What you can’t do in the West Bank: The dress code in the West Bank is modest, especially for women. There is however, no obligation at all to wear a headscarf, except while entering some churches or mosques such as Al-Ibrahimi or Al-Maskobiya, where traditional religious stipulations apply. It is best if men don’t wear shorts, and if women cover their legs and shoulders and don’t wear clothes with revealing necklines. Danielle is participating in the Teach English and Speak Arabic in Palestine programme. Danielle says: ‘the dress code itself is conservative but not that strict. The dress norms are much stricter – if you don’t want to stick it out here it is better to be more conservative in your dress than the code suggests.’
As most of the population of Palestine are Muslim, Islamic traditions tend to be observed in the public sphere. This is generally as unobtrusive as hearing the call to prayer echoing through your window five times a day. However, in the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, consuming neither food or water and trying to do good deeds, it is socially taboo to eat or drink in public. This is mostly a matter of empathy – if you were fasting, you probably wouldn’t appreciate someone eating their lunch right in front of you either. Drinking alcohol is also largely prohibited across the West Bank, with some exceptions such as Bethlehem. To avoid potential awkwardness, it is best to avoid drinking while you’re in Palestine, as public drunkenness and disorderliness would be highly frowned upon.
Furthermore, there are practical matters are more difficult to organise in Palestine than they might be in your home country. For example the West Bank doesn’t yet have a 3G mobile network, which can render visitors reliant on their data plans – this is an expensive option. Another issue can be sending and receiving post. A parcel sent overseas through the normal postal service may take up to a month to reach its destination and delivery services such as FedEx, though faster and very reliable, can be prohibitively expensive. Receiving mail could involve a trip to the post office in Jerusalem or Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, which can feel like a lot of effort just to get your mail.
As a general rule though, most parts of life in the West Bank will be very familiar to the average visitor. You can buy new jeans, top up your phone and attend a football game with ease. Jamie is participating in the Teach English and Speak Arabic in Palestine programme. Jamie says: ‘As long as you have an open mind and are somewhat flexible in your day to day routine, you will very quickly realise that it is exactly the same as your life at home.’