Peter Kenyon
National Public Radio (NPR)
July 10, 2009 - 12:00am

Nablus is stirring to life after Israel recently eased restrictions on movement in and out of the embattled West Bank city, site of some of the heaviest fighting during the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, from 2000 to 2005.

The main Israeli checkpoint is now open to Palestinian traffic, and signs of economic life are emerging.

But the people of Nablus have learned more than once that economic revitalization and greater freedom can be fleeting

Founded by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago, Nablus' strategic location made it a commercial hub for the surrounding villages and towns.

During two Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation, the first beginning in the late 1980s, Nablus earned a reputation as a center for militants. To this day, Israeli forces carry out raids in the old city and surrounding refugee camps, looking for suspected militants.

Movie House A Symbol Of New Freedoms

But with recent moves to ease some of the daily hardships of life, some Nablus entrepreneurs are venturing to make new investments. By far the most popular among the locals is the new Cinema City.

In a new shopping mall, the movie house features a shiny lobby and snack bar. On a recent morning, a line of nearly 50 wriggling children snakes out the door. It's the first time experiencing a movie in a theater for many of them.

A hush falls over the audience as the lights go down. Perhaps understandably for a theater that's only two weeks old, the previews start with a lurch.

But soon, the main feature begins — an Egyptian comedy called Dada Dudi.

The opening scene, featuring a baby, two thieves and some Keystone-like cops, quickly reveals that Dada Dudi will not enter the pantheon of Egyptian cinema classics. But for these kids and their relieved parents, these two hours of summer entertainment are a blessing.

Farouk Masri, the theater's young manager, says his family decided that the situation had calmed enough for them to take a chance on building a real movie house, mainly for a generation of Palestinians who grew up only seeing films on small screens.

"It's been missing from Nablus, the cinema houses, been missing since the first intifada, over 20 years. It's the talk of the street, I keep hearing," he says, laughing. "Everybody is just excited, they're very positive about it, and they're very supportive."

The relaxed checkpoint rules mean Palestinians from all over the West Bank — and from Arab villages in Israel — are returning to Nablus, some for the first time in years. Abu Kais, manning the grill at the Mata'Am Barqawi kebab restaurant, says the change is dramatic.

Bracing For The Restrictions To Return

"The situation is much better, thanks to God. What happened is that the roads opened and people suddenly feel free. People come and go more freely. I'm not a millionaire, but my work has improved tremendously," she says.

But the people of Nablus know through experience that the current situation may not last. And for veteran Palestinian activists such as Hussam Khader, who works on behalf of refugees, there is a certain resentment that simple pleasures of daily life that many people take for granted come to Nablus in the guise of a gift from Israel.

"Israel tried to show the international community there is a 'good occupation.' But for us, occupation is occupation. Without real independence in an independent state, the occupation will continue as an occupation," he says.

But for now, Palestinians are taking advantage of today's freedoms while keeping a worried eye on what the future may hold.


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