Meanwhile Israeli investors are digging in,  in that rural part of the West Bank. Apart from being able to quarry in the rural parts of the West Bank, they have another competitive edge prepared for them by the GOI. They can easily transfer their goods to the port to export, while Palestinian competitors have to hire two different trucks with two different drivers, accept a step bill and long route and waiting time for security checks. For a bulky good like limestone, that adds up to become a significant share of the total cost.

Water and Agriculture

The debate about the heavy water extraction from Jordan river by Israel aside, Israel controls 100% of the wells in the occupied West Bank, and takes 80% of the water from there -- in accordance with Oslo deal. That's certainly one of the chapters of Oslo that was most regretted on the Palestinian side. While most urban Palestinian areas still enjoy a more or less regular flow of water, partly thanks to western development aid, partly thanks to Palestinian water that needs to be bought back from Israel, the Palestinian agriculture suffers most from this rule. In the dry but fertile Jordan Valley you find plenty of artificially irrigated crops, almost all of them being part of Israeli settlements having access to the larger share of the West Bank water. Palestinian farmers are struggling with rising water prices, which have become a large share of the total production cost, giving Israeli farmers a decent competitive edge over their Palestinian counterparts. Just like with limestone, logistics for export again is an issue where Palestinian farmers are paying much more for, including the risk of fruits and vegetables turning bad because of the long waiting time in hot climate. 

Telecommunications

There are Israeli and Palestinian Mobile operators. Israeli operators can easily cover the entire territory of historical Palestine (aka "greater Israel") with their antennae. Palestinian operators can easily cover only Palestinian cities in West Bank and Gaza, and even there, their service is limited to voice services excluding broadband data -- thanks to regulations of the occupying power. More detail is provided in another blog post in this blog.
The competitive edge that Israeli operators gain from this is obvious. It causes many Palestinian clients to use Israeli operators -- either because they want 3G data services, or because they like to travel between occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank without paying high roaming fees, or because they want to call their relatives in Jerusalem without paying international calls.

Other Affected Sectors

Further affected Industries are all importing and exporting businesses, in particular chemical industry, leaving the competitive edge for the Israeli counterparts. Any heavy industry, including building materials like concrete in Palestine is not allowed at all preventing any competition. Access to the Palestinian part of the dead sea is denied to any Palestinian industry (tourism, chemical, cosmetics), but granted to Israeli settlement counterparts (Ahava, Several beach kibbuzim, etc.). Gaza is importing fish from Israel due to its restrictions on fishing in the Mediterranean. The airport security interviews discourage tourists from visiting, purchasing, or staying in hotels in the West Bank and do these things in Israel instead.

Conclusions

The status quo of having a permanent occupation (45 years so far) under Oslo rules appears to be economically the best option for the ruling coalition in Israel. The cost of pulling out of 1967 Palestine would be extremely high -- just calculate a roughly 200,000$ compensation in average per each Israeli West Bank and East Jerusalem resident -- that's about a 100 billion dollar, in addition to the risk of heavily armed settlers sparking a civil war. Even if the Palestinian administration agrees on some land swaps, the cost will not be significantly reduced, because the Palestinian side, knowing Israels outside option of costly relocations, will never sell or swap the land for cheap (like Maale Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Modiin Ilit etc.)

Maintaining the status quo, the Israeli government can continue to keep their settler constituency happy without having to pay much for it (Palestinian land and resources are "for free"), and with their economy making extra revenues (creating tax revenues) at the cost of the Palestinian economy.

A change in policy might happen if the international community offers a budget support for Israel in the range of 100 billion $ in exchange for pulling out of 1967 Palestine, or alternatively put sanctions worth a similar amount on the Israeli government, until Israel has ended the status quo that denies Palestinians most of the rights -- the status quo being comparable on many levels with apartheid (which back then gave justification for sanctions against the South African government). Western politicians may be hesitant to call for sanctions, being afraid that their career will be ruined -- it is likely that they will be slandered as antisemite by the Israel lobby.

So, the sanction scenario is pretty unlikely, also looking at the US veto power in UN security council -- resulting in, a peaceful long term solution being 100 billion dollars (and counting) donation away from reality. The pedagogical effect of such a donation to Israel, the spoilt child of USA, is somewhat dubious ("the more illegal settlements you build, the more money you get"), but well, who cares if that's the only way for sustainable peace in the region.

100 billion sounds like a lot, but it is much less than the US military aid for Israel was between WWII and today. If one would manage to re-allocate this aid to help Israel to withdraw its settlements from Palestine, it would take a mere 15 years at today's aid rate. And after that, one can guess that Israels military spending can be significantly reduced, turning the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) into an Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and leaving more money for the pressing social issues in Israel.

