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The Zajel Youth Exchange of An-Najah University is a really good option for people with little to ‎no travel experience in the Middle East and Palestine, as the program includes a wide variety of ‎trips, visits, lectures etc. Zajel provides rich opportunities to gain knowledge about many aspects of ‎the Israel-Palestine conflict - both political, cultural and psychological issues - and to learn more ‎about Palestinian culture and customs. It is, however, up to every single participant to ask in-depth ‎questions, as the presentations are often very general and time is short‎.

By: Mariane Lordt

There is a good balance in the program between the unpleasant realities of the conflict, of which it ‎is extremely important to inform internationals, and all the amazing things that are also present in ‎Palestine - e.g. food, music, architecture, and of course the incredibly friendly Palestinian ‎population.‎

The training workshops for the local university students offer good opportunities for personal ‎development within the fields of volunteering and teaching, and they are a great way to meet some ‎young and super engaged Palestinian men and women in the more informal environment of the ‎classroom. I would recommend all future volunteers to just trust in themselves and that whatever ‎they can bring with them of skills, knowledge or the like is great for Zajel!‎

Besides from the workshops, there is a really tight schedule of trips in and around the beautiful and ‎bustling city of Nablus. We got a glimpse of the brutal reality of hundreds and thousands of ‎Palestinians when we visited the Askar refugee camp in the outskirts of Nablus.‎

We watched the harsh conditions the Palestinians in Hebron face with settlements in the middle of ‎the city center, in stark contrast with the Christian tourism magnets of Bethlehem, where the ‎Church of Nativity secures visitors to the city all year round. The nature is also worth mentioning - ‎mountains and hiking paths meet the Mediterranean Sea by the Lebanese border in the North, and ‎the desert in the East is a spectacular place to watch the sun rise over Jordan and the Dead Sea after ‎a night in a Bedouin camp.‎

It is important to note that all the experiences mentioned above - trips, workshops, etc. - are all ‎crammed into a twelve days schedule. Therefore, I really think it is important that one is cautious to ‎take some time off once in a while to relax, have a walk around the old city without a guide, and ‎chat to the locals in smaller groups. It is a lot to walk around with 24 other people, and I really ‎believe (from personal experience) that Palestine opens up in a whole other way when you spend ‎some time alone and are forced to ask locals for directions, help and so on. I wish there was more ‎room for this in Zajel’s itinerary.‎

The group of internationals is a very diverse one, both with regards to nationalities, age, background ‎and previous experiences. This has both ups and downs. I think this is important for future ‎participants to know and to consider, in order to get the best out of the trip.‎

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