Ramallah You have arrived at Ramallah. Most pilgrims would not visit Ramallah as they would shuttle in their tour buses directly from Jerusalem to the north to stay in the area around the Sea of Galilee. This is a 2-3 hours journey taking the highway routes north which largely avoid the West Bank and in many places have a continuation of the 18 foot high concrete separation wall along at least one side. This is sad for two reasons, firstly as the West Bank covers much of the historic lands of Judea and Samaria there are many significant biblical sites that are not often visited by pilgrims and secondly, there are several ancient Christian communities whom the pilgrims rarely meet and the locals enjoy their company as, given travel restrictions, few travel far from their area. Ramallah is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank located 16 kilometres north of Jerusalem, adjacent to al-Bireh. It is currently the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority. The total population of Ramallah today is nearly 27,500. Ramallah was historically a Christian town, but today Muslims are the majority of the population, with Christians still making up a significant minority. Ramallah has retained a Christian ambiance with churches located in many parts of the city: Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic and Orthodox, living congenially side by side with their Muslim neighbours. Ramallah serves as the headquarters for most international NGOs and embassies. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid flowing into the city have boosted Ramallah's economy greatly since the end of the Second Intifada. The Ramallah construction boom is one of the most obvious signs of West Bank economic growth, estimated at an annual rate of 8 percent. This has been attributed to relative stability and Western donor support to the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah's relatively buoyant economy continues to draw Palestinians from other West Bank towns where jobs are fewer. The built-up area has grown fivefold since 2002. As a result, Ramallah is generally considered the most affluent and cultural, as well as the most liberal, of all Palestinian cities, and is home to a number of popular Palestinian activists, poets, artists, and musicians. It boasts a lively nightlife, with many restaurants. One hallmark of Ramallah is Rukab's Ice Cream, which is based on the resin of chewing gum and thus has a distinctive taste. Although not dependent on Tourism, the local economy of Ramallah has been severely impacted by the crisis caused by the pandemic as construction, industry and the social scene has closed down as seen in this recent report - Friends of the Holy Land’s mission is to support a sustainable Christian presence. Christian Community Since 1948, there has been a mass migration of Christians from Ramallah to the West, and particularly to the United States because of the Israeli occupation. Those left behind are determined, despite their minority status, to maintain their faith and live in the land of their ancestors. The Christian schools in Ramallah are among the earliest founded in Palestine, providing education for both boys and girls. The situation today: Population in the district: 57,000 Christians: 10,000The Latin presence of around 2,000 centres on the Church of the Holy Family and its school in the same compound, the Al-Ahliyya College. This compound was established in 1858 and it is in the heart of the town. The Parish Priest of the Church of the Holy Family is Fr Jamal Khader. As well as being the Parish Priest, Fr Jamal is Director of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and Chair of the Holy Land Committee of Friends of the Holy Land. This is our voluntary committee that guides our work in the Holy Land. He has a message for you here – The Latin schools are open to all Christians from different backgrounds. Schools like Al-Ahliyya became part of the heart of life in the towns and cities where they were located. Even today, the schools and activities there and the adjacent churches make up much of the social and cultural life of the people. The youth groups and scouts are very active in promoting the parish’s life. Private schools educate 18% of the students in the country. These schools receive many children from very poor families since their policy is to reach out to the needy and not just those who have money. The schools receive so many unprivileged children, today, half of the students in the school are Muslim. The Palestinian Authority has never supported private schools in the West Bank. Ameer Hanna, who helps Fr Jamal run the 13 Latin schools in Palestine from Ramallah, explains how the Latin Patriarchate subsidise every child at their schools by around 50% yet despite this, in the current crisis many families struggle meet the cost of education for their children and they have lost 300 students from their schools; watch - The Anglican Church of St Andrew’s in Ramallah is located across the road from the Latin compound. This is their main site and there is a sister parish in Bir Zeit, St Peter’s Church. Both churches are led by Revd Fadi Diab who introduces his community here - The parishes serve the community through a midweek youth service, Bible study, Women’s and Youth groups, Sunday School, an acolyte program and a new choir. They are also developing an elderly housing project. The parishes also provide leadership and pastoral support for three educational facilities: The Evangelical Home for Children The Arab Evangelical Episcopal School (AEES) The Episcopal Technical and Vocational Training Centre (ETVT) Iyad Rafidi, Headmaster of AEES tells us that the impact of the pandemic on his school has been that “By the end of this scholastic year 2020/2021, we expect about 8% of the students to leave the school to go to the public sector. 63 students in different classes haven’t completed their fees even after the discounts we made for them.” You can read more here and he has recorded a video message explaining the situation which you can see here - ETVT has Giovanni Anbar as Director and provides vocational training mostly in the fields of Technology and Hotel/Catering training. The focus is on providing a career path in industry sectors in high demand locally for its students. Friends of the Holy Land has helped fund fees for children at the schools in Ramallah in the past and we hope to do more with your help. Arab Episcopal Medical Centre for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Diseases The other major project we are involved with funding in Ramallah is a fund to subsidise treatment for Christian patients at the Arab Episcopal Medical Centre for Diabetic and Cardiovascular treatment, issues which are especially prevalent in the Palestinian population due to issues with diet and environment (stress). The facility is built in the same compound as St Andrews Episcopal Church in Ramallah. Friends of the Holy Land has a programme to support treatment of Christian patients in need. This project, in partnership with the Diocese of Norwich and the Diocese in Jerusalem has been one of the most successful undertaken by Friends of the Holy Land. In September 2014, Peter Rand, FHL Vice Chairman was discussing with Bishop Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, how those in the Diocese could most effectively support the most needy Christians in the Holy Land, whilst also supporting the Episcopal Diocese in Jerusalem. FHL, in discussion with the Diocese Programmes Officer in Jerusalem, Sawsan Aranki-Batato, proposed a programme to address a major medical emergency, being a 25% increase over the last 4 years in the incidence of diabetes in Palestine and the direct link to cardiovascular diseases, which accounted for over 30% of all deaths. The Diocese in Jerusalem had recently opened their specialist medical centre to provide treatment for the wide range of conditions caused by diabetes. It is the Diocese policy to provide affordable or free of charge services to needy Christian families but increasing levels of unemployment meant more and more patients could not cover the cost of their medical care. So an ‘Exemption Fund’ was proposed, to last initially 3 years and benefit 600 patients, from the 2015 Lent Appeal in the Diocese of Norwich. The promotion by the Diocese was very effective and over £30,000 was raised. The result is that after nearly 6 years since implementation, over 850 patients have benefited and a balance of nearly £8,000 remains for future treatments. Each patient who benefits from a subsidy receives a card, which recognises the contributions from FHL and the parishioners in Norwich Diocese. Similar projects have been undertaken with other Dioceses from the results of Lent, Harvest and Advent Calls. Perhaps your Diocese could be the next one? Such initiatives, really are a ‘win, win, win’ – for the patients, for the Diocese in Jerusalem and enabling Christians over here to make a lasting impact on the most needy in the Holy Land, ensuring high levels of medical care are available, health improves and more are able to stay in the land of their birth. Time for you to move on to Taybeh – you can rest there with a cool beer! More information when you get there. See you soon!