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  • Deborah First

Main Street, Then and Now

Everyone who has come to the Friends Meeting in Ramallah feels it: the stories in the stones; the echoes of ministries spoken and lived out daily; the certainty of refuge in times of fear; and the courage of resistance embedded in the very walls.

Friends also have many stories about life bustling in front of them “on the street”. That’s Main Street, if you aren’t sure; commonly referred to as Rukab street.

It’s where, today, you will find a falafel shop on the corner and ice cream directly across from the Meeting at Rukab’s famous creamery. It’s where you can explore housewares, clothing, books, candies, nuts, stores of all kinds. Main Street is where the traffic is so heavy that often the pedestrians move more quickly than the cars! It’s where carts filled with fresh produce compete for street space with taxis and pedestrians, alike.

Palestinian Friends who grew up as part of the Meeting community remember that the streets, made of smooth stone slabs, used to be utterly quiet by 9:00 o’clock at night and no buildings were taller than three stories. They remember that today’s falafel shop used to be Abdel Nour’s bookshop and the[MS1] jewelry store now directly across from Rukab’s Ice Cream used to be Fuad Zaru’s pharmacy. If one stood at the pottery yard on Friends Street, just a few meters from the Meetinghouse, one could see all the way to Jerusalem. All the way.

Seventy years ago, Ramallah and its environs took in Palestinian refugees during the Nakbah. The Meeting and its members housed refugee families in their homes and yards; they even hosted a temporary school for refugee children in the Meetinghouse.

Then again in 1967, a second wave of Palestinian refugees were displaced. Some ended up in Ramallah area camps having been forced out of their homes and farm lands by the occupying army, trying to find their way among devastating loss.

During the 1967 war, the Meetinghouse was shelled and the roof damaged. Yet, worshippers continued to attend Meeting for Worship. With the military occupation of Ramallah, came a visible and threatening military presence in the streets. Lookout posts were erected on the top of buildings surrounding the Meetinghouse. Main Street, in front of the Meetinghouse, changed once again.

Today, many more have had to make Ramallah home due to travel restrictions and the closure of Jerusalem to West Bank residents. Natural population growth has been met with unnatural walls and roadblocks that constrict life. Yet, human resiliency rises and the people of Ramallah find ways to survive and indeed thrive, embracing life under the harshest of circumstances.

When you visit Ramallah today, Main Street rarely goes to sleep before the early morning hours and everything you need can be found within a short walk of the Meetinghouse.

Throughout it all, the Meetinghouse remembers and bears witness. The garden there, with its welcoming benches and olive trees, looks out into Main Street and offers a place of rest and reflection. As it always has done, Ramallah Friends Meeting will continue to open itself to Main Street, ready to meet the world in all its beauty and brokenness, offering both refuge and a prophetic voice to all those who pass by.

Deborah First, Friends of Ramallah Friends Meeting Steering Committee member, wrote this reflection with assistance from Betsy Brinson and Max Carter.

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