It's not that easy, you will say, and you are right. But you have to acknowledge, money makes the world go round, and looking at the Middle East conflict, money has certainly more vigor than politician's words do.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wine Making

There are a handful of Palestinian wine producers such as Cremisan and Taybeh, but their price and quality are often not able to compete with imported products. Also, in many parts of Palestine (e.g. Gaza, Jenin, Hebron, etc.), wine is hard to obtain in shops generally. Northern West Bank relies on the shops of the Samarian village on Mt. Getsrim. Central West Bank buys in Ramallah, and southern West Bank in Bethlehem, while in Gaza you have to know your sources.

As my experience from Saudi Arabia shows, the fact that alcohol is not sold officially, doesn't seem to reduce the demand for it, which then is often met by some very low quality products from the black market (Saudis call it "sadiqi" or "sid"), sometimes dangerous for your health.

As a more healthy, more tasty, and possibly much cheaper alternative, this blog post describes a method to produce wine at home from grape juice. There are many sophisticated recipes around on the internet. The instructions below are designed to get started quickly with a very simple but good recipe.

Getting Started: Equipment Needed

Those 20l water jugs have proven to be well suited for small batches of wine

Next, get a large funnel to fill the jugs.

Furthermore, you will need a plastic hose to fill your wine to bottles after fermenting. A 1.50m long, 1cm diameter vinyl hose serves well, which you can, for convenience attach with a cable strap to a stick, so that the stick will keep one end of the hose approximately 4cm above the ground of the water jug.

Then, you need condoms (natural, no flavour) as a cap during fermentation. You will punch a small hole into the tip of the condom with a fork, and mount them on top of your wine jugs to prevent oxygen from coming in while letting fermentation gas go out through the hole.

A Simple Recipe

16 liters of grape juice, 100% juice, no preservatives (!)
half a kilo of sugar, dissolved in hot water
one teaspoon of yeast (baking yeast works, but better is wine yeast)

Pour all ingredients into the jug, tap it with a condom, and leave it in a moderately tempered environment (15-20 degrees is good). After 1-2 days you should see some bubbles, and the condom slowly going erect. Make sure you have punctured the condom well, otherwise it will blow off.

After 2 weeks the fermentation process is mostly over, the condom will deflate, and the yeast will settle on the ground. Let it mature for another 2 weeks, and then fill it to airtight bottles.

Put the wine jug onto a high surface. Be careful not to shake the wine, because you don't want the yeast spoiling the taste. Use the plastic hose to fill the wine into bottles. Close them firmly. Voila, your first batch of self-made wine!

This wine without preservatives has a shelf-life of approx. 10 weeks, or longer if put in a fridge. For longer conservation, you will need small amounts of Sulphur. Your local pharmacy might have one of the following chemicals: K2S2O5 or H2SO3 or NaHSO3 or Na2SO3. 

Troubleshooting and Refining Your Recipes

There are ways how you can tweak to optimize the wine according to your taste, for example:
  • Wine too sour: The most common problem is that the wine gets sour. This happens because of too much oxygen exposure. Make sure to minimize air exposure, and have airtight containers for storage. Some add a tea spoon of baking soda to get rid of the acidity.
  • Try different juices -- different brands of grape juice, or even freshly pressed grape juice from Hebron grapes. Also Raspberry, Cherry or Apple juice can be mixed in to add some extra flavour.
  • "Barique" taste -- some people like the taste of wooden barrels. You can add a handfull of woodchips of oaktree to the fermentation tank. Some people like different flavour.. they are adding a Lipton teabag instead.
  • Try different yeast. Imported from Israel or overseas you can find special wine-yeast which will ferment slower, and give a better taste. You can recycle yeast -- just take half a liter out of a running, bubbling production, store it in the fridge, and add it to your next batch.
  • If your wine tastes awful, don't throw it away. You can still make a nice Cognac from it using a self-made pot still (see instructions). Make sure to throw away the first half glass full of distilled booze-- it might contain poisonous methanol. After distilling, add some oak tree wood chips, and leave it to mature for several months. If you are impatient, you can drink the freshly distilled brandy and mix it with Strawberry juice, or lemon and sugar as a Caipirinha-style drink.
  • Check and compare with other online resources, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiiSh8vLo54 or  http://www.homemade-wine-making-guide.com

