Making Friends over Mint Tea

01 June 2023 | Lucy Nicolaou
Lucy Nicolaou, bursary student, reflects on her time spent in Hebron, Palestine with the with The Palestinian Centre for Education and Cultural Exchange.

I’ve been asked about my trip numerous times since returning to Jersey and I’m not sure I’ve managed to articulate a sufficient response just yet. Whichever way I string words together they seem to fall far short. For all I’d read and been told about Hebron prior to going, it still surprised me. People’s warmth, the strength of their faith and conviction, and the fragility of accord – seemingly disrupted by the smallest of provocation, or none at all. Visiting as a human rights intern, I’d anticipated a focus on the political landscape and an intimate encounter with the impact of occupation, which were indeed daily features during my stay. Despite being advised to avoid politically orientated conversations, or at least not initiate them, there was often a palpable keenness from people I met to discuss this. It seemed to form a fundamental part of a collective narrative and sat eagerly on local tongues.

Staying with a Palestinian family and being immersed within the community came with gifts of all shapes and sizes. Food and friendship, invitations and insights. It transformed my understanding of peoplehood from something abstract to a concept with edges and definition, and breathed new life into my appreciation of resilience. I recall Ali, an 11-year-old living in Dheisheh refugee camp intent on joining a game of football despite doing so in a broken wheelchair – which he found himself needing having been shot in the foot by an IDF soldier. Or Nawal, who I came to know over mint tea in the occupied H2 sector, where she shared her efforts to empower a cooperative of 150 women from villages scattered across the Hebron district through sales of embroidery and handicraft in the old city market. The sherut drivers navigating unexpected road closures, the nurses working 18 shifts in overcrowded government hospitals, the students arriving to class with a determination to learn English in spite of the hurdles they faced getting there, and the innovators collecting empty tear gas cannisters to repurpose remaining materials into something more useful. Everywhere, it seemed, a persistent and enduring drive to press on.

In my free time I was able to explore the West Bank and further afield - heading North to Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Nablus, and South to Be’er Sheva and Eilat. Aided by a very small shift in my grasp of Arabic I took some tentative steps towards understanding the broader context of conflict, and piecing together the rich tapestry of the region. There were times I felt challenged and overwhelmed, others energised and joyful, sometimes a bit of everything all at once.

My time in Palestine has been an enriching and life affirming experience, offering an opportunity to recalibrate, revisit old passions and realise some new ones. I feel certain that I’ve come back having added to what I know of the world and my place in it. It’s also reinforced by belief that we can transcend our differences and find a space to connect. In my experience all it takes is a willingness, and there’s something quite beautiful in that.