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The Zajel Youth Exchange Program has been one of the most incredible and valuable two weeks of ‎my life. I had visited Palestine briefly once before, so I had a basic understanding of the effects of ‎the Israeli Occupation. Throughout the Zajel Program, I not only learned more about the ‎Occupation, but I also came to understand Palestinian society in a way that would have been far ‎more difficult if I had travelled alone. ‎

By: Matthew Wright

Our trip to Hebron highlighted both the severity and scale of the Israeli occupation. At one point, ‎the international volunteers walked down what was once the main street of Hebron, al-Shuhada ‎Street, which Palestinians were not allowed to walk down in order to demonstrate the division ‎enforced throughout the city by the IDF. However, we mistakenly took a wrong turn and became ‎stuck at an Israeli checkpoint. It took us an hour to pass back through the checkpoint as Israeli ‎soldiers deliberately held us up. For us, this was a minor annoyance. But for Palestinians living in ‎Hebron, this is simply the reality of their daily lives. During our visit to Bethlehem we witnessed ‎the most striking manifestation of the Israeli government’s oppressive regime in Palestine - the ‎Wall. To stand next to the Wall and see the graffiti that covers nearly every inch of it was a ‎strangely personal insight into Palestinian resistance.

Throughout the Zajel Exchange Program we also had the opportunity to see some the region’s ‎natural beauty. Camping in a Bedouin Camp in the Arab Rashaydeh desert, before watching the ‎sunrise over the Dead Sea was easily one of the most striking experiences I have had the privilege to ‎enjoy during my time in Palestine.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the exchange has been meeting Palestinian students. In our ‎free time we went to cafes and bars, walked around the Old City of Nablus and talked about ‎everything from politics to football. Without Zajel, I never would have had such an opportunity.‎

Prior to the Zajel Program, my teaching experience was very limited. Through running workshops ‎on employability, focusing on CVs, cover letters and research proposals, I feel I have been able to ‎offer genuinely useful advice to students here, and in turn have learnt about the barriers faced by ‎Palestinian students that wish to study and work abroad. During my first workshop I was jittery, ‎nervous and unclear when speaking in front of a group of twenty students. By the end of the camp, ‎however, I was confident when leading a class.

Prior to the Zajel Program, I had always been cautious about forming strong opinions on the Israel-‎Palestine conflict. It seemed to be a complex, sensitive and divisive political situation - particularly ‎given how it is portrayed in the West. But over the past fortnight I have come to realize that ‎remaining neutral on issues of oppression is to be complicit in the oppression itself.

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