Israelis could soon be asked to forget politics and head to “Palestine” to party.
According to a report on Israel Radio, the Palestinian Authority is considering hiring Israeli advertising gurus to encourage Israelis to chill out in Ramallah.
The PA denies that such a programme is in the works but, according to a report on Israel Radio, it is mulling a multi-million dollar campaign that will promote Ramallah’s restaurants, cafes and nightlife — and get Israeli celebs to tour the city.
Officially, a 13-year-old military order prohibits Israelis from entering areas under full Palestinian control. Although a small but steady flow of Israelis go to Ramallah anyway, many find it difficult to imagine heading there to unwind.
“Most Israelis just don’t go to the West Bank. Not for political reasons, we simply don’t go,” said Yaakov Dimri, a father-of-two from Haifa. “Most have no interest in visiting settlements and even less in going to Palestinian areas.”
But among communications experts, travel agents and the peace camp, there is a more positive view. “By nature, Israelis are a curious people and many of us went to Bethlehem all the time when we were younger,” said Mark Feldman, CEO of Jerusalem-based Zion Tours. “I would say, if Ramallah has something to offer, why not?”
Tamir Sheafer, a communications professor at Hebrew University, said: “I’m sure that many Israelis would be interested in this. The last time I was in Ramallah was ten years ago and I’ll be happy to visit again.”
He said that the idea of Israelis going alone to hang out sounds a little ambitious, but added that organised tours could prove attractive, and once people become familiar with the place through tours, they may visit on their own.
The veteran peace activist Gershon Baskin said that if a campaign were to be timed with Israel dropping its prohibition against its citizens visiting, “a lot of people will go”.
Mr Feldman and Dr Sheafer both consider the main challenge is ensuring security and creating a sense of security among Israelis.
Dr Sheafer said that if this can be achieved, it could be a “step to convince Israelis of the possibility of peace”. He added: “If Israelis are seeing they can take a tour of Ramallah without being mobbed, this is important.”
Partying on in Ramallah:
Nine years after the Second Intifada that saw Israeli troops enter Ramallah and even besiege the presidential compound, the city is thriving.
There are large bars and pubs, where the dance floors fill up and the music gets cranked up in the evenings.
Aside from the cultural experience, there are two possible draws for Israelis. Firstly, the prices tend to be lower than in Israel. Secondly, there is the “shisha” culture. The shisha — the tall water pipe — is on the menu everywhere and brought to the table ready to smoke, while in Israel, strict anti-smoking laws ban it indoors.
Certain restaurants are especially popular with visitors, such as the upscale Pesto Café, which serves Italian cuisine. The Mövenpick hotel group has a five-star hotel. There are fashion outlets selling Western clothes.
Large parts of Ramallah are still run down, and compared to somewhere like Tel Aviv there is a dearth of international names on the high street. But if the big chains are not yet in Ramallah, Palestinians are trying their own versions, such as coffee joint Star & Bucks.