Escapism – Nightlife in the West Bank
The one thing I had never been prepared for on arrival to the West Bank was the nightlife. If I had received a description about it from someone prior to arrival I am not wholly convinced I would have paid it any attention. For starters I was under the impression that I would be dry for 10 months, a statement I threw around with overwhelming confidence and forgive me, but even a little cockiness. The reality is different and unexpected.
There are mixed feelings about the party scene in the West Bank, it is only possible to find such scenes in two cities, one is Bethlehem and one is Ramallah, both of which have high quantities of westerners and in Bethlehem’s case Christians who aren’t as opposed to drinking and not as affected in times such as Ramadan. That instantly throws up an issue, that the infiltration of Westerners into Islamic and Christian lives has disturbed the balance of society by introducing alcohol and partying to an environment that previously didn’t have it. I wholly agree with that statement and can see the damage done by having such a high western presence in two relatively small areas. It is something I have battled with internally when debating what it is appropriate and not appropriate to get involved in. Having said that we do have Palestinian friends here who drink and party on a regular basis and enjoy the escapism of those actions from the reality of the occupation, another point of view I completely understand and recognise the need for. It seems like that is what the scene here, especially in Ramallah is about, a desperate attempt at living in the moment having a great time and partying hard in case tomorrow is your last day. As a result many evenings here accumulate in a kind of strange frenzy of activity in which anything can happen and you learn to expect the unexpected.
In a world where occupation dictates lives and activity, including where you can and can’t go, I have Palestinian friends who were restricted to being in Ramallah only for 3 years or so, Ramallah being about the same size as a middling town in the UK, the overwhelming sense of needing to realise energy, frustration and tension is everywhere. You only have to spend an evening in Ramallah to recognise this strange kinetic energy that is everywhere, tension becomes excitement ready to boil over at any second. Bethlehem is slightly different, the first time I entered a club in Bethlehem was also the first time I felt over dressed in the West Bank. The girls there dress to impress, and I definitely did not fit into that category. My friend resorted to rolling the waistband of her skirt just to make it shorter, an activity I definitely haven’t engaged with since high school. The feeling in Bethlehem is of belonging, there are obvious cool tables, and if you didn’t ring ahead to reserve a table for you and your entourage you were classed as unimportant and forced to linger on the fringes of the dance floor clutching your drinks. Here was an underground world in which you were either somebody or nobody, and again, it was the strangest feeling. The first time I went with one of my good Palestinian friends he ordered bottles of Absolute Vodka to the table with the mantra of keep them coming once we empty one, having always been a ‘What’s your cheapest pint’ person I was overwhelmed by the concept, and in honesty still am. It was almost like partying with Jay-Z, a privilege I still hope I will one day enjoy.
I have friends arriving at the end of February and I would be interested to see what they make of the scene and those within it. I wonder if they will be as shocked as I was or whether they will accept it for what it is, something I am beginning to do slowly but against my better judgement. You might ask why I am here if I need the odd moment of escapism, I guess my reply would be that I am between two worlds both of which I love and want to be a part of, the UK and the Middle East and I am still striving to find the balance that makes the most sense.