I have just ended five months of volunteering in Al Khalil/Hebron, Palestine, teaching English to children and then volunteering with Community Peacemaker Teams – Palestine.
When you hear of Palestine or see images on the news, you might only see images of Israeli soldiers, violent confrontations, attacks and people getting hurt and killed. Palestine and the West Bank seem to be volatile places where your life could be in danger at any moment.
But, these news stories do not reflect the whole picture of Palestine. These images can distort our judgment of what we think Palestine is like. What you are less likely to see in the media headlines are the wonderful people, the beautiful scenery, the welcoming culture, the lovely food, and the incredible history. Palestine is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Palestinians in Hebron and around Palestine are the most generous and genuine people I have ever met. I lost count of how often I heard the word ‘welcome.’ Many times, people I had just met would tell me that if I needed help with anything, just to call them. Other times I would meet people, and they would offer to show me around their home city whenever I got a chance to visit. It was amazing. I felt so comfortable with the Palestinian people.
Whenever I visited someone’s house or an organization, I would always be told, “this is your house and you are welcome anytime.” And they meant it. I stopped feeling like a guest and more of a brother. I had not really experienced this back in the UK. I also felt much safer walking around, particularly at night, during my time in Hebron.
Palestine is also such a beautiful country. The undulating hills, the white houses nestled into the hillsides, the sun beating down on old olive trees standing gnarled but strong. I savoured the journeys when I travelled between different cities, watching the scenery go by. And on the rare occasion I travelled outside of the West Bank, I always felt like I was coming home when I returned.
In terms of historical and religious significance, there is no other place on earth like Palestine. The area is holy to the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, with many important religious sites in cities like Hebron, the resting place of Abraham, Bethlehem, Jericho and, of course, Jerusalem, which is considered to be the religious and historical epicentre of the world. I had to pinch myself as I visited the names of places that I had heard of in the Bible, Torah and Qu’ran.
It would be a lie to say that violence does not happen in Palestine. It can occur, in certain areas, sometimes. It is up to the individual to educate oneself and be aware of the changing circumstances in different regions in order to stay safe. But if you are well informed, then there shouldn’t be any problems at all.
To judge Palestine only on the negative news stories would be a great misfortune because you might miss out on one of the most beautiful places on earth. Why not come and see?