The first thing you notice about Ramle (or "Ramla") is that it looks beat up, at time severly beat up. Over these early days of heat, the town's dusty, mercyless appearance is a reminder of the summery hell that awaits us and the hell we live in year round. It's got everything that makes Israel unbearable: war scars, visible neglect of minorities, flawed distibution of public money and disregard towards historical treasure. Consider that among these treasures are israel's largest mosque (which is really a converted crusader church and looks it too), a unique underground cisteren in which one can row a boat, a monumental tower that was once famed throughout the region and a church that served as temporary home to Napoleon Boneparte during his conquest of Palestine. Ramle, one third of the way between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, could have been a turistic gem. It isn't one.
Ramle was founded in the eighth century by the Ummmayads and is the first city to have been founded by Muslims in the holy land. Ironically, it is one of the two cities from which Palestinian Arabs were officially evicted during the war of 1948 by the Israelis. They have been evicted from most other towns too, but not by shamelessy expressed governmental decree. Ramle and its sister city Lydda sit on the main road from the coast to Jerusalem. Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion thought them a risk to the continuity of Israeli control over the Jerusalem corridor and ordered them emptied. Over the years, the Palestinians dripped back. They were allowed to settle in the hellhole heart of the old city, an area that henceforth came to be known as "the Ghetto".
It's a bit odd, but Ramle's ghetto is home to another community, a unique community: Indian Jews.
It is my friend Efros who revealed to me their quarter yesterday. I was deeply charmed by it, musically, sensually, conceptually. It confused me, too. So what should we make of Zionism? While completely abusing one community it caused the country to absorb other communities and turned it into one of the most diverse and colorful places on earth. The alleyways around Ramle's "little India" are shared by Morrocans
Bulgarians, Russians, Yemenis, Persians, Hungarians, Kurds... you name it. For the most part, all coexist nicely with the Arabic speking population.
Damn it! I really love color and diversity, but is Ramle's curry worth tasting when stained with the blood of generations past? The Jewish folk of Ramle can hardly be described as vile, heartless colonialists. These are blue collar communities often as economically weak as the city's Palestinian-Israelis. Nothing justifies the existence of the "ghetto" and the shape it's in, but there's an irony to this country, and if our relationship with it is marked solely by desdain, it is because this irony often escapes us. Ramle is severely beat up, but there's a melancholic charm to it and a surreal, dark humor to how it turned out to be the way it is.