The Culture of Drinking

The culture of responsible use of alcohol is passed from the parents to the children's generation in most parts of Europe. As such tradition is hardly present in Palestine, I'm giving an executive summary:
  • Never drink alone
  • Never drink to kill the pain
  • Watch yourself, and listen to others. If you notice first signs of your character becoming rude, your voice becoming unclear, or movements becoming uncoordinated, you had too much. Water for the rest of the night!
  • Don't sign contracts when drunk. It is a well-known trick of salespeople to make their customers drunk. Look at early islamic history -- even Khadija, the wife of Mohammed, used this trick to convince her father Khuwailid, who was hesitant to let her marry Mohamed, Mohamed having lower social status being just an employee of the Khadija's logistics company. After making her father drunk, he finally accepted Khadija's desire to marry her lower ranking and much younger employee. At least this is what was narrated by Islamic historian Al-Tabari.

The Business Side

Starting your homebrew wine factory can go in three directions. Either
  • You will brew it just for yourself and your friends without commercial use.
  • You will brew it in small batches and sell it among trusted friends. This is the preferable business model for Gaza.
  • You will upscale production, make your own brand, eventually buy a fermentation tank and a botteling and labelling machine, increasing the variety and quality of Palestinian wine available on the market.. this is possible probably only in Palestinian christian areas such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Taybeh, etc.
For sure there is a lot of added value through the fermentation process. Grape juice costs maybe 7 Shekel a liter, while the cheapest wine around costs 20 Shekel per 0.7 liter. So the value goes about fourfold by fermenting (or much more, if you were in Gaza, due to the shortage on the supply side).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Meat for the Christians: Trapping Wild Hogs

Hogs Plague in the West Bank

If you are driving or walking through the more rural parts of the West Bank, you will frequently encounter wild hogs, whose growing population became a plague for farmers and hikers likewise, because they tend to eat the harvest, and have been reported to attack humans.



How to Hunt Them?

Wild hogs are strong animals with sharp teeth, and are very hard to hunt without firearms. However firearms are not available for Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions. That's why a skilled hunter needs to employ more traditional methods, i.e. traps. In this video you will find instructions on how to build a trap resistant enough for wild hogs:



Once you trap them, it is going to be challenging to get them killed without firearms. You can get inspiration from this video:


First you should make the animal unconcious (stunning). Some recommendations are found on the FAO page. After that, you should make sure a quick bleeding of the animal. (e.g. hanging on its rear legs from a tripod).
In this video you will find instructions on cleaning the hog after slaughtering:



Sales Channels for the Meat

Obviously it is going to be hard to sell meat from wild pigs to Muslim or Jewish communities. Therefore, you will have to maket the meat among domestic Christian communities (e.g. the famous Christian butcher in Beit Jala), or several places with Christian affiliation in Jerusalem. Maybe a marketing partnership with a famous Christian restaurant would be advisable, because there is very little knowledge about proper cooking of this type of meat.
A good collection of recipes for wild boar can be found here: http://www.marxfoods.com/wild-boar-recipes

Also the Russian-Jewish immigrant community may be worthwhile investigating -- they don't seem to be too picky about proper application of Kosher rules, while they do care for affordable meat.
Furthermore, the export market to Europe could be considered, but you'll have to deal with the strict food safety regulations on imports to Europe.

Health Considerations

The religious rules in Islam and Judaism have a health background. In the times those holy books were written, a common reason for death was infection by Trichinosis, mostly transmitted by pigs, because in those times there was no reliable  food safety regime in place, and many people prepared meat not thoroughly cooked.

Either a veterinary has to check the slaughtered meat for Trichinosis infections, or you have to make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked. The inner temperature of the meat has to be at 74 degrees Celsius for at least 15 seconds to make sure all harmful germs are eliminated.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Make Money as a Dictator -- Become a Caliph!

Yesterday evening, driving past Qalandia checkpoint, some bearded guys were handing out paper flyers, calling for a meeting with the objective to re-introduce the Caliphate. This is their flyer:



That idea inspired me for this blog post, which looks at the financial aspects and feasibility of becoming Caliph, or in general any dictator. Take it with a grain of salt when reading.

Large parts of this post are inspired by The Dictator's Handbook, which I definitely recommend reading if you either want to become one, or if you want to ward off the risk of dictatorship being introduced somewhere.


The Caliph Was 100 Times More Greedy Than Hosni Mubarak


Let's start with the question how much money can a dictator make? To optimize your income, you take the entire governmental revenues (consisting mostly of taxes, natural resources exploitation, as well as loans you take), you pay just enough to your essential supporters to keep them loyal, and the rest you can keep for yourself.

