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Streets of Ramallah, Palestine

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I've been going through my photos from the Alaskan journey, and one thing is clear. The shots are almost entirely of the beautiful landscapes, with few humans in the frames. The opposite was true during my trip to the West Bank, where so many interesting faces were ready to pose at a moment's notice. So, my photos from Ramallah are almost all portraits. The people here completely captivated me, drawing me in with their warmth and hospitality. I couldn't imagine that I'd be walking the streets of Ramallah a year ago. This city was my first introduction to a predominantly Muslim region, and I had no idea what to expect. Any small ounce of inner fear was completely overcome by curiosity. Few Westerners venture deep into the West Bank on holiday, instead limiting time to the relgious sites in Bethlehem. Those sites are interesting, but fail to capture the essence of ordinary life.

To understand the complex nature of life here is impossible. As an American citizen, I passed freely through Palestinian and Israeli controlled checkpoints, with absolutely no hassle. No prohibition on movement, no prohibition on visiting relgious sites. Ramallah falls under "Area A", and the Palestinian Authority is in full control. Entry into the area is prohibited for all Israeli citizens, and there are threatening signs at all checkpoints warning that entry by an Israeli citizen is "forbidden and dangerous to your life." I showed you the ominous sign in this post. What is the purpose? Personally, I think the language is meant to scare foreign tourists away, thus limiting exposure to ordinary life in the West Bank. Today I'll show you what I saw during my walk in Ramallah on a hot Sunday afternoon a few months ago.

1.  Ramallah is a small, concentrated city about 12 km from Jersusalem, the area from which we traveled. A very short drive, yet a completely different environment on arrival. In Jerusalem, there are the same crowds and congestion, yet in Ramallah it all feels more third-world and uncontrolled. Security and traffic police try to manage the traffic and pedestrians wandering in and out of the streets.

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2. Right before we entered the city, we passed the Kalandia Prep Girls' School, where young Muslim women were gathered in the courtyard playing. The school teaches about 500 Palestinian refugee girls, covering 5th - 9th grades.

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3. Badmitton match amongst friends. Because Ramallah is the cultural and work center of the West Bank, students are taught English from an early age. I don't know if it's the same throughout all of the West Bank, but most Palestinians I encountered could speak at least basic English phrases.

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4. The city is easy to walk by foot, as it's quite small. However, there are a lot of taxis! I've seen more only in New York City. I never took one because I was traveling with a local in the area. But they are cheap and available on every street corner in the city. Notice the advertising billboard in the background? No hijabs on the female models. Ramallah is viewed as the most cosmopolitan city in the West Bank.

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5. There's absolutely no order on the streets. People stand and walk amongst cars that are moving at a very slow pace due to congestion. I didn't know before this journey that Muslim women are only required to wear hijab after the start of puberty. Thus, many young girls walk around with their heads uncovered and arms exposed, while older females who accompany them are fully covered.

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6. The city has a relaxed relgious atmosphere, which allows for more flexibility in Muslim dress. Many Christians live in the city, for the most part co-existing peacefully with the majority Muslim population. The women are glamarous, wearing decorative hijabs, make-up and stylish sunglasses. Typical for most big cities around the globe - women usually dress fancier when compared to provincial areas.

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7. At a local cafe, this woman saw me playing with my camera and then posed for a shot. A male friend once said to me - "Muslim women scare me." :) And what's scary about this young girl? Beauty, with gentle eyes. To me, she looks completely feminine in her floral shirt, with painted lips and eyes. Yet some will never see it, instead equating beauty with the amount of skin shown.

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8. I don't know why I have so many shots of the women. I guess I thought about living life in their shoes. Their dedication to religion and cultural norms. Religion plays absolutely no role in my life, so it's a difficult concept for me to understand that it plays such a substantial role in global conflicts and societal customs.

