Culture Shock in Palestine

This is Part Three of a 4-part series which documents the recent first-hand experiences of this author inhabiting the West Bank of Palestine, Jerusalem, Israel, and The Dead Sea area of the Middle East.

My first ten days in the West Bank of Palestine were mind shattering. Contrary to many preconceptions about this region, I never felt unsafe or unwelcome.

During the second part of my stay, I rented an apartment in a quiet neighborhood of Bethlehem. One day I stepped inside a tiny local shop. I felt an immediate connection with Jackleen, the woman working the store.

“I only slept one hour,” she said. Jakleen was the shop owner, and she had been up all night working her other job as a nurse at the hospital.

I was intrigued by her. The media I had been exposed to about Palestine had suggested that women do not have many rights. Some people had even told me that Palestinians may throw rocks at me if they thought I, as a woman, were dressed inappropriately. However, here I was face-to-face with a Palestinian woman who wears modern clothes similar to mine, who is well-educated, owns a business, and helps save the lives of children - all while wearing an exuberant smile.

Jakleen must have been equally intrigued with me because an hour later, I was riding as the front passenger in her SUV. We drove by Shepherd’s Field, where Catholics believe angels announced the birth of Jesus (or “Yeshua” as commonly pronounced in the Middle East).

Jakleen opened my eyes, just like so many other Palestinians, to the fact that multiple faiths harmoniously co-exist in Palestine.

A well-researched local artist and activist told me, “Before the Israeli military occupation, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other ideologies co-existed here with no problem. In pure Islam, we believe all of these religions are true as each prophet came to deliver the same loving message from God in a way that could be digested by the people of that region. We do not hate people of other religions. We believe in live and let live.”

This reminded me of the statistics on recent terrorist activity in the United States (see previous installments of this story), which indicate that over seventy percent of terrorist acts have been committed by right wing extremists, including white supremacists. This is an example of how extremism can exist within any country or ethnic group. The heinous acts of the few can give a bad name to the whole - if we allow superficial identity and bias to cloud our perception. Let this be proof of the fallacy in judging a book by its cover (how we hate it when it happens to us).

Over the next few days, Jakleen grew very dear to my heart. I met her husband, her in-laws, her children