Last week I went out with a few friends to a bar called Beit Aneeseh and had a bit of a scary experience!! This bar is supposedly the in-place to be on a Thursday night in Ramallah. The people you see there are the same people who are there every week – the young generation from a certain social standing, most of their parents are relatively well off and business owners of some sort and a lot of them have left Palestine at some point in their lives to study or work abroad. They make up the ‘bubble’ in Ramallah, the more open-minded individuals who have taken on aspects of Western culture.
The place has become a space for these young people to think openly, behave in a way that is not considered ‘socially acceptable’ and exist in a free environment. The friendly staff, combined with the grassy outdoor sitting areas, live band on Thursday nights and loud house music makes for a fun and slightly ‘wilder’ party scene than I would ever have imagined. You’ll find the girls wearing short dresses (something you would not normally see) and everyone is just looking to have a good time. It is easily one of the most liberal places I have ever been to in the Middle East.
I never actually felt the extent of this society bubble until that night I went out.
We arrived around midnight last Thursday. It was two of our friend’s birthdays so we were out to celebrate and enjoy ourselves. It is always packed on a Thursday night but we managed to get in fairly quickly.
One or two hours into the party, I suddenly began to smell petrol. A very, very strong smell, literally as if we were in a petrol station. In the far corner of the outdoor area, I saw fire and people began running out of the place. Suddenly one of my friends grabbed my hand and told me we had to leave now. He was breathing really fast and began pushing passed people to get us out of there.
Once we made it out the door, I saw rocks being thrown at us from all directions. I couldn’t see where exactly the rocks were coming from, I just saw and felt them all around me. I could see people ducking and running to their cars. Lucky for us, my friend’s car was parked directly in front of the place so we were able to leave very quickly and none of us were hurt.
It was not until later that night when I understood what had happened.
Basically someone had decided to throw something called Molotov cocktail into Beit Aneeseh. Molotov cocktail is a homemade petrol bomb. It is a glass bottle filled with gasoline or petrol, which is then wrapped in burning cloth and thrown. Of course it has the capability of burning someone alive.
Lucky for us, whoever threw the Molotov cocktail had not aimed properly and the bottle hit a wall first, before splashing petrol on the crowd and then fell in a relatively empty area and burst into flames. I went home with my trousers covered in petrol.
Now why do I think this happened?
Well my guess is this is a by-product of having a social imbalance in society. Not only are Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation and having to deal with the daily frustrations of it, there is also this bubble within Ramallah who act and think differently to everyone else in society. Most of the Palestinians who couldn’t afford to work or study abroad, or who may have chosen not to leave seem to be a lot more conservative and try to preserve this aspect of Palestinian culture.
The gap between these two groups of people seems to be widening, in terms of wealth and mentalities. Don’t forget everyone knows everyone in Ramallah, so you’re either in the bubble and one of them or your living outside of it. There is a huge clash of cultures, if you ask me.
What goes on in Beit Aneeseh is common knowledge to anyone living here. Even those that don’t go there have heard stories and have an idea of what goes on in these ‘wild’ Thursday nights. Of course when I say wild, I am speaking relative to the rest of Palestine.
This makes me question whether a society can continue to function with two such extremely different mentalities without there eventually having to be a ‘correction’ at some point. Can this social tension within Ramallah stay like this forever? And what does resistance really mean to a young person living under occupation?
- Could they be going out as a way of forgetting the occupation and their daily frustrations?
- Could it be their way of showing the world they can still have fun while living under occupation?
- Could these young people be craving the ‘freedom’ they felt outside of Palestine?
- And do they go out to compensate for not being free in all other aspects of their lives?
I guess we will never really know what happens subconsciously in a young person’s mind living under occupation.
Unfortunately I don’t think they ever caught the perpetrators who threw the Molotov cocktail but to be honest it wouldn’t surprise me if whoever threw it was a frustrated Palestinian who disapproved of what goes on inside Beit Aneeseh.
Whether their intention was to kill or not, I guess we’ll never know.
At the end of the night, realizing I was shaken up by the events of what had happened, one of my friends put his arm around me and laughed. He had obviously been living in Palestine for so many years that he had become relatively used to such things happening and he wasn’t surprised. He turned to me, smiled and said, “Lara, you have officially become a Palestinian.”