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9. An interesting dilema occured before arrival into Ramallah. My Indian friend decided to wear a sleeveless, bright outfit. I didn't agree with her choice of dress, and told her so. To me it's disrespectul to the local culture. Although Ramallah is the most liberal city in the West Bank, it's still a predominantly Muslim population where modesty prevails. To what extent should foreign visitors conform to local customs when it comes to dress? The question is open for debate. Have any female readers traveled to similar areas? How did you dress?

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10. Young girl on the street. If you visit the West Bank as a female, I don't think it's necessary to be fully covered. I wore jeans with a t-shirt or longsleeved shirt the entire time and there were no problems. No head covering at all, though you should carry one because it's a requirement for entry into some religious sites.

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11. The city is full of shops, cafes and clothes for every price range and taste. Fashion at this store doesn't differ very much from typical Western wear.

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13. On the walls, you will see posters of various young men. I didn't know who they were, or what the posters symbolized. However, I was later told the posters are in remembrance of those killed by Israeli soldiers during conflicts or at checkpoints. Whether the killings were in self-defense or out of provacation, I'll never know. But the images of these young men are displayed everywhere in the West Bank.

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14.  Wall art at a street crossing. I updated the post because someone on Twitter informed who is in the image. Khader Adnan, a former Palestinian prisoner held in Israel. Israeli authorities never filed formal charges against him, but he was arrested for alleged "activities that threaten regional security." He was released on 18 April 2012 after a 66 day hunger strike.

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15. I'll write a separate post about the food, but the owner of this cafe called me in. "American fried chicken and fries" he said. Ramallah's version of KFC. :)

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16. I didn't notice many homeless or vagrant people on the streets, but they are there. This man was trying to sell me a home-made instrument. Vendors are happy to see a foreigner and anxious to receive American dollars.

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17. What about the men here? Many walk around with these head coverings, a symbol of Palestine. At first, I thought it had some religous significance but it has absolutely no meaning. Simply a way to cover their heads from the blazing sun and oppressive heat. The coverings are worn mostly by the older generation. I had one encounter with an older man that day. He saw my camera, shook his hand and covered his face in order to avoid being photographed. I put the camera down as soon as he did this, but he ran across the street and demanded to see the last image on my screen to ensure I hadn't snapped a photo of him. I showed him, and he moved along. Onward with his life.

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18. When I read comments about all Muslims being animals or extremists, I have no relation to the sentiments. Here is an ordinary man, walking the streets with his daughter on a weekend afternoon. The same as a father in any other region of the world. Just normal people, going about their lives in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. For me, it's heartbreaking that the radical minority disturb the balance of life for the majority, and also instill fear to the extent that many foreigners don't even think about visiting this area.

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19. Throughout the West Bank, people push these carts through the crowded streets. Sometimes they're stuffed with food. Doesnt' seem so hygenic, but I really liked the cuisine here, eating the street food on several occasions. I'll show you more in a different post.

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20. We visited Ramallah close to Easter, so we got to experience the traditional Sabat al-Nour parade in the city, which marks the arrival of the Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. What a joyous celebration! Young scouts dress in uniform and particpate in marching bands through the streets.

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21. We were waiting near the starting point for the parade and saw the performers warm up. Big and small groups of people, all willing to chat with us for a moment and pose for photos. This group sang us a special song, but I have no idea what they were saying. Hopefully they were expressing kind words.

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22. Perhaps she is the scout leader? It seems she has some admirers smiling in the background. I don't know what people expect me to write here. I can only share my personal experience, what I encountered and felt emotionally that day. Perhaps if I had visited a few weeks later when the latest war started, or a large protest was erupting on the streets, I would have an entirely different impression. But this isn't the case. For me, it was eye opening to walk amongst this population, to see the disparity in quality of life when compared to Jersualem only a few kilometers away.

