Marc travelled from Catalonia to Palestine with the intention of continuing with his Arabic study, which he had started a few years ago. At the same time, he wanted to get a deeper understanding of the Palestinian political situation and how Palestinians live under the Israeli military occupation. He has studied political science in Barcelona, and he is currently working to assist refugees worldwide. In order to enjoy his Palestinian experience, he took some months off work and enrolled as a student at Excellence Center in Hebron.
Did you stay with a Palestinian host family?
Initially, I requested that, if possible, I would prefer to be placed with a Palestinian family, as I wanted to get the most out of my cultural interaction with locals. As a man, however, it is difficult to find host families in Hebron willing to accept me as my presence could be disturbing forfemale family members. It is important to take into consideration the fact that Hebron is a very conservative and religious place.
Therefore, I was housed in a shared flat that the Center provided for me along withother students and volunteers. The flat is part of a private compound owned by a very nice and welcoming large family that lives right upstairs. Even though the two dwellings are independent, there is daily interaction with our host family, and I consider it to be the best balance between an independent apartment and living with a host family. As a European, I am amazed by the Palestinian sense of hospitality towards foreigners, especially in Hebron. Personally, I am used to having my own space and privacy, and because of that fact, a long-term stay with a local family might have been too intense for me.
Since my arrival in Palestine, I have spent most of my time at the Center, either studying or socializing with volunteers, students, and local staff. With themI had atrulypleasant timewhile having breakfast, having coffees, or smoking shisha on the roof. Likewise, the Center organized some outings such as cultural and social visits, one-day travels, and even a football match. I believe such activities bonded the group and made us feel part of one big family, while being far away from our real ones. Fortunately, I happened to be in Hebron at the same time of other lovely people with whom I shared my days and adventures around Palestine and Israel.
It is hard to single out one specific memory of my stay in Hebron, but the pleasant routine that was set up and the good vibes of everyone there will definitely be my best memories of all.
Did you feel safe in Palestine?
Before landing in this country I hadmy own impression of the place regarding the security situation. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a misconception as it was contaminated by the media and by my knowledge of Palestine that relied excessively on the conflict and the occupation. Despite the many problems Palestinians face, life goes on with shops, restaurants, weddings, traffic jams, etc..
Although it is true that nowadays Palestine is living in a period of unrest, with awful things happening almost daily, the level of safety I experienced in Palestine is higher than in many other parts of the world, including Europe. Crime is almost nonexistent, and walking in the streets at any time is considered to be safe, except for women at late hours.
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli armed forces are taking place frequently, but these are focused in certain areas and are easily predictable and avoidable. A different situation applies for the area of the city under direct military authority (fully accessible to foreigners), where settlers may behave aggressively if they perceive the visitors showing sympathy towards Palestinians. This area, though, is strictly limited and citylife passes outside it.
Notwithstanding those sensitive areas, it is helpful to be aware of the current political situation in the militarized area of Hebron, and within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict generally, where tensions between illegal settlers and the local population have been commonplace.
Be aware that Hebron is a conservative place and accept the local way of living and doing things. Don’t try to change it or challenge the locals in sensitive issues such as religion or politics. Moreover, respect their dress code and traditions and show an interest in the local culture.
There surely will be issues that you will have put up with, especially if you come from western countries; this is an inherent part of your cultural experience. I am sure that dealing with certain issues will also lead you to break stereotypes, and to question some of your own cultural assumptions.
While being flexible and tolerant towards the local culture, I believe it is also important that no one tries to conceal his or her own identity and self-justifycertain aspects of one’s personal life. In any case, take the Excellence Center as a haven of tolerance and freedom that will give you the strength to stay in the city for as long you need.