Most people who come to join us at the Excellence Center in Palestine have mixed feelings about what they will find when they arrive. Many of them are even warned not to come by their family and friends who are concerned for their safety. However, our visitors generally have the complete opposite experience to what they may have picked up in the media in their home countries. Take Sara from Spain for example.
Sara happily admits that Palestine is a country completely unknown for many people, including her! Despite all the negative news broadcast in the media and warnings from her friends and parents telling her not to come for safety reasons, she made the journey anyway. Safety is a major factor for many people making the decision whether to come to Palestine or not. Sara says that:
“Safety is something very subjective, and each person experiences it in a different way. In my case, I can say that I haven’t experienced any situation in which I felt unsafe; maybe it is because I know where to go and when. You can always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that is something that can happen all over the world. Sadly, if you are international (in Palestine) you can do many more things than Palestinians and I believe that is why we are so protected here”.
According to Sara, travelling through Palestine and Israel was very easy. She got to go to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, a refugee camp near Hebron, Jericho, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. After her travels she says that:
“This land has a lot of beautiful and historical things to see and to learn from, but I think that the most useful tool here if you want to learn is talking to people. They will tell you how they experienced everything here when the Israeli occupation started and that is the best way of getting rid of the “fake” information you find in the media because why are they going to lie”?
Sara says that the most important thing that she takes home with her to Spain, her country, is knowledge. It is only through knowledge that you can help someone understand situations that they have no direct experience of. Actually meeting people and spreading the knowledge that you have gained, according to Sara, you can gradually erase common and racist generalisations that people hold in the “Western world”:
“Their hospitality (the people of Palestine) is beyond compare and although we don’t agree on everything (of course we think very differently), we can still get on very well! You learn how to love somebody although our values may not be identical because we live in different worlds and that is one of the reasons why I have learnt so much throughout the month I spent here. Getting out of you comfort zone is always a good idea, and a programme such as this is perfect for doing so. Among all the countries where you can volunteer I chose Palestine because I am very concerned about its situation. It is an actual conflict that has existed for a long time and being able to help and, at the same time, learn from this experience were the reasons why I chose it.”