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West Bank and the Gaza Strip cultural insights

The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:

Conversations

Local perspective

In general, Palestinians are very welcoming and open to meeting people from the outside. They are also forgiving of small social blunders as they understand that a person comes from a different culture to their own. Having said that, they are appreciative of those who take time to learn about and comply with their cultural norms while visiting.

When meeting a Palestinian for the first time; it is a good idea to at least learn to say one or two Arabic words like ‘merhaba’ which means hello and ‘shokran’ which means thank you. This often softens the tone for the rest of the conversation as it shows a genuine effort to learn the language of the land.

Maintain direct eye contact and take the time to exchange pleasantries and remember it is considered rude not to show a keen interest in their health, family and general wellbeing. Once this is covered, other related topics might come up.

Palestinians are always eager to talk to outsiders about the challenges they face, the hardships they endure daily and the ways they try to cope under occupation. Don’t be dismissive of their stories and try to listen and to ask polite questions. Try to keep the language clean; cursing and swearwords are not acceptable and sexual references in speech are only tolerated if done in private and with people of the same gender with whom the person is already familiar with. Be sure to keep a polite distance with members of the opposite sex, don’t flirt or make comments about how good looking someone from the opposite sex is.

If the meeting takes place in their home, it is important to make positive comments about their home and hospitality ‘Thank you for inviting us into your beautiful home’ or ‘Thank you for the warm hospitality’. Admire the location of the home, the view from the window, the general décor, the trees in the garden but it is absolutely crucial not to show admiration for any specific items in the house, such as a rug or a vase, because Palestinian traditions dictate that if a guest admired an object, the host is obliged to give the object to him/her. So be sure to keep the compliments as general as possible. This same rule applies to commenting on someone general appearance ‘you are dressed well’ ‘you look elegant’ but avoiding specifically singling out an item such as dress, tie or jewellery, as the person will feel obliged to give the commentator that piece.

Note: Palestinians consider it polite conduct to express agreement in front of outsiders, even if what is being said is contrary to their own personal beliefs.

Canadian perspective

Ask questions! Don't start off with the private stuff though, but ask about kids (how many, how old, what do they study) and jobs and family history. Many Palestinians are refugees from other parts of Historic Palestine, so asking where their family is initially from will not only get you a history lesson, but also show that you are sensitive to local politics as well.

Another favourite topic is food. Palestinians are incredible cooks and they love to discuss local foods and recipes. Each region of the country has its own specialty. For example, when Palestinians speak about Nablus they always mention kunafah - a local cheese pastry drenched in sweet, sugar-based syrup. Ask someone where the best homemade sweets can be found in their community and you have a perfect conversation starter.

Another conversation starter, although less sure-fire, is politics, a favourite topic which usually can’t be avoided when discussing Palestine. This includes local Palestinian politics and regional politics vis-à-vis the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and the various ways it affects Palestinians – from checkpoints to the separation wall. Palestinians will sometimes raise political topics but it’s important to note the many differing political views in Palestine and the region. This is one of the most politically fraught places in the world.

Communication styles

Local perspective

Non verbal

It is customary to stand up when greeting each other, if people are seated at a gathering, they stand up every time an adult enters the room for the first time. It is rude for a person to say his/her greetings while sitting down.Men greet each other with a handshake and sometimes amongst friends, there is also a kiss on each cheek and a pat on the back. Women shake hands and kiss each other on the cheeks.

The rules for greeting someone from the opposite sex will differ depending on religious adherence, conservativeness of hosts, and the location of the gathering or meeting. So the best advice here is to allow the Palestinians to initiate the interaction and follow their lead to avoid social blunders. In most cases, a handshake is acceptable, however, if greeting a religious man or woman, they will decline a handshake or any form of physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Instead, they will gently place their right hand on their chest at the time of greeting instead.

