August 30, 2004


Palestinians take back the night in Ramallah: With new upscale restaurants, bars, and theater, the West Bank city is undergoing a cultural revival. (Joshua Mitnick, 8/31/04, CS Monitor)

Just a few minutes drive from Yasser Arafat's half-destroyed headquarters, Usama Khalaf's version of upscale Ramallah dining is taking off.

His restaurant called Darna occupies a grand renovated stone villa with high-ceilinged archways and a second-floor patio that draws scores of young Palestinians. It serves large dishes of innovative Middle Eastern fare, but, more importantly, offers fragments of normalcy, which has become so elusive during the past four years.

The $800,000 spent by the restaurateur to open Darna - where waiters sport snappy bow ties and tuxedo vests - represents more than a shrewd bid to attract the city's bourgeois; it signals a revival of the cultural scene that made Ramallah a cosmopolitan capital for Palestinians.

In recent months new eateries have opened and the city's offerings have expanded despite Israel checkpoints and military raids. For Khalaf, opening Darna was simultaneously the fulfillment of a life's dream and an act of political defiance.

"I had an obligation to my hometown," Khalaf says. "When they saw someone investing despite the closures and incursions, it gave people the willingness to stay."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2004 6:00 PM
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