For example, Hosni Mubarak's private accounts were growing by approximately 10 billion $ during his 30 years regime. That's about 330 Million $ per year. With governmental revenues of approximately 50 billion US$ annually, it is a mere 0.6% he kept for himself.

To put that into perspective, the caliphate's income for the years 918-919 was 15.5 million dinars, 10.5 million of which was spent on Caliph Al Muqtadir's household, that is a decent 68%. (S.E. Finer, The History of Government, 1997, page 724) 
So if you call Mubarak greedy, you have to remember that the Caliph was 100 times (!) more greedy than Mubarak.


If you would have a similarly greedy Caliph for Palestine of today, he would extract some 2.5 billion$ annually from the governmental budget of Palestine into his private coffers.


The idea of a caliphate however is that it spans all across the Islamic world. I didn't do the math, but you can use this page and this page, to calculate how much you could roughly extract as a Caliph. I would roughly guess you could make more than a trillion $ (that is 1,000,000,000,000$) annually as a pan-Arabic "Caliph-style" dictator.


Harun Al Rashid, The fifth caliph, with his impressive pumpkin-style turban


If you see that financial figure you can imagine that people are willing to take great risks and investments in their pursuit to become dictators (which in the history of the caliphate, they did a lot). The above mentioned PR campaign at Qalandia checkpoint is probably one of those investments. I would be too curious to know where the funding and political masterminding for that campaign comes from.


What is the Most Promising Approach to Become Dictator?



Traditionally, most dictators came into power through their military allies. Many were military generals that overthrew the president. Some made a military alliance to conquer some territory (like the Saud Family did together with Wahabi warriors). Today in the Middle East, some might see a third opportunity: As there is a general discontent about previous dictators, the loyalty of their military forces are severely weakened by the Arab spring. In most of those countries, education levels are low, there is no well established democracy culture, and there is a strong common identity by Islamic belief. 


Under these conditions, it seems realistic to convince a majority to overthrow the current dictatorship, to hold elections, just to introduce yet another dictatorship which comes along disguised as a "caliphate". This caliphate will resort to the historic leadership mechanisms, which according to today's wording is nothing else than dictatorship.
The minority of well educated and democratically minded people will call for elections, free speech, freedom of assembly, civil rights, and so on... The caliphate regime will answer that those infidels are only trying to weaken the divine reign of the caliphate, and therefore those offenders shall be punished according to a cruel interpretation of Sharia.

The hanging of Sufi saint and poet Mansur Al-Hallaj. He was hanged by Abbasid caliph, Al-Muqtadir in 922

Most education systems in the region are teaching about the caliphate's history in a positively biased way -- it is sometimes sold as part of Islamic faith to believe that this was the best regime that ever existed, free of any flaws, brutalities, discrimination, or economic exploitation. And I would agree that at that time, the Islamic ruleset as codified in Quran, and partly adopted by the caliphate was among the most modern ones around. But yeah, that was 1000 years ago. Long before enlightenment, abolishment of torture and death penalty, separation of powers, citizen's rights movements, liberalism, government accountability, minorities protection, individual freedoms, and ultimately democracy.


The Technicalities of Tax Farming


The method of tax farming of the caliphate is described in the Dictator's Handbook. Here is an excerpt:






The Special Situation of Palestine

Both Fatah and Hamas governments in Palestine seem to create good revenues, and let the essential supporters of the regime benefit from it. While Hamas levies taxes on tunnel transit and donations from supporters abroad, Fatah relies on the formalized economy, custom revenues, fuel and car taxes, and in large part foreign donors from mostly western countries. The latter financing is likely to fade away if a caliphate was to be introduced.

As Shlomo Ben-Ami describes in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace the Arafat government had to sign onto Oslo accords as Israels subcontractor for the occupation, because PLO was bankrupt after backing the wrong horse in the first Gulf War. This dependence on western money was perpetuated, because the PA government knows that the West will never let them go bankrupt, fearing an overtake by more radical forces.
In financial terms, this phenomenon is called "moral hazard", the PA being able to run their state budget into deep deficit by hiring more and more governmental employees, knowing that somebody will bail them out eventually, especially under the threat that PA halts salary payments to their security forces.

Therefore in Palestine, introducing a caliphate is a tricky one, lacking the financial means, and the means of full sovereignity. Any potential Caliph for Palestine probably needs to rely on foreign funding, i.e. he will be rather a pan-arabic Caliph, and have his branch administration in Palestine -- which is probably not one of his most profitable ones. Therefore I would expect a pro-caliphate political party to emerge in Palestine, but the rule of the Caliph, I would assume to start elsewhere in the region.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ramallah Guide for Internationals

This is actually not exactly a business idea. It is more of a guide for shopping and living in Ramallah for Westerners. Most recommendations travel by word of mouth, but given the high fluctuation of Internationals, I figured it may be useful to pin some of them down.

