People come to Palestine eager to visit Hebron, to volunteer, intern or work at one of the many of NGO’s in the city. Some people may think twice about coming when they realize that Hebron is a conservative city. They may worry that this may restrict their activities and enjoyment of their visit. Yes, Hebron is conservative but let’s explore exactly what this means and how it will impact on you during your visit.
Hebron, or as its called in Arabic, Al-Khalil is a Palestinian city which located in the southern part of the West Bank. It is 30 km (19 mile) away from Jerusalem and it is the second largest city after Gaza. In Hebron, there are around 300,000 Palestinians who live in the city itself and around 500,000 who live in the surrounding villages. There is also between 500 and 850 Jewish settlers who live in the Palestinian territories illegally.
What are the people of Hebron famous for?
If you ask any Palestinian about the characteristics of the people of Hebron, the answer will be “they are the most generous people in all Palestine”. The people of Hebron are well known for being warm hearted, friendly and welcoming to all visitors.
In Hebron you will inevitably be invited to drink tea or coffee or to have dinner at someone’s place you may have only met once. This is totally different from western culture where you would get to know someone before inviting him or her to your home, but in Hebron this is completely normal. People in Hebron are raised on the philosophy of taking care of their guests by whatever possible way and whoever they are. To make a guest feel comfortable as if they had known them for long time or as if they are part of the family is a natural way of life in this part of the world.
The people of Hebron are very eager to host internationals from all over the world and to get to know them and their culture. This hospitality is more evident in Hebron than in any other city in Palestine. Host families will treat their guests as a part of their very own family and they will be taken to many of traditional occasions such as weddings, celebrations and birthday parties and much more.
The Excellence Center is an example or an organization that has been facilitating the mission of finding host families in Hebron for internationals. The Center prides itself in maintaining good relationships with many families in the city who are eager to act as hosts. Most international visitors who have stayed in a host family in Hebron thoroughly enjoyed their time and became very close to their host family. Some even become quite emotional when their time to leave comes.
Why Hebron called conservative?
The people of Hebron have set traditions and customs that they adhere to and they are sincere to these traditions. Most women in Hebron cover their hair by a Hijab and fully cover their bodies when outside of the home or in front on men who are not relatives. This however, does not mean that they are not free to work, have their own businesses, or go to school and university just like any other normal person.
Another example of the conservative lifestyle in Hebron is at weddings or other celebrations. At these events the guests of different genders do not mix. The men will sit separately from women. This also does not mean that these types of celebrations are not fun – there will be dancing and music but separately. Another custom to be aware of is that most women do not shake men’s hands. So visitors to Hebron should avoid offering their hand to someone of the opposite sex unless the person of the opposite sex offers their hand first. Women also do not hug or kiss men unless they are relatives. It is useful to be aware of these customs to avoid embarrassment.
Because Hebron is a conservative religious city, alcohol is not available for sale. The sale of alcohol is prohibited in the city of Hebron. Therefore, we strongly advise all international visitors to avoid drinking or possessing any alcohol during your stay in Hebron as a sign of respect for the local culture and also as a means of avoiding any uncomfortable issues with the local population. This includes alcohol that you could bring with you.
Despite a prohibition on alcohol in Hebron, alcohol is not legally prohibited in Palestine at large. In some cities such as Bethlehem, or Birzeit near Ramallah, there are long-standing traditions of wine and beer production. In these locations drinking alcohol is acceptable, although not in public places.
What should I wear?
This is another area where you need to keep in mind the conservative nature of the society of Hebron. We all want to be comfortable but international visitors should bring appropriate clothing based on a few simple rules. Firstly, all Palestinian women wear the hijab and fully cover their bodies. This does not mean that women who are visitors need to do the same, however you should wear clothing that is modest. If a woman wears revealing clothing, such as exposing arms and legs, she will receive a lot of unwanted attention that could make her feel very uncomfortable. Most female volunteers opt for long trousers or pants, or skirts that reach the ankles, combined with loose-fitting shirts that reach the elbows. T-shirts are also acceptable. In addition, men are advised to cover from their neck to below their knees. Sandals are fine for both men and women.
In Hebron most men do not wear jewelry. Tattoos for men and women, but especially for women, are highly unusual and if you have a tattoo it should be covered, again so that you do not receive unwanted attention. By being aware of these things about how to dress in a way that makes you and the people around you comfortable will make your stay much more pleasant.