Ramallah: “Bantustan Sublime”

We have been so busy the second we landed in Jordan that I can barely keep the dates and times in line. We have only briefly been able to go to the Ramallah Downtown area and so much has changed since I was here last. Some roads are new while other are being redone. New buildings all around the city with all sorts of amenities such as bowling, coffee shops, restaurants that would challenge Iowa City’s selection, running groups, yoga, and so much more. My other classmates have expressed that they are feeling more and more comfortable in the area as they realize that Ramallah is a pretty great place to be! Which brings me to the topic of discussion.

At this stage of the global rotation, the majority has been in Ramallah, which we fondly refer to as the bubble – or as the “Bantustan Sublime”. You might ask what does that mean? Please read on! I found a fascinating article about Ramallah that I wanted to share with you all. A Bantustan was a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa as part of the apartheid policy. This allowed the concentration of ethnic groups into “autonomous” and “homogenous” regions. This article highlights the normalization of society within Ramallah as compared to other locations throughout the West Bank and loosely parallel to the Bantustan’s of South Africa’s Apartheid. The normalization within Ramallah is most evident even from the students I am with as their comfort of their surroundings increase. Ramallah is a vibrant, wonderful, economically stable, rather calm, non-threatening, environment. However, we have not had the chance of leaving Ramallah to actually see the Occupation first hand. Once we travel to cities such as Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, the students can get a better understanding of the dynamics of the Israeli Occupation at its worst. That includes the illegal Israeli settlements checkered throughout the Palestinian Territories, the Separation Wall, checkpoints, and so forth. They have had a chance to interact with the locals, visitors, and people from all walks of life. The overarching theme is that the political situation permeates throughout the society. Even going to the market ends up in a conversation with someone gladly sharing their own hardships during the 40+ year old occupation of Palestinian land. I am keenly awaiting their interpretations and grasp of the situation once we have a chance to witness those manifestations of the Israeli Occupation. Stayed tuned to here what they have to say as we are going to Bethlehem and Jericho Friday and Saturday.

The article describes Ramallah as a Bantustan, sublime to the occupation’s intentions and consequences. The abstract of the article is copied here since it is eloquently and carefully written to which I cannot match. Enjoy.

“Ramallah has emerged as the de facto capital of a truncated Palestinian proto-state. The centralization of economic, political, cultural and recreational activity, the influx of migrants and diasporic returnees, the rise of new middle classes and a relative social openness all signal the possibility of the nucleus of real urbanity. The rhythms and patterns of everyday urban life are palpable; cultural and sub-cultural life are pronounced and women have achieved a relative degree of social and spatial freedom.

Yet Ramallah is a city under siege—encamped and militarily surrounded. It exists in a curious liminality: tethered between indirect colonial occupation and the restless mobilization of local urbanity—neither directly occupied nor free, besieged but somehow vibrant. In its spatialization of new Palestinian wealth and power Ramallah has rewritten the coordinates of local politics, generated new class and professional interests and forged new consumption-based subjectivities. Here, an elite-driven production of space intertwines with and often complements the changing mechanisms and tools of Israeli control by reinforcing a burgeoning ‘regime of normalization’. The city has begun to detach from wider scales of action and concern. Centralization, in this case, means an increased bantustanization and the disintegration of national strategy in return for local and contained micro-freedoms. The self-styled capital of the state-to-come becomes a node in the consolidation of precisely the colonial structures that will indefinitely delay such a realization. In this the most stark and physical manifestation of the singularity of ‘post-colonial colonialism’ a transience, at the heart of the crisis of Palestinian politics, consolidates: reality is suspended; national fates deferred; a solution postponed.”

Abourahme, Nasser. The bantustan sublime: reframing the colonial in Ramallah. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Volume 13, Issue 4, 2009, Pages 499 – 509.

One Response to “Ramallah: “Bantustan Sublime””
  1. John N. says:


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