Americans in Palestine: “At the moment, I’m the only American volunteer at the Excellence Center, however from talking to staff and other volunteers I know there have been many who have come before. As such I know that most Americans have strong reservations about traveling to Palestine. From my experience however, there is no reason for great concern and Americans will find a warm welcome in Hebron.
Most Americans know of Palestine only from images of stone-throwing and terror attacks reported on the news. While 54% of Americans sympathize more with Israel only 19% sympathize more with Palestinians according to Pew Research. The image of Palestinians as wild-eyed fanatics that is widespread in America however, doesn’t hold up in a place like Hebron.
It’s no secret that there is a divide in political perceptions of the conflict between Americans and Palestinians (and Arabs in general). While talking to me about the Yom Kippur War of 1973 in Cairo an Egyptian friend of mine joked that Israel is the 51st state of the United States. However, Palestinians do a better job than most Americans at differentiating between the foreign policy of the American government and the American people. Palestinians are an especially welcoming people and are eager to make guests comfortable and share their culture. Because they’re aware what many in the West think of Palestine, this holds doubly true for Americans as they will respect that you are willing to come to Palestine to see the country for yourself. Moreover, the Excellence Center is well-known and has a good reputation in Hebron as many children and even adults have studied there.
The only problem I’ve heard of Americans experiencing in Palestine, one which I can’t personally speak to, is Muslim Americans and Americans who are people of color experiencing extra scrutiny and questioning at Israeli checkpoints. I’m blonde and pale as a ghost so this has never been an issue for me. I’ve also heard that Americans with stamps from Arab and/or Muslim countries in their passports have also experienced extra scrutiny but even with an Egyptian, Moroccan, and Jordanian stamp in my passport, immigration officers at Ben Gurion International Airport only questioned me for 15 minutes.
You’ll find in Hebron that you are not the only American in the city. Though, as I said, I am the only American at the Excellence Center at the moment, they come and go quite often. Moreover, I’ve encountered many other foreigners living in Hebron, both at the Excellence Center, and those working for human rights groups and international development programs. In fact, Palestine is filled with American expats working for international organizations, many of them in Ramallah which, as the de facto political capital of Palestine, attracts the most international attention. There is even a Hardee’s and Pizza Hut in Ramallah and a KFC here in Hebron!
In summary Palestinians are an incredibly friendly people who will welcome you into their country and their homes. If you behave respectfully and follow common sense rules that go with any international travel (not getting into arguments about politics or religion, not acting inappropriately, carrying your phone with you, etc.) then you will have no issues being an American in Palestine”. This article was written by Connor from the US who is volunteering at the Center in September 2017