“That elite lives comfortably within the so-called “Ramallah bubble”: the bright and relatively carefree world of cafes, NGO salaries and imported goods that characterize life in the West Bank’s provisional capital. During the day, the clothing shops and fast-food franchises are filled. New high-rises are going up everywhere. “I didn’t lose my sister and my cousin and part of my life,” Bassem said, “for the sons of the ministers” to drive expensive cars.
Worse than any corruption, though, was the apparent normalcy. Settlements are visible on the neighboring hilltops, but there are no checkpoints inside Ramallah. The I.D.F. only occasionally enters the city, and usually only at night. Few Palestinians still work inside Israel, and not many can scrape a living from the fields. For the thousands of waiters, clerks, engineers, warehouse workers, mechanics and bureaucrats who spend their days in the city and return to their villages every evening, Ramallah — which has a full-time population of less than 100,000 — holds out the possibility of forgetting the occupation and pursuing a career, saving up for a car, sending the children to college.
But the checkpoints, the settlements and the soldiers are waiting just outside town, and the illusion of normalcy made Nabi Saleh’s task more difficult. If Palestinians believed they could live better by playing along, who would bother to fight? When Bassem was jailed in decades past, he said, prisoners were impatient to get out and resume their struggles. This time, he ran into old friends who couldn’t understand why he was still fighting instead of making money off the spoils of the occupation. “They said to me: ‘You’re smart — why are you doing this? Don’t you learn?’ ”