Area D is closing.
Thank you to all our guests, supporters, and of course, our amazing staff.
I opened Area D back in 2014. Until now I remained anonymous in order to keep the focus on our Palestinian staff. My name is Mike Keller.
I opened Area D after ending my career as a humanitarian worker. I felt guilty earning huge salaries without seemingly helping anyone, and I wondered how much good could come if I invested a year's worth of income in a business that created local jobs and was truly self-sustaining instead of donor-dependent. I had been hosting Couchsurfers for a year and giving them free tours of the political geography of the northern West Bank when I realized that Palestine in general and Ramallah especially lacked a good backpacker's hostel. I got surprising encouragement for this idea from the founders of some of Israel's most successful hostels, so I invested all my savings to launch Area D Hostel: a neutral mindspace, beyond the political confines of Areas A, B, and C.
I designed the hostel so foreign tourists backpacking around Israel would feel safe and comfortable crossing the checkpoints. Over 15'000 wonderful humans from all of the world, of all political persuasions and any religion were able to cross the wall and free their minds. Activists stopped by, but my target market was the people who did not understand they were no longer in Israel or who questioned why some Palestinians are still categorized as refugees. Our 100% Palestinian staff did an incredible job responding to endless questions without pushing personal or political ideologies. We did our best to allow Area D's guests to trust their eyes and ears as they interacted with locals, drawing their own conclusions, instead of relying on the bias of second-hand sources.
Without a cent of donor money, we directly helped establish several other hostels, inspired the opening of several more, and put the West Bank on the map of adventurous travellers worldwide. We also helped launch Hantour.ps, successfully connecting independent young local tour guides with incoming tourists.
Running a hostel in Palestine was a massive challenge. I spent nearly two years searching for a suitable location. I faced extortion attempts. Competitors copied our name and even our motto: "Cross your own borders". The second Gaza war started just 3 months after we opened and we had our first summer with almost no clients except for journalists. Simultaneously, my business partner attempted a hostile hostel takeover, assaulting me and then planting drugs in my car, resulting in several nights in jail for me and 5 years resolving multiple court cases (in my favor). We survived all this and recovered, then had no more tourists as multiple waves of violence made global headlines.
Through all the chaos, Area D remained open. I was ready to continue fighting to keep the dream of Area D alive, but destiny has decided otherwise. The exaggerated worldwide Covid restrictions overwhelmed this hostel, as they destroyed tens of thousands of other businesses. With no income since all hostels and hotels were forced by the PA to close on March 5, 2020, our building's owners have chosen not to discount any of our rent, and the 60'000+ USD required to reopen are beyond my reach.
Area D is closing, but its energy will live on in each of us. I hope you will continue to spread the love of travel and communication between all types of people, especially those we disagree with.
If you have media contacts that could help draw attention to tourism in Palestine, please get in touch, as other hostels will surely one day reopen and benefit from the publicity.
I am eternally grateful for all the moments we shared watching history unfold behind the minarets outside the rounded windows of Area D Hostel. I love all of you.
I leave you with this emotive recording from those minarets.