By Ani Samantha
I developed an interest in Palestine from following media sources like teleSUR, Democracy Now, and Al Jazeera, and watching lectures by thinkers like Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and David Graeber. Having been trained in anthropology, which holds fieldwork as its defining methodology, I felt that I needed to immerse myself into the Palestinian context in order to better understand it.
I now have an understanding of the chronology of the conflict and the territorial configuration of Palestine. Zajel, the local volunteers, and the lecturers were very informative. I truly felt welcomed and I appreciate everyone’s keenness to share their knowledge with us and answer all our questions. Every trip that we took across the West Bank was captivating. Our walk on Al-Shuhada Street (which is not open to Palestinians) in Hebron and discussion with Youth Against Settlements, a local guide’s insights into settlements and the apartheid wall in Bethlehem, and our meeting with a group of elders who lived through the Nakba at Askar refugee camp were especially eye opening. We also learned about local culture by attending a pre-wedding ceremony, meeting Bedouins in the desert, and visiting a Samaritan village. Academic lectures on topics including health, energy policy, and education further enriched our learning experience. The work camp served as a great introduction to Palestine’s history and politics, which I hope to explore in greater depth in the coming years.
I helped deliver a workshop on research opportunities abroad to a group of about 15 students. I think a lot of work is needed to improve students’ English language skills and their understanding of European/North American guidelines for resume and proposal writing in order to prepare competitive applications to universities in these regions. I was, however, impressed with the students’ desire to expand their horizons and their extremely respectful attitude towards the international volunteers.
My interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is grounded in a preoccupation with inequality. I believe that we must pay attention to power disparities both between societies and within them. I was impressed with what seems to be a total lack of homelessness in the West Bank. Inequalities between men and women, however, are very visible. Men almost exclusively occupy public spaces like streets, cafes, and restaurants.
Overall, the Zajel program exceeded my expectations. Zajel and the local volunteers were extremely flexible in accommodating our interests and requests. The PR department succeeded in educating international volunteers about the impact of the occupation, and I am sure that many of us will continue to engage with and advocate for Palestine. Thank you for these extremely enriching two weeks and please reach out if there is anything I can help the PR department with remotely from Canada.