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23.  The area was heavily secured during the parade. Both Christians and Muslims line the street for the annual event. It has occurred for over 100 years, being stopped only twice during the first and second Palestinian Intifadas against the Israeli occupation. To be a Palestinian Christian creates a unique set of challenges. Most Palestinians can't complete pilgrimages to Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem during Easter or Christmas because the area is under Israeli control. As I previously explained, Israel issues a limited number of permits for Palestinian Christians to attend the holiday celebrations in Jerusalem. This year, approximately 20,000 permits were granted.

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24. One of the marching bands. The musical talent wasn't so impressive, but drumming on key isn't the point of the celebration. It's estimated that about 50,000 Christians live in the West Bank and Gaza, with the numbers dramatically decreasing over the years. Most Christians have family members who have immigrated to America or other Western nations, causing the community and family lineage in the West Bank to shrink each year.

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25. This is one of my favorite portraits. I want to know her life story, but I never even spoke to her. The photo was taken from a distance.

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26. Moody teenagers.

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27. When will Putin ban Coca-Cola, perhaps the most symbolic beverage from America?

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28. He spoke perfect English, and has visited my home area of Washington, DC.

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29. The Palestinian flag is woven into most of the uniforms. The young girl in photo 25 even wears the colors of the flag in her ears, with two different earrings. One green. One red. I noticed Palestinians and Israelis both are very tied to their national symbols. Flags hang everywhere, almost the same as in America. Outside of shops, on public streets and from the balconies of apartments.

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30. The younger particpants were the cutest!

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31. Muslim watching the parade with a bundled baby in hands.

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32. A few more shots of the locals, I have so many.

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35. Univeral peace sign. A common gesture when West Bank locals noticed me.

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36. Local vendor, selling breads and sweets.

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37. Ramallah reminded me very much of New York City. Crowded, noisy and full of people. A real urban environment, where all walks of life gather and exist. There are fancy clubs here, alcohol freely flows, and it's the cultural and political center of Palestine. A constant sea of humanity, always in living motion, with hot concrete below their feet and bright sun above their heads. All blended with smells of smoked meats, old trash, sweets and car fumes.

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In the next post, I'll show you a few more scenes from Ramallah and some West Bank neighborhoods right outside city center.

Related Post

Sebastia - A Look Inside Rural Palestine
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Comments

( 100 comments — Leave a comment )
onkel_hans
Sep. 17th, 2014 03:44 am (UTC)
Usually when I am going to/from the T-station, women smile to me. The exclusion is the women biking in black hijabs.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 03:55 am (UTC)
Women in Ramallah wear mostly color hijabs, many with bright designs. I only saw a few Muslim females wearing the more restrictive headwear, with most of their faces covered. I think the bright and decorative hijabs contribute to a more cheerful attitude because the females are able to reflect some element of personality and style by their fashion choice. Have you been to any Muslim country?
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Sep. 17th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - onkel_hans - Sep. 17th, 2014 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 18th, 2014 01:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
left_bank
Sep. 17th, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
Thank you. It's very interesting.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 03:57 am (UTC)
My pleasure! It's a colorful place to visit. :)
seadevil001
Sep. 17th, 2014 04:06 am (UTC)
Thank you. Rarely one can see life in Ramallah.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
I think this area is not so interesting to readers, based on lack of comments. Or maybe on LJ people only wish to discuss hate and controversy? Seems to be the prevailing theme for successful bloggers on this platform sometimes. :)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
andrey_kaminsky
Sep. 17th, 2014 04:46 am (UTC)
Плохо спал, настроение гавно:)
I do not have a lot of respect for the Muslim traditions, as well as for many other traditions. In principle, when the customs survived common sense that spawned them, how can there be respect for them? All respect is, in fact, fear of hurt.
When I was a student, I had a lot of friends, students from north Africa. They all liked to drink vodka and eat pork. Staying in their home country, they have showed that they were religious, in order not to be subject to condemnation of others, and the others demonstrating their religiousness to them for the same purpose. Useless, senseless cycle. All these burqas, hijabs and beards of half of the face is a temporary fashion, which after 100 years no one will remember. I choose eternal values ​​- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Плохо спал, настроение гавно:)
I always sleep horribly, so this is no excuse for a shitty mood! :) I agree that in some countries women wear hijab only out of necessity or fear of being tortured, or even killed. However, others choose to wear it voluntarily. Wearing hijab in America or other Western nations is not a requirement; in fact, in some places, it's a burden and open invitation for harassment. Yet, they still do it. For some, religion is their saving grace in life. It's the only way they maintain hope and faith in their lifetime. You and me are different. We find solace and comfort in more worldly pleasures.
ankol1
Sep. 17th, 2014 05:07 am (UTC)
Perfect! Ramallah women are beautiful.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:15 pm (UTC)
I agree! In Palestine and Israel, I encountered the most beautiful women in all of my travels. Even more beautiful than in Russia. Sorry, I know Russians claim to have a monopoly on beautiful girls, but they can be found everywhere in the world! I love dark hair and eyes, and this is the common appearance there for both males and females.
(no subject) - ankol1 - Sep. 21st, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 21st, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankol1 - Sep. 22nd, 2014 11:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - misenters - Sep. 17th, 2014 06:37 am (UTC) - Expand
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:17 pm (UTC)
And why do you post pornographic links here? I will ban you if it happens again.
(no subject) - kremlin_curant - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kremlin_curant - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kremlin_curant - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
old_perduccio
Sep. 17th, 2014 12:31 pm (UTC)
What is the purpose? Personally, I think the language is meant to scare foreign tourists away ..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Ramallah_lynching