A person should never wonder into any area of a Palestinian home un-announced. Even if he/she needs to go to the bathroom and know where it is, the person must his/her host to make way and ensure the path is clear. This allows other members of the household time to step out of the way and to maintain their privacy.

It is good manners when invited to a Palestinian home to go visit with a gift. Best gift is often one or two kilos of sweets. Other gifts can be flower, fruits, and toys for the children. Use only right hand for eating and wash hands before the meal. If invited over for a meal, Make sure not to finish eating quickly. The minute the guest, says he/she is full, everyone else will have to stop eating. So take the time to make sure everyone around the table eats well. The guest leaving a little bit of food on the plate when done eating tells the host that the guest is now full. An empty plate invites more food portions to be put into it. The Guest shouldn’t linger too long once the meal is finished. He/she should express their gratitude and start preparing to leave. The host will ask the guest to stay for coffee. The Palestinians refer to this as the ‘goodbye coffee’. Guest should drink the coffee and leave.

Don’t walk in front of someone while they are praying, don’t pick up a Quran or touch it without having undergone the cleansing rituals, don’t mishandle the Quran even at home, a person’s guest might be highly offended if they found the Quran in the bathroom or on the floor.

Avoid touching someone from the opposite sex.Be careful with some hand gestures, some of these can be offensive, e.g. the O.K. sign common in the west is inappropriate in Palestinian culture. Avoid putting up feet, showing the back of shoes or sole of feet in any social gathering, it is a sign of disrespect.

During the month of Ramadan, when Muslims are fasting, refrain from eating, smoking or drinking when around those who fast. Also don’t eat in public areas during the time of fasting. If a person visits someone during Ramadan while they are fasting, the person will offer him/her a drink, the person visiting MUST refuse profusely.

Verbal

The Palestinians have what is known as the second offer rule. It is common to offer a Palestinian guests at home or in at the office a snack and coffee or tea. It is considered polite for the guests to decline the first time. The offer is made again and any decline is accepted only after insisting the second time. The same rule applies in reverse. If a person is a guest in someone’s home or office, and they offer food or drinks, the person must decline the first offer and only accept when they insist a second time. This applies to meal (lunch or dinner) invitations as well.

Don’t engage in controversial topics during a meal and when a guest at someone’s house, don’t question the hosts’ faith, politics and principles.

Don’t talk to someone while they are praying. If possible avoid having private conversations with someone from the opposite sex.

If a person is a vegetarian and he/she is invited for a meal, explaining this to the host is imperative, before they begin preparing the person’s meal. Palestinians will often go to great lengths and expense to bring enough meat for their guests and if the guest refuses to eat the meat, this can be considered very rude and disappointing. It is important to be clear about dietary needs.

Canadian perspective

Be polite, and be patient! Smiles go a long way. If you get lost or in doubt, you can always turn to the person beside you and ask nicely where you are or what you need. Never expect or believe you are entitled to help, but, be pretty confident that Palestinians will go well out of their way to make sure you are safe and headed in the right direction.

A hand raised toward the chest with a slight shake of the head is a great non-verbal “no, thank-you” and a gentle palm-out signifies a more insistent “no.”

While discussions can get quite heated especially around money and politics, yelling is rarely necessary. Keep it respectful and, mostly, just listen.

Some religious or fasting individuals won't always shake hands with someone of the opposite sex.

Display of emotion

Local perspective

Public display of affection between couples like hugging and kissing is an absolute taboo. Other emotions are acceptable, anger, happiness etc. but they depend on the situation.

Anger at the elderly is not acceptable. Palestinian culture treats the elderly with respect at all times. Raising one’s voice is not always an indication of anger, in most cases, it is seen to highlight the importance of a point in a conversation, as is repetitions of this point.

Public display of affection between members of the same sex such as holding hands, kissing on the cheeks or hugging is acceptable behaviour and is not associated with homosexual tendencies.