Most of the recommended places are marked in the map of http://www.openstreetmap.org/. Therefore I will not provide way descriptions everywhere.

Restaurants

A restaurant guide for Ramallah could fill an entire book. Instead I will just name my favourites and give some links for further research.

  • Orjuwan - upscale restaurant with a good and creative food selection, nice ambiente and good music. 
  • Darna Restaurant - Very good Palestinian cuisine. Try Gaza Salad, if you like it spicey. A bit pricey though.
  • Mövenpick Ramallah, Allegro Restaurant -- Mövenpick prices.. Best Italian food in town. Try the exclusive wine collection!
  • Mediterraneo, a new (2013) Italian Restaurant inside the Latin Patriarchate on Rukab street.
  • Level 5 -- 5th floor above Zaman Cafe in al Tireh. Good and affordable food with a stunning view from the Terrace. Paulaner draft beer.
  • Cafe De La Paix -- The teryaki salad is my favourite. Also check out the fair trade corner with goods from Canaan.
  • Fuego -- Mexican food (or fusion dishes such as Avocado-Hummus) in a nice old stone building. Decent cocktails.
  • Ziryab -- Cosy environment, especially for wintertime
  • De La Vie -- Nice homemade cakes
  • Chili Chilis -- best burger in town (old town)
  • Zaman Al Tireh -- Try the tuna sandwich, or the health salad. Also a nice place for breakfast/brunch. Every other Tuesday morning 8am, it is a gathering place for Ramallah's IT startup companies.
  • Snowbar -- best landscaping in town, comfy seats under trees, includes swimmingpool
  • Segafredo Al Masyoun near Ankars Suites -- franchise coffee bar with large terrace
Further references, check http://yummypick.com also for online order and delivery: http://otlub.ps/ or http://www.clickandpick.ps/

Budget Fastfood

  • Best chicken shawarma: It is on Rukab street, near the green Jawwal shop, a few meters towards Manara, on the left side. They have a horizontal shawarma grill over charcoal, and freshly baked shrak bread. 13 Shekel for an excellent shawarma.
  • Best Falafel: On Irsal street, opposite the JDECO building, a few meters towards the city center, there is a Falafel place, 4 Shekel for the sandwich. The falafel maker has a picture with him and Abu Mazen in his restaurant.
  • Flaming Saj on Irsal street has decent local style pizza at very affordable prices (12 shekel for a large pizza)
  • Best Kunafa (outside Nablus) is available at Helwiat Eiffel - Eiffel Sweets

Buying Food

As of July 2013, a new Gourmet supermarket opened, which takes shopping in Ramallah to a next level: MaxMar on Irsal Street (that's the street that goes from Manara Square past Muqata towards Birzeit, close to Chili House). They have approximately 10.000 different imported and local high quality products on display, including a herbs and nuts corner, a bakery, a sweets corner, great selection of imported cheeses, and so on. Soon they will launch an online purchase system with home delivery. 

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Specialized shops tend to be better than supermarkets like bravo. My favourite is, coming from Ein Musbah street, turning right onto Tireh street, and next to the right down the hill, on the right hand side.  And of course the fruit market near Manara.
  • Bread: Zaman Cafe has good dark bread, in case you miss it. Al Bayt Al Kadeem Baker makes good  fluffy Arabic bread. Dark arabic bread is available at MaxMar. Whole wheat arabic bread is avialable at AlKiswani in the old town. If you miss German style bread, you can get it on Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Can be cut and deepfrozen. You get packaged dark bread by German "Mestermacher" company in most Bravo or MaxMar shops.
  • Alcohol: The best collection available, and the cheapest prices you find at Jubran, you find him on a side street of Rukab street. From the gas station, walk 300m uphill, and turn left at the corner of the stationary shop. After 50, Jubran is on the right side. If you are a frequent customer, ask for a customer card that will give you 5% discount.
  • Pork: There is one butchery in Beit Jala (central square of Beit Jala, ask for Khansil, which means pig/pork), and otherwise you will find a smaller selection of things in a small shop in Ramallah tahta, on the street of the mosque, 100m on the left side, almost in front of a bakery, with red painting. Also there is Yanni Grocery across from Stones.
  • Meat: There is a good chicken shop (Aziza) three doors down from the Ramallah Old Town Pharmacy (around the corner from Arab Bank Tahta). The Butcher of Bravo Plaza Mall supermarket is quite good as well.
  • Cakes: Next to Stones, you find a cake shop, with three letters, something like QMH. The dark chocolate cake is amazing.

