My story of Palestine is very much a personal rather than political one.
I spent September of 2011 in Nablus as an international volunteer team for the Zajel Youth Exchange Programme after a colleague forwarded an email to me.
The content intrigued me and the visit seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more about an issue I have always felt I should be more clued up about. I booked my flights and paid the registration fee as soon as my application was accepted after some very generous help from friends.
After arriving, I ran workshops in English Conversation for students who gave up their own time to attend. Teaching was however only a small part of the story, with an itinerary that kept volunteers busy from 8am until 10pm.
At the end of the trip which involved more than 40 hours of class time, talks in Nablus Old Town, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and visits to Balata, Askar and Aida refugee camps, I blogged on my experience for the programme leader.
A full public photo gallery of my trip is available on my Facebook page in the album “From the West of Scotland to the West Bank” and the full itinerary of the trip can be found on the Zajel Programme website.
Reflecting on my time continues to be no easy task. Not because the people I met weren’t memorable (there are faces, names, students, volunteers and moments I'll never forget) but because the experiences of one day affected the conclusions I had made the day before.
Some things, like the standard of facilities and the level of multi-language skills at An-Najah will make my university colleagues very jealous. Other things, like leaving behind a group of friends at a check-point because Israeli 'security' decided no Palestinians could enter the Samaritans village that day make me wonder how people have the mental spirit left to even leave the house.
It's difficult to write about something when your understanding of it changes so regularly. It's even more difficult when the experiences no longer exist in the abstract.
Before I went, The “Palestinian Struggle" was an ideological/political/cultural/religious conflict happening thousands of miles away and on the pages of academic journals and newspapers.
Now, it is my friend Jehad not being able to travel to the UK to become an even better dentist or to see the places I am desperate to show him. It is my friend Naser looking after his parents, studying for his degree, and leading two international exchange camps at the same time all so his fellow students know there is life and possibility outside the apartheid they live in. It’s my friend Noor, with her dry wit and MA in English Literature not knowing if she’ll ever get to visit the home of the language she has literally mastered.
It’s important to say though: the inertia that exists in the global community when it comes to Palestine was not evident in the students I met. They have ambitions, plans and as much as circumstances allow, some measure of agency over their lives. People weren’t ‘struggling’ on in spite of themselves: they were intelligent, open minded and level headed people with a sense of pride in their developing country.
I have returned to what can only be described as a comfortable life in Scotland. To a house that will only stop being mine if someone buys it; to a car I can drive on whichever road its wheels touch; to a university that will never be closed by the army being in town. And to eight hours of sleep I never expect to be interrupted by memories of the past or fears of the future.
The road to a solution is long, uncertain and far beyond my experience. Whatever it is, whoever’s hands it is in: I hope it tells Palestinian students their potential deserves to be met and their future deserves to be without fear.
Jamie Kinlochan is a student at the University of the West of Scotland, studying a BA in Politics and Social Policy. He is a Labour Party member, student activist and is currently a Parliamentary Assistant for Jackie Baillie MSP.
Zajel Programme – http://youth.zajel.org/
Facebook – facebook.com/JamieTKinlochan
Twitter - @jamiekinlochan