Canadian perspective

Couples of any gender pairing do not usually hold hands, kiss, or cuddle in public. Women do kiss twice on the cheek for new acquaintances and uncountable times for loved ones they have not seen in a while. Just go with the flow. Men shake hands with hugs reserved for very close family.

Anger and emotion are commonly expressed in work environments when frustrated with colleagues, in ceremonies that bring out tears of joy or sadness, and at public gatherings in relation to mistreatment or concern.

Dress, punctuality & formality

Local perspective

Punctuality

Palestinians will make a genuine effort to attend all official appointments on time, though this effort may at times be hindered by prolonged waits at checkpoints and travel restrictions that is outside of their control. Informal meetings and social gatherings are not treated in the same way and Palestinians tend to be less punctual with their arrival time.

Dress

Palestinians place emphasis on personal grooming. So clothes have to be neat, ironed and with no rips or tears. So torn jeans or scruffy shorts are out of the question.

Palestinian youth often dress in western attire. The older generation may wear more conservative clothing; the men might adorn a headdress (a checkered scarf known as kaffiyeh) and women may wear Thob (an embroidered long dress with long sleeves). Both the Thob and the Kaffiyeh are today seen as symbols of Palestinian nationalism.

In more conservative areas, especially in the Gaza Strip, women may wear a long robe, often dark in color over their clothes and a headscarf covering their hair. A smaller number of women dress in complete black and wear niqab. Note: since Hamas has been in control of Gaza it has become mandatory for women in most public schools and in much of the workforce to cover their hair and to dress conservatively.

In general, female visitors are advised to cover their upper arms, shoulders, legs and bosom during their visits to the Palestinian Territory and men are advised to wear long trousers and a shirt or a T-shirt if the setting is informal. In both Gaza and the West Bank, it is not acceptable to be barefooted at any time, even while receiving guests at home.

Formality

Coffee and tea are essential staples in the Palestinian workplace. So, be sure to offer these in the office whenever someone comes in for a meeting. Don’t forget the second offer rule. If they refuse, ask again and insist.

At work it is best for men to wear a button shirt tucked into long trousers and in some cases even a suite. Women need to dress in smart casual clothes that are conservative and to avoid tight clothes. There is no need for western women to cover their hair.

When meeting a Palestinian for the first time, introduction should be done, starting with full name and the name of the company. This is when the formal handshake (or pat on the chest) may take place. It is a good time to exchange business cards.

If the meeting is very official, address those present using Mr. or Mrs., and use their first (not family) name. So if a person is Ayah Sorani, address her as Mrs. Ayah. In correspondences, use the title Mr. /Mrs., followed by both first and last name.

Alternatively, men and women who have children are often referred to not by their first names, but by the name of their first born son. This shows a great deal of respect. So, if the first born son is named Salem, the man would be called Abu Salem (father of Salem) and the woman would be Um Salem (mother of Salem).

Canadian perspective

For men, dress shirts are the norm, with smart trousers. You can do short sleeves if you like. If you are part of a delegation meeting government or financial officials, suits and ties are preferred. For women, trousers and a blouse are an easy go-to. Fitted skirts below the knee are fine in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, but best to stick with pants in more conservative areas. Since field visits and being stopped at checkpoints are frequent occurrences, it is always best to wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in.

Men and women can wear shorts and tank tops outside, including to the gym, but be aware that most Palestinians do not wear either. When dining out, remember the same rules you would in Canada: do not wear flip-flops and shorts to a mid-range or fancy restaurant, etc.

Preferred managerial qualities

Local perspective

Build a relationship based on friendship and concern for the workers. There is a thin line separating the business from the personal in much of the Arab world. So to be a good supervisor or manager, it is important to always treat workers with dignity and respect and to take an interest in their personal lives and family situation. Criticism of the work they do must be handled with care, in privacy and while allowing the worker the chance to explain and to ‘save face’. Be compassionate and never force a worker to do something that is at odds with their religious beliefs. Make sure to allow time for prayers during the working hours and to learn the schedule for religious holidays.