Nightlife

Among the Arab cities of the world, Ramallah probably ranks #3 in nightlife after Beirut and Dubai. Most of the night life takes place on Thursday though. Here are a few places to go in Ramallah:
  • Snowbar is nice to hang out in Summer, and occasionaly they host events with DJ. Summer season only.
  • Andareen resembles something between a bar and a disco with occasional salsa classes. Entrance is somewhat hidden, via elevator, 4th floor, opposite Rukab ice cream.
  • Sparkles in Mövenpick has mostly House music and Arabic dance music -- the audience mostly upper class Palestinians. Often it is the last resort after most other places close. Decent cocktails. Winter season only.
  • Basement is a proper club located in a basement (hence, the name) with DJs and everything else
  • Beit Aniseh often hosts life music or DJ on Thursdays. Sometimes couples-only policy. Somtimes you pay for entance. Otherwise a place to mingle. Mix of internationals and Palestinians who care less about the allegedly "bad reputation" (whatever that means) of this pub.
  • Orjuwan is a decent restaurant with cocktail bar, with occasional DJ events, especially Thursdays. Cocktails are nice. Entrance policy somewhat restrictive. Smart casual business clothing helps, or reserve your table in advance.
  • Barameal is a nicely decorated pub, a few steps uphill from Sangrias. They host occasional life music or DJ parties, sometimes private events.
  • La Ween is a pub with occasional DJ and dancing -- its style looks somewhat boheme, with Arabic poetry on the wall. Located three doors down from Qasaba theatre.
  • La Grotta, across the street from Fuego Restaurant, is a pub, and a nice "after hour" place, once other places are closing down. The bar looks somewhat improvised, but with a nice and diverse, slightly artsy crowd.
The Ramallah municipality with its female Christian mayor has a relatively liberal regime -- still recently they introduced a general closing hour which is enforced some time between 1am and 2am. Clubs with good sound insulation, which don't disturb neighbours, like Sparkles or Basement may be running a bit longer. After Ramallah closes down, the only option is Jerusalem (e.g. the Palestinian bar Beer, and next to it the Israeli club Uganda, and a few blocks down Sira aka D1), or Tel Aviv (e.g. Radio, Deli, etc.). A good indicator for Israeli clubs with Arab-friendly audience is the fact that they serve Palestinian Taybeh-beer.
In the Negev desert, there are many Israeli desert raves, and more recently, there is a Palestinian desert rave group emerging, and another one for Psy-Trance called Mukhti Gathering, which makes events in '48 territory, with music acts from Germany, West Bank and '48 Palestinians, and invites mostly through Facebook and word of mouth.


Sports, Outdoor Activities and Chilling Out


  • Turkish Bath: There is a nice turkish bath in Al Bireh including all types of massages, and another one located in Al Masyoun area
  • In a nearby village (Jifneh), there is an affordable, large outdoor swimming pool
  • Hiking. Aid worker Stefan Szepski used his free time to hike and write a book with his hiking recommendations. Also you can take organized hiking tours through tour operators, or political and historical hikes through organizations such as AIC or the Center for Jerusalem Studies. Also Riwaq has a number of hikes and maps to be explored. Be careful when venturing out alone, as in some remote areas near Mar Saba monastery near Bethlehem, incidents of robbery have been reported.
  • Mountain Biking: The Palestinian desert has some challenging routes. Palestinian bikers are a very small community. Contact them on their Facebook group.
  • Jogging: Ramallah is really not a good place for jogging, but the best routes are probably either the remote part of Al Tireh street, which stretches a few kilometers down with a decent sidewalk, or you can go from Ein Musbah street steep down the hill until you reach the bottom of the valley, and you will find a long tarmac road with very little traffic that stretches about 8km.
  • Sarayyet offers contemporary dancing classes, swimming pool, and many other sportive activities.
  • Popular fitness clubs are Solo gym and Tri Fitness. In the same building of Solo Gym you find a massage center.
  • Affordable Yoga Classes are offered by Farashe Yoga near Manara -- see http://farasheyoga.org
  • Classes for Transcendental Meditation are offered in Al Tireh. Call Kevin 0598 752 813 
  • The terrace of Level 5 restaurant offers comfortable sofas with a stunning view (including Tel Aviv skyline)
  • Snowbar has comfortable sofas and sun chairs by the swimming pool
  • Mövenpick and Grand Park Hotel have a nice pool area, and there is another fancy pool opposite Grand Park hotel, which sports an In-Water cocktail bar.
  • Reef Cafe, Azure Restaurant and Jasmine are nice places to hang out and smoke a waterpipe.
  • If you have an entire weekend, and enough money to spend, you should consider going across the border to Kempinski Ishtar Hotel Dead Sea -- they have pure luxury, the largest Spa in the Middle East, an excellent Thai Restaurant, and sparkling wine for breakfast. If you use Allenby bridge, you need a Jordanian visa from the Embassy in Ramallah, and also check the opening times of the bridge. A taxi can take you from Ramallah to the bridge, and taxis are waiting on the Jordanian side of the bridge to take you to the hotel.


