Recently, American talk-show host and comedian Conan O’Brien, traveled to Israel to film an episode of his show Conan. Unlike many visitors and celebrities who travel to Israel, Conan took time out of his schedule to visit and film in the West Bank. As a comedic show, Conan did not discuss the politics of Palestine and the conflict with Israel in depth. But his visit and the exposure he gave to the Palestinian people was widely celebrated in Palestine.
During his time filming in Palestine, Conan visited Bethlehem, Aida Refugee Camp, and Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Conan was given an overview of the old city by the director of the King David museum. After cracking jokes about the Irish Catholics, the Armenians, and the Hyatt Hotel, Conan surprised his host by detailing U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for a peace deal in Jerusalem. The plan included redesigning the city to include a hummus fountain, a Trump hotel and casino, and condominiums for Jews, Muslims, and Christians to rent together. Mexico would pay for it, according to Conan.
After his time in Jerusalem, Conan arrived in the West Bank, Area A, specifically Bethlehem. After switching his Israeli camera crew out for a Palestinian crew, Conan was greeted with traditional Palestinian hospitality. A baker offered him a free roll, Conan promised to return and take more free samples, and a coffee salesman showered him with compliments and kissed him on the cheeks as is traditional. Conan however, snuck in a peck on the lips. Having learned how to haggle in Jerusalem, Conan approached a street vendor in Bethlehem. After the vendor offered him his initial price for a argileh pipe Conan used the advice he was given. “Is bulls**t! I saw one just down the street that looks just like this.” The vendor took it in stride and realized the joke, selling Conan the pipe. After later finding out that the pipe is decorative Conan calls the vendor a thief, but the camera replays the vendor explaining the pipes purpose and stamps the word “LIAR” over Conan’s face.
Conan ends his time in the West Bank by visiting the Separation Wall in Bethlehem and then traveling to Aida Refugee Camp. There he meets a young woman who was born in another refugee camp before moving to Aida. She lamented that she had been denied a visa to the United States to finish her Master’s degree in environmental studies. Even when joking with three teenage boys the sorrow seeps through. One tells Conan that he envies American youth and dreams of visiting the Statue of Liberty.
Conan’s episode does what few television shows, much less comedy shows, are able to do when covering the topic of Palestine. Conan kept a positive attitude and witty sense of humor when discussing one of the most complex political challenges of the past century. He was friendly with both Israelis and Palestinians, showed the normal pace of life in Palestine and the values of the Palestinian people, and showed the hardships Palestinians endure without wading into controversial political discussions. Our volunteers could relate to the experience of haggling in Palestinian markets and accepting gifts and compliments from strangers. They’ve also visited many of the same sites where Conan filmed.
Conan O’Brien’s trip to the West Bank gives a good introduction to Palestine and Palestinian culture to those unfamiliar with the country. We strongly encourage anyone thinking of volunteering in Hebron to watch the episode online and hope it gets them excited about visiting the Hold Land.