Try to learn some words in Arabic to use with the employees, especially encouraging words like ‘yatik alafya’ which loosely translates to well done. This will show respect and willingness to learn more about the culture. The staff’s view of a supervisor can be known through the quality of work they produce and their eagerness to work with that person.

Canadian perspective

Collaboration is important. Openly discussing problems as a team and looking for solutions everyone can agree on solves any crisis. Hierarchy is important but it is also necessary for supervisors to allow their staff to get on with their job once everyone knows where they stand. Like any workplace, power-tripping is never appreciated and employees always feel more valued when they are allowed to make decisions without micromanaging and collaborate as part of a team.

Hierarchy and decision-making

Local perspective

Most businesses in Palestine are owned and run by families, so often business meetings and discussions can take place in the home or in social settings over a meal and as a result, the business culture in Palestine tends to be less formal than that of the western world.

Canadian perspective

It depends on the workplace. In most, hierarchy is important and respected and it is completely acceptable to speak with immediate supervisors about most things, going “above their head” only when necessary. However, it is also important to remember that Palestine is a small place and relationships outside the workplace such as family, clan, “notable families,” religious affiliations, etc. all come into play and may affect how decision-making happens in some workplaces. It is good to be aware of this but it may not be something that is immediately – or ever – fully comprehensible to an outsider.

Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender

Local perspective

The Palestinian workforce is predominantly well educated, is able to at least communicate in basic English and is familiar with the use of technology.

Palestinian men and women are able to work together in the same space, but Palestinian women generally struggle to receive the same pay or to be promoted to higher positions in the workforce. Palestinian society has a general preference for women to stay in the home rather than be part of the workforce. This is especially the case after a woman is married.

The attitude towards class is almost clearly reflected in the job opportunities and positions a person holds. The process of getting a job often hinges on what connections a person has, so those in the elite classes are often more likely to get better jobs and better pay than those who are not.

There are no religious tensions between the Christian and Muslim Palestinian population. However, in the West Bank where almost half a million Jewish settlers live, there are high tensions between the setter population and the Palestinians. Jews in the West Bank receive preferential treatment by the state of Israel while Palestinian Muslim and Christians under Israel’s military rule are often denied some of their most basic human rights.

Palestinian families are patriarchal. Decisions within the family are made collectively. Often, the oldest male is the family spokesperson.

Canadian perspective

As in much of the Middle East, Palestinian society is patriarchal with women in many ways living as second-class citizens. However, this varies greatly depending on where you are. In some city centres in the West Bank (Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah), women have many more rights and serve in decision-making positions. For example, a woman currently serves as Bethlehem’s mayor. In village areas, Gaza, and the northern West Bank (Jenin, Nablus), however, society is more conservative and women do not have the same rights as men.

Fitness clubs typically are segregated according to sex, along with fitness classes. Hair salons are the same. Palestinian men regularly frequent salons for hair hygiene and grooming, including treatments such as facial waxing, eyebrow threading and other procedures that are not so common among Canadian men. Hygiene and grooming are incredibly important for both sexes and many men wear well-groomed beards and goatees.

Religious and class differences also exist depending on where you are. Palestinians place a very high value on education and the educated class or urban elites hold many of the decision-making positions in government, civil society and business. This differs from the less educated and underprivileged, who, like in many societies, live in difficult conditions, lack social access and mobility based on their family name or class. The clans of the urban elite have historically been hostile to religious fundamentalism, including in Gaza. However, most Palestinians consider themselves religious, taking part in religious ceremonies – if not regularly then certainly on holidays or with family.

Relationship-building

Local perspective

Palestinians rarely separate the business from the personal. They have a preference for deeper and more genuine relationships with those they do business with. So when doing business in Palestine, expect to be invited for a meal, or in the least for coffee and snacks, and don’t be surprised if invited to business co-worker’s home and introduced to the family. Cementing a personal relationship is an important part of building trust and doing business together.