Tourist Sites

  • Traditional gift items: A few meters downhill from Al Bireh Municipality, turn left, and immediately right, there is a shop with handicrafts from all regions of Palestine. Also you can buy delicious gifts from Cafe de la Paix, which has Fair Trade organic products from Canaan/Burquin (infused olive oil, sandwich spreads, maftool, zaatar, almonds, etc.).
  • Tourist office: Opposite Ramallah Municipality, next to Cafe de la Paix. Has maps, and some other useful information
  • The only real tourist sites are the Arafat memorial and the Mahmoud Darwish memorial, each with an adjacent museum (the Arafat one being under construction). 
  • Dar Zahran Gallery exhibits a traditional christian palestinian house, some photography, an excellent collection of Palestinian traditional merchandise.  You find it opposite Arab Bank in Ramallah Tahta (on the other side of Ruqab street). 
  • Futher locations for the art scene are Sakkakini Gallery located uphill from Beit Aniseh, and the International Academy of Arts Palestine, and in Bethlehem the Dar Al Kalima college.
  • Further recommendations you find in Lonely Planet and on Wikitravel

Finding a Flat

Panoramic view from Area D hostel in downtown Ramallah
  • For short stays and for guests, check out the brand new (July 2013) youth hostel called Area D, which will also hook you up with helpful information and tour guides. contact via https://www.facebook.com/AreaDHostel
  • If you read Arabic or trust google translation, look for apartments on http://www.shobiddak.com
  • Otherwise, a lot of shared flats are offered on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ramallahramallah/
  • Also you find flats at http://www.englishpal.ps/ 
  • Common prices for a room in a shared flat is 250-300 $ a month, to be paid on a monthly basis, utilities come extra, and can be quite expensive especially with heating in wintertime.
  • Furnished 2-3 bedroom apartments in a central area of town go for around 500-800$.
  • Written contracts are rare, many want cash payments in dollar within the first week of each month. That gives you a negotiation chip -- if you encounter long delays for the required maintenance of the flat, you may decide to delay your payment.
  • Flats have lousy insulation, and often come without heating. If you have central heating, fuel is going to be very expensive, like up to 500$ a month for a decent sized flat to have it warm and cosy in January. Many go for the cheaper option of a gas catalytic oven, which you put right in front of you when sitting on the sofa.
  • Many Palestinian landlords are, according to European standards, control freaks. They want to know exactly who goes in and out of the apartment, and any suspicious activity is immediately reported among neighbours.
  • Neighbourhoods in the Christian city center of Ramallah tend to be slightly more liberal.
  • Generally we westerners, being far from parental control, are suspected to fall for random sex and prostitution. After I had some female friends over, my landlady came to me telling me that the neighbours were complaining I was allegedly having sex in the living room -- to me a very surprising observation. Later I understood that having unmarried boys and girls in the same room leads to the logic assumption of sex taking place. In Islam this weird logics is called "khulwah" but also conservative Palestinian Christians seem to have a similar way of thinking. For people who enjoy tight parental control throughout their lives, it seems to be hard to imagine that westerners learn taking responsibility for their own lives when left alone.
  • Many landlords will not permit male visitors to female-only flats, because of the widespread suspicion of prostitution.
  • Some cases have been reported of male Palestinians claiming to be very open minded, offering rooms in their flat, inviting exclusively young western girls to live with them, expecting to benefit from the alleged sexual liberty of westerners. To avoid this, maybe you want to have a male friend calling to ask for availability of the room, if the answer is no, then you should be suspicious to receive a different answer calling as a female.
  • After you are warned about all these horror stories, I am sure you will be ready to find a nice flat with friendly neighbours, install some curtains for privacy and enjoy the great hospitality that Palestine has for foreign visitors!


