Located just minutes north of Jerusalem, but separated from the Israeli city by security barriers and army checkpoints, Ramallah is the unofficial capital of the Palestinian Territories. Palestinian governing authorities are based in the Mukata compound, which is also the location of former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's grave.
At least a dozen countries have embassies here, which lends a definite international flair to the town. There's a university, basketball team and even a feminist movement, which marks it as one of the most liberal places in the Palestine Authority. With lots of funds flowing in from Western nations, it's also one of the most affluent and is enjoying a building boom. This includes upscale hotels, residences and apartment complexes. On the other end of the spectrum, it has a large refugee camp filled with Palestinians who lost their homes in Israel during the various wars since the British pulled out.
During the years of Jordanian rule, Ramallah was known fondly as the Bride of Palestine for its favorable climate. Ramallah and neighboring Al-Bireh are the most modern of the Palestinian towns and even boast an American-style shopping mall. The city hosts many popular restaurants and coffee shops, especially along the main street, and there is a lively nightlife scene.
Since part of the population has traditionally been Christian, there are small Christian villages to visit just outside town as well as the mausoleum of Arafat and various churches, the newest being of the Coptic faith. An award-winning folk dance group is based here and if you're lucky, you can catch a performance at the Ramallah Cultural Palace.
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