Canadian perspective

It is very important to establish relationships but this is not something that happens immediately. Palestinians – quite rightly, given the acrimonious history in the region – do not automatically trust outsiders. Building trust in relationships is something that happens over time, which means getting to business must usually happen before establishing a meaningful personal relationship. This can be seen as an opportunity, as relationships may be strengthened if locals see outsiders as honest and hardworking in business/professional relationships.

Privileges and favouritism

Local perspective

In some cases yes, and this is unavoidable working within the Arab culture. That is why it is important to set clear and fair rules and to make sure the employees have a clear understanding of what is expected from them and what is not tolerated in the workplace.

Canadian perspective

This is possible, but should not be seen as the norm. Like in any workplaces, rules and systems are respected and adhered to in Palestine.

Conflicts in the workplace

Local perspective

It is always best to do so privately at first. The person’s approach needs to be soft and diplomatic. If the problem persists, involve a third party, preferably a person trusted by both parties.

Canadian perspective

Confront a colleague directly and in private at first. In any conflict or crisis, it is important to remain calm, always tell the truth about your position, even if it may not be what people want to hear, and make sure you can back up your position with facts. It is also vital to work as a team to come up with the best solution. In addition, it is best to try to present yourself as just another person (or organization) with another point of view. Most people are reasonable and if you are reasonable with them, they will respect that. Getting angry or confrontational with someone who is being confrontational with you is usually a recipe for disaster.

Motivating local colleagues

Local perspective

Palestinians are motivated in the workplace by positive feedback, a feeling of being appreciated for the work they do, the strength of their personal relationship with their colleagues and boss, the promise of being paid for their work and possibility of personal growth and promotion. Palestinians have a high sense of dignity so if they feel they are underappreciated or they are in any way humiliated or looked down on by their superior they are not likely to stay on the job.

Canadian perspective

Like in any workplace, it is important to create regular feedback loops and instill a culture of constructive criticism and employee evaluations. Palestinians also love to celebrate birthdays and other occasions among colleagues. There is nothing like a regular lunch-hour birthday cake party to get colleagues together and build team spirit and morale.

Recommended books, films & foods

Local perspective

Films

Five Broken Cameras by Emad Burnet Omar directed by Hany Abu-Assad.

Where Should Birds Fly by Fida Qishta, Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assad.

The Other Son directed by Lorraine Lévy.

Books

The Gaza Kitchen: a Palestinian Culinary Journey by Laila El Haddad, Classic Palestinian Cuisine by Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, Gaza Unsilenced a collection of poetry and essays edited by Laila El Haddad and Refaat Alareer, Mornings in Jenin a novel by Susan Abualhawa , A history of modern Palestine: One Land, Two People by Illan Pappe, On Palestine by Naom Chomsky and Illan Pappe

Music

  • Amal Murkus – Palestinian singer
  • DAM Palestinian rap band
  • Mohammad Assaf – Palestinian singer

Canadian perspective

It is important to remember that the ongoing conflict with Israel affects how Palestinians are able to access their own cultural heritage. While many will speak with knowledge of cultural sites in Palestine, it does not mean they have been able to see them up close. Foreigners have much greater and more widespread access to the West Bank than Palestinians do. More than 500 Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank prevent them from travelling to neighbouring communities to access cultural events and sites. For example, the Palestinian students who study tourism management at Bethlehem University learn about their historical sites via video. Palestine is rich with history and overflowing in religious landmarks that tourists come to see: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Yet instead of seeing them up close and learning about them that way (and this should in theory be quite easy as the West Bank is not much larger than Rhode Island), these students rely on video footage to understand their history. A foreign filmmaker has travelled to sights like Jacob's Well in Nablus – 72 kilometers from Bethlehem – and filmed the necessities, bringing the tape back to Bethlehem so Palestinian students there can watch so they can tell tourists all about it.