These signs are meant for the Israelis.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
Israelis living in this region know the dangers and prohibitions on travel in various "Areas," so I think the signs serve another purpose. Of course, this lynching is horrible and all violence by extremists should not be condoned. But the average person walking around the West Bank is not an extremist. That's the point of this post. The Western media shows only the chaos of Gaza in the news, but there are many other parts of Palestine worthy of discussion and exploration.
(no subject) - moebiuscat - Sep. 17th, 2014 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - old_perduccio - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - old_perduccio - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
moebiuscat
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:25 pm (UTC)
Those signs are to ward off any stupid people from risking their life. While it's relatively safe for foreigners (unless they are visibly Jewish), unfortunately it is indeed a mortal danger to enter those areas for Jews. Of course is you are an Israeli Arab citizen - you're fine. If a Jew wonders into Arab town within the PA - he has a very real chance not to make it out alive. It's not a guaranteed death of course, but the danger of murder or a kidnapping is very real.

The posters mostly show "shahids" - martyrs who blew themselves up trying to take with them as many Jews as they could. "Killed at Israeli checkpoint" sounds very funny, as if Israeli soldiers would just shoot people at random. Many suicide bombers don't make it farther than a checkpoint, where they are found out to be terrorists and have to blow themselves up right there as a result. The "lucky" ones who managed to make it into Israel and blow themselves in a a bus, shipping center or blow up a school bus or a disco - they are treated the same way as national heroes with posters etc.

It defies imagination how people can celebrate death of children and civilians even if they are of an enemy state. But then again - don't forget that there were huge celebrations with candy given out on the streets of palestine on 9/11 when the civilized world froze in terror...
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:32 pm (UTC)
Of course, I'm not Jewish so my experience is completely different. Although I could easily be mistaken for a Jew based on appearance. I find it hard to believe that any Israeli Jew doesn't understand the dangers or physical/legal consequences of entering into these areas. I don't know what percentage of Muslims in this area are demented extremists, but these are not the people I encountered while traveling all over the West Bank. Maybe I'm too naive, or trustful of humanity.

