What Does the Conflict between Palestine and Israel Mean for Volunteers: everyone with even the vaguest understanding of Palestine knows that Palestinians have been in a conflict with the Israelis for decades. In 1948 the State of Israel declared independence and immediately a war erupted between the new majority-Jewish state and the Palestinians and their Arab allies. Since then several international wars and two Palestinian uprisings, known as “intifadas,” have been fought over the last seventy years. What does this embattled history and current tensions mean for volunteers at the Excellence Center? You may be surprised but the conflict itself will likely have little direct effect on you other than as a means of education.
It’s worth noting that the last major outbreak of violence in the West Bank was the Second Intifada which ended in 2005. Since then there have been waves of protests by Palestinians, crackdowns by the Israeli authorities, and isolated acts of violence on both sides but the kind of widespread violence we see in places like Syria, Somalia, or the Gaza Strip is unknown in the West Bank.
For volunteers, the worst outbreak of violence that is likely to happen while you are in Hebron is protests in certain parts of the city and increased Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) patrols. Neighborhoods and streets where protests and limited clashes with the IDF happen are easily identified and locals will warn you to stay away from these parts of the city. Volunteers who have had interactions with the IDF on patrol describe the experience as tense but by remaining polite and obeying instructions these meetings are quick and painless.
As for the Palestinians who may engage in protests against the Israeli occupation, as a volunteer at the Excellence Center and a guest of either a host-family or Sheikh Abed at the men’s dormitory, you are easily identified in Hebron’s close-knit community as a foreigner who has come to help the Palestinian people. As such Palestinians will know that you are not an adversary in this conflict and will treat you with nothing but hospitality.
In parts of the West Bank and even Hebron there are checkpoints manned by the IDF. These checkpoints control the movement of Palestinians and as a visitor you will also, at times, have to pass through them. Often times, especially when tensions are low, the checkpoints will be unmanned and you will pass through without stopping. Other times you will wait in line, present your passport and Israeli visa slip to the guard, perhaps answer a few questions, and almost always pass without incident. The checkpoints are not in place to check for foreigners and as such the guards will likely be more curious about your presence than suspicious.
Connor from the USA, 24, recalls returning to Hebron from the Dead Sea with two other international volunteers, Abu Mohammed, and a Palestinian driver when they were stopped at a checkpoint outside of Jerusalem. “The IDF seemed more curious about a redhead and a blonde in the West Bank than anything. They motioned for our car to pull over when they saw us in the back. They talked to the driver for a few seconds then asked where we were from and asked for our passports. When they heard I was from the U.S. they asked how I liked Israel and if I had visited Jerusalem yet. Then then waved us through. It was over in three minutes and wasn’t really a big deal.”
Some volunteers have visited the H2 section of Hebron which is controlled by the IDF and home to a Jewish settlement. While such a trip would be difficult for Palestinians, international volunteers report the trip as being easy and finding only smiles from those on the other side.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very real it is nowhere near as violent or widespread in the West Bank as major war zones around the world. Moreover, as a foreign visitor you will more than likely not experience hostility from either side and can instead use the experience to act as an observer and learn about one of the most challenging issues facing the international community up close and on the ground but in safety.