Shhh, don’t mention the occupation in Ramallah

Let’s not be under any illusion. Israel bans a famous German, Gunter Grass, because it doesn’t like a poem he wrote. Seriously.

Meanwhile, in Ramallah, a city far too many Westerners believe represents Palestine, which it does not, the illusion of peace is out in full force. Amira Hass in Haaretz explains:

Billboards declaring “She wants a house,” showing a smiling, optimistic-looking Westernized couple, decorate the streets of Ramallah. The only thing left to do is to race over to the nearest branch of the Bank of Palestine and ask for a home loan. Simple? That’s how it’s seemed for the past four or five years when banks, directed by the Palestinian Authority, have conducted an aggressive campaign designed to encourage people to borrow money so as to fulfill their consumerist dreams – purchasing a house, or a wide-screen television, or a new car, or furnishings and new ceramic floor tiles from Italy. The Palestine Monetary Authority required banks to allocate a portion of their capital to loans. Western, especially American, development organizations appeared on the scene and delivered the consumerist message: Take out a mortgage. And people took the hint.

And so the topic of the day is not the Israeli military raids on Kafr Qaddum – the village that during the past nine months has joined in the demonstrations against the plunder of lands for the benefit of Israeli Jews. Not even Palestinian prisoners, especially the hunger strikers whose various fates receive considerable space in Palestinian newspapers, dominate conversation. No. The most urgent, troubling topic is debts owed by each family to banks, the fear of legal entanglements and foreclosure, and the loss of money invested in an apartment that has yet to be built.

Bassam Zakarneh, head of the union of public-sector employees, announced on Thursday that March salaries would not be paid on time. Once again, financial support promised by various countries, including Arab ones, as compensation for an economy that is hamstrung by a foreign occupier, is not being given in full. The Palestine Monetary Authority quickly issued a directive to banks: Do not make any deductions from the accounts of public-sector employees until they receive their wages. Nonetheless, many remain worried. When they took out loans for various consumer binges they banked on the assumption of steady employment. But over the past year the PA has continually had to rely on the dubious method of mass deferment of wages.

Like the electric shutter, the whole American-inspired loan plan designed by the PA relies on an illusion of stability. People are simultaneously tempted by the illusion and also frightened that it will be shattered – in other words, that the status quo will be harmed. And the status quo, lest anyone has forgotten, is life enveloped within Israeli domination, enclaves of Palestinian pseudo-sovereignty, and the continued trampling and appropriation of land outside of the enclaves. Private individuals who need housing, small business owners worried about their investments, owners of large companies who thirst for more profits, banks, local and foreign NGOs, Palestinian security officers, PA big shots and American investors – everyone has a stake and an interest in this bloated bubble staying intact for as long as it can, without bursting.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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