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Photographer captures a different side of Ramallah

Julien Goldstein

Ramallah, Palestine. May 2011.
At the outskirts of Al-Manara Square, Ramallah's main square, young people from the new Palestinian middle class drive around in expensive cars.

The work of French photojournalist Julien Goldstein on the Palestinian city of Ramallah drew our attention because it shows a side of the West Bank that is not always seen in the Western press. While points of conflict – border checkpoints, Israeli settlements, and a crippled economy – often attract cameras, Goldstein sought better understanding of this area by looking away from the “news” and covering everyday life.

The Palestinian territories are back in the global news this week. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to request full membership to the United Nations as an independent state when the General Assembly next week – setting the stage for a diplomatic clash with Israel and the United States. Read more.

Goldstein worked extensively in the Middle East, but hadn’t previously focused on Israel and Palestine because “I thought everything was already done on this country,” he said. But last year, he decided he could do something different. He wrote in an email to msnbc.com: “I wanted to work deeply in this country, to understand people and life apart from the conflict. How do they live, what do they think, what are their jobs? It was a quiet situation there so I could work out of the news.”

Goldstein continued: “I decided to start with the settlements in East Jerusalem. While I was there working with the settlers and the Palestinians I started to hear a lot of things about Ramallah, how they are building a de facto capital, the nightlife there, the growth of the economy.”

He and writer Constance de Bonnaventure traveled to Ramallah and found a city full of energy. “Of course there is this nightlife, the gym clubs... But moreover there is this Palestinian youth which is well educated in major American universities. There is this city which is full of energy, there are discussions in a cafe around a pizza! I was impressed. … But we had to be careful. Of course it's impressive but we can’t forget all of the problems the Palestinians face due to Israeli control. The economy is increasing but is it really a sustainable development?” Goldstein sought new understanding, but he also found new questions raised by taking a look at daily life.

Goldstein recalls an experience from early in his reporting that opened his mind to looking outside the “news.” He wrote:

“I was there during the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah which was extremely important news. I thought that people are going to demonstrate. I went to the central square in Ramallah and saw something like 100 journalists and 20 people demonstrating. I then understood that the Palestinians are like other people, of course they will fight for their rights but they also want to live a normal life. It was the perfect illustration of my story. We can understand this country not only by covering the news but also by covering usual stories.”

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