Human rights in Hebron - Lucy Nicolaou

11 April 2023 | Lucy Nicolaou
JOA bursary recipient, Lucy Nicolaou, is currently working in Hebron, Palestine with The Palestinian Centre for Education and Cultural Exchange.

Before visiting Israel last year, the Israel-Palestine conflict was something I had a vague awareness of, but really didn’t know much about. A tour into Palestinian occupied territory to visit Bethlehem and Jericho offered an opportunity to learn more about the history of the conflict and what occupation looks like today - messy, divisive and unrelenting. I was struck by the complexity of it, the layers of political, religious and economical influences that have seemingly sustained dispute for decades. I was keen to learn more and understand the impact on those living in this region, which has led me to spending 6 weeks based in Hebron as a human rights intern. My placement here is focused on working with Palestinian refugees living in various camps in and around Hebron, whilst staying with a local host family. So far, I’ve spent time teaching English, joining local community projects to empower women and reduce gender-based violence, and made use of my background working in health to support local provision. I’ve also been learning Arabic, or at least trying to, but a natural linguist I most definitely am not!

Hebron is an ancient city, the largest Palestinian city, and commercial capital of the West Bank. It’s also pretty special in that it’s considered holy for Jews, Muslims and Christians. It’s a fascinating but full-on place, and at times there is a palpable unease that can make being here feel stressful. I’d read much about Hebron before travelling and had seen some worrying news headlines about escalating tensions in the weeks leading up to my departure from the comfort of Jersey. My first week here has confirmed some perceptions I’d formed and challenged many others. 

I’ve found the people of Hebron to be incredibly open and generous, displaying commonality through simple gestures to help cut through the language barrier, which can be challenging at times. Life here can lack certainty and people generally appear to have a remarkable capacity for spontaneity. I’ve been stopped in the street countless times by people offering a greeting of peace or welcoming, often followed by an invitation to join their family to eat or drink coffee together (I’ve adjusted from my daily milky Costa to a strong black Arabic brew). With it being Ramadan, this has meant joining for Iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal, which has offered an insight into the customs and practices of Islam. It seems it isn’t unusual to be offered a place to sleep too, with an affirmation of ‘my home is your home’. It seems I already have many homes in Hebron. 

Learning about the occupation from a local resident of Hebron