In Ramallah, Running
Guy Mannes-Abbott
In Ramallah, Running Guy Mannes-Abbott

Reflection on limitations of life for Palestinians in West Bank

Running tests boundaries - both those we place on ourselves as well as those imposed upon us by the outside world. Whether those external limits are social, cultural or political, the runner collides with them in a way that the casual pedestrian does not, thus serving as a mirror for the issues that affect one's time and space.

A woman in a male-dominated society, for example, might face cat calls or even physical assault while running; Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have, literally, nowhere to run. Trapped inside a labyrinth of Israeli military checkpoints and permits, bordered by illegal settlements, freedom of movement is nonexistent.

In Ramallah,Running is a collection of prose and visual art that expresses how one moves through - or doesn't move through - occupied space. Edited by Samar Martha, the co-founder of ArtSchool Palestine, and the London-based writer Guy Mannes-Abbott, the book brings together prominent Palestinian artists and writers as well as several from the international stage.

They offer reflections on Ramallah, the city that has become the de facto centre of Palestinian cultural and political life. As contributor Najwan Darwish writes in his powerful essay Ramallah Versus Ramallah, the focus on Ramallah as a "temporary capital" is "meant not only to make us forget Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, the Galilee and all of Palestine that was occupied in 1948, but also to overshadow the importance of Jerusalem".

Mannes-Abbott's contribution is a 14-part series about his runs and walks in Ramallah. His descriptions can border on the lyrical - rendering the beauty of the land and his love for the place and its people. But they are also laden with the claustrophobia and fear that typify Palestinian life: "... in the prison of these hills, in lovely Ramallah itself, there is no freedom. Here, in this place, life spirals within abysmal limits."

His essay reveals the physical limitations imposed by the Israeli occupation; more importantly, Mannes-Abbott points to how those restrictions linger inside the psyche, long after one has entered the so-called "autonomous" areas. But his depiction of Palestinians is also almost too sympathetic. One villager is "comically, sweetly" emphatic, another's voice "betrays a sweetness of character that is very Palestinian".

As a foreigner who can easily leave Ramallah and its suffocating environs behind, Mannes-Abbott spends a little too much time on stage. There are less than 150 pages of prose and art in the book and his essay - while moving, nuanced and deeply researched - takes up more than 70. In Ramallah, Running is at its best when those whose very existence is intertwined with dispossession and occupation - the Palestinians - speak for themselves.

Khalil Rabah, a Palestinian artist who lives in Ramallah, presents the reader with a simple image: a photograph of two worn leather loafers. At first glance, the brain interprets it as a pair of shoes. But something is amiss. It is actually two right shoes. It is, perhaps, the perfect metaphor for Ramallah. The shoes are shiny and seem business-like - just like the city, which is awash with foreign aid and seems to be booming - but the person who wears them is cobbled; if they manage to run, they won't get far.


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone


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● UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention hotline: 045192519
● UAE Mental health support line: 800 4673 (Hope)
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