Btw, what about the chaos and recent beheadings by ISIS? I think a terrorist attack in America is quite imminent, probably by someone of Western origin. What should Obama do? Or is too late to control the situation?
(no subject) - moebiuscat - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
kremlin_curant
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:47 pm (UTC)
You are so brave. Lot of terrorists in Palestine as I know. Jewish people are very afraid of them. I remember I traveled to Israel in 2007 and visited there my relatives. We traveled together but when we met the Arabs, my relatives got scared believing they could be terrorists who intent to kill Americans and Jews.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 02:50 pm (UTC)
No one was trying to kill me, nor did I hear any anti-American insults during the entire trip. As a Jew, maybe the experience would have been different. But I felt completely safe and would return to the West Bank again. I met mostly kind and welcoming people. Some Muslim, some Christian, some non-religious.
(no subject) - kremlin_curant - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - onkel_hans - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - moebiuscat - Sep. 17th, 2014 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - moebiuscat - Sep. 18th, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
yarowind
Sep. 17th, 2014 05:30 pm (UTC)
21, 27, 29 much better then 6, 7, 8 :)

>>What do you think? Was it okay for my friend to wear this outfit on the streets of Ramallah?

If she is not afraid that her beat stones teens - let go so further.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 05:32 pm (UTC)
I would never dress in such a manner in a Muslim area, even if it is liberal. So, I don't agree with her choice. Some women simply crave a lot of attention. :) She falls into this category. Have you been to any Muslim countries?
(no subject) - yarowind - Sep. 17th, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - yarowind - Sep. 17th, 2014 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
shaltay_boltay
Sep. 17th, 2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
чё за гавно висит в промо?
peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
What is shit? Only your comment.
(no subject) - andrey100_500 - Sep. 17th, 2014 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - andrey100_500 - Sep. 17th, 2014 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
livejournal
Sep. 17th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
А будет кому интересно?
User mafanik referenced to your post from А будет кому интересно? saying: [...] кожа, пишу и сомневаюсь отпустить ли))) Хочу его отдать в любящие руки ради другого этника. Вот тут [...]
jewish_doctor
Sep. 17th, 2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
As Israeli I have no chance to travel in Palestinian Authority, so I am very glad to read so interesting and fair post.
Thank you.


peacetraveler22
Sep. 17th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
Hi! Thanks for your comment. I'm neutral in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. People are sometimes blinded by their passion and devotion to either side of the cause. I just want to show that there are normal and good people living in Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank. In America, we mostly only hear about the extremists or human victims in Gaza as a result of IDF bombings (which, of course, I believe are mostly justified). In what Israeli city do you live? This is an interesting and complex part of the world, but I can't deal with the extreme heat and sun! I like very cold climates.
Re: Thanks! - jewish_doctor - Sep. 17th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thanks! - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 17th, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thanks! - jewish_doctor - Sep. 17th, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
qi_tronic
Sep. 18th, 2014 09:09 am (UTC)
Life as it is.
We almost never see such pictures from Palestine on TV.
They mostly cover conflicts, shooting, bombing.

I just don't like that women have these inconveniences because of religion.
I think clothes should be optional for everybody :)

Also I don't agree with you about beauty.
People with dark skin, hair, eyes look to me as unwashed.
I prefer whiter people with blue eyes, like Germans or redheads with green eyes like Irish.
Not chemical blondes, of course :)
peacetraveler22
Sep. 18th, 2014 01:37 pm (UTC)
We don't see these pictures either in American media, that's why I was happy to be there even though I hate big cities. We cover the same things here - Gaza bombings and the conflict. No one ever sees average life on the streets, not even Israelis. Have you been to a nudist colony? I like natural redheads also, it's such a rarity!
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Sep. 18th, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 18th, 2014 10:33 pm (UTC)
John
Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I've really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I am hoping you write again soon! bdkedddaeebeakeb
peacetraveler22
Sep. 18th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
Re: John
Hello John! Welcome to my blog and thanks for your nice compliments. :) How did you find me? It's always useful for me to know. I haven't had much time to write in the past few months, but my schedule is becoming more clear. So, I'll have a lot more travel posts in the coming weeks, finishing up the Israel/Palestine trip and then about my recent trip to Alaska. I hope you will enjoy! Btw, are you American?
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