Miscellaneous

  • Hairdresser: In the same building of Level 5 restaurant (Al Tireh Roundabout), there is an excellent Hairdresser called Hana Eideh studios. Well equipped with a collection of Schwartzkopf hair products, and staff that has been trained by Tony & Guy. Very friendly and professional. Main target group is women, but they may make some exceptions if you ask.
  • Dentist: In the same building as the hairdresser, you find an excellent dentist, Munther Tibi.
  • Tailor for small repairs: At the corner of Rukab/Al Tireh Street with Ein Misbah street, there is a tailor (you find many more in the center)
  • Shoe and bags repair: From Manara, walk towards the police station, on your right side you find a tiny shop for shoe repair, right next to a smelly chicken shop.
  • Drycleaner: Jamal who is located opposite the supermarket next to the Arafat Memorial does good work. Carpets I tend to bring to the drycleaner next to Bravo supermarket Al Tireh, Al Tireh street.
  • Money: Arab Bank ATMs disburse Shekel, Dinar, and USD in large amounts for Credit and EC cards. Bank of Palestine also works, but has lower transaction limits. Arab Bank Tahta on Rukab Street next to the Gas station is an option, also Plaza Mall al Bireh has many ATMs
  • Internet. Ask your landlord for DSL, for which you will need a Paltel phone line. MADA is a good DSL provider. Otherwise check your Wifi -- possibly your home is covered by Coolnet, Yalla or Globalcom providers. Otherwise, an Israeli SIM card offers 3G coverage in many areas of Palestine. The last option is somewhat controversial. Check my other blog post.
  • Rental car with yellow plate can be obtained from Middle East car rental on Jerusalem Road, shortly before you pass the red crescent building. Price approx. 200 Shekel per day. Reserve at least one day in advance to make sure you get a car. Phone 02-2963141. Sometimes rates are better and cars are newer with Israeli companies in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but be aware that those companies don't cover insurance for A-Zones in the Westbank such as Ramallah. In East Jerusalem you find some alternatives with Palestinian insurance, for example "goodluck" car rental, opposite American Colony Hotel.
  • Checkpoint Guide: How to get in and out of Ramallah conveniently -- read my other blog post.


Airport logistics

With an international passport, for most people it is convenient to use Ben Gurion airport.

  • By car: If you travel westwards by car, e.g. to the airport or to the beach, it is good to know that there is a way to avoid Qalandia CP. Drive towards Beitunia, at the entrance of Beitunia, there is a big roundabout decorated with giant fruits. Take first exit. Continue that road which leads through Ein Arik village, to Deir Ibzi village. In Deir Ibizi you see a big gas station on your right, you drive past some Olive trees, shortly after, you see a car dealer on your left. Take the next turn right (road sign to Ras Karkar), which leads a steep road winding down the hill. At the bottom you reach settler road number 463. Turn left and follow signs towards Tel Aviv. Using this way, it is a mere 45 minutes from Ramallah to the airport, and at Hashmonaim Checkpoint you can expect to pass without delay (as opposed to Qalandia). Long term parking at the airport costs 40 Shekel per day.
  • To reduce parking cost, you can park at the Modiin industrial zone train station (along Road 431) for free, and take a train (15 minutes) to the airport. The station is called Paatei Modiin, and check the schedule because during night-time the train doesn't run.
  • Without a car, you can take bus no. 18 from Ramallah to Jerusalem, Damascus gate, and you can call Nesher taxi (02-6257227) to pick you up from Jerusalem Hotel. Make the reservation with Nesher taxi on the previous day. As an alternative to Qalandia checkpoint, you can take at the Qalandia parking a white minivan that passes through Hizme checkpoint to Jerusalem. That may save you some hassle with your baggage. Bus to Jerusalem costs 7-10 Shekel, Nesher taxi (it is a mini-bus) to airport costs 60 Shekel.
  • Direct taxi from Ramallah to the airport costs between 280 and 350 shekels -- you will need a taxi with yellow number plate and a driver who knows the above described route via Deir Ibzi. Here are two numbers of people who can get you such a taxi: Bassil 0598735180 and Rami 0545774318. Sometimes you can find people to share a taxi ride if you write a mail to the ramallahramallah group on yahoo.
  • A cheap and relatively hassle-free, but controversial option is using a settler bus: You take any green-plate taxi or servees bus towards Ras Karkar. Tell the taxi to drive towards Ras Karkar, and as soon as you hit the settler road (you can tell by the Hebrew roadsigns), turn right (or get off the bus), and you will have the Ha-Parsa Bus Station after 200 meters. Take Egged bus number 181. Check time table online. The bus takes you through Hashmonaim checkpoint to Modiin train station. From there, it is two train stops away from the airport. This works only during daytime as the train and bus are not going at night.

        

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