For classic and contemporary Palestinian texts go here. Others of interest include:

  • Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani
  • Time of White Horses by Ibrahim Nasrallah
  • Said the Ill-Fated Pesspotimist by Emile Habibi
  • The Honey by Zeina Ghandour
  • Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
  • Sharon and my Mother in-law by Suad Amiry
  • Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh
  • Out of It by Salma Dabbagh
  • Memory for Forgetfulness by Mahmoud Darwish
  • Books about Palestine:
    • Extreme Rambling by Mark Thomas
    • The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine by Lori Allen
    • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
    • How Israel Lost by Richard Ben Cramer
    • Bad News from Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry
    • Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh
  • Palestinian Film:
    • Here is a database of great Palestinian films.
    • The Time that Remains, Elia Suleiman
    • Paradise Now, Hany Abu-Assad
    • A Space Exodus, Larissa Sansour
    • The Dupes, Tewfik Saleh
    • Arna's Children by Juliano Mer Khamis
    • Open Bethlehem by Leila Sansour

Food

Palestinians have a rich and incredibly varied cuisine that includes everything from traditional dishes made with lamb and camel to fresh salads like fattoush and tabbouleh, to the sweetest desserts. Wikipedia has a good selection available here.

Produce changes seasonally, with markets selling what is available in the region. Cucumbers, eggplant and zucchini are staples. Popular fruits include figs (massive and juicy they grow on trees throughout the region), grapes (also widely grown in the region), pomegranate, and loquats (what Palestinians call azkadinya).

Music

Dabke is the famous Palestinian dance. It is a type of circle- or line-dance performed at most special occasions in the country. Palestinians also love famous musical performers from the rest of the Arab world, including Fairouz, Nancy Ajram, Ragheb Alama, Warda Al Jazairia, and Ehab Tawfik.

In-country activities

Local perspective

The Guardian published a fantastic article on the 10 top things to see and do in Palestine. A place to visit when in Gaza is Al-Qattan Centre for the Child, stroll along the Gaza beach, do a stop at the ancient Hammam al-Samarra public baths and drive to the south of Gaza to see the incredible landscape there.

Canadian perspective

One of the most recommended activity is the cultural walking route ofAbraham Path.

One can get additional ideas from the following links:

Recommended places to visit are, Birzeit Museum, Birzeit Gallery, Gallery One, Zawiyeh Gallery, Darwish Museum, Al-Aqsa, Holy Sepulchre, Church of the Nativity, Jenin Freedom Theatre, Al-Kasaba Theatre (Ramallah), Ashtar Theatre (Ramallah), Arafat Museum (opens October), Sebastia, Khan al-Wikala (Old Market) and soap factories in Nablus, Cremisan winery in Bethlehem, Tour of Bethlehem University with its Ambassadors Group, Rachel’s Tomb, and Tent of Nations Environmental and Educational Farm.

National heroes

Local perspective

Palestine’s national heroes are primarily its thousands of political prisoners held in Israeli jails, its resistance fighters and its martyrs. They are the ones most celebrated and held in the highest regards. Other national heroes include late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, new pop sensation and Arab Idol winner Mohammad Assaf, beloved iconic poet Mahmoud Darweesh, legendary academic Edward Said, novelist Ghassan Kanafani, artist Ismail Shamout, and cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. With the exception of Assaf, all the others either passed away or were assassinated.

Canadian perspective

Ghassan Kanafani: a leading Palestinian writer and political figure who was assassinated in Beirut in 1972. His most famous work, Men in the Sun, is about the struggles of three Palestinian refugee men looking for work in the oil sector in Kuwait.

Naji al-Ali is a late Palestinian cartoonist who is best known for his drawing of a 10-year-old Palestinian boy, Handala, who stands with his hands held behind his back. The image has become a symbol for Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Mahmoud Darwish is arguably the most celebrated Palestinian literary figure, often described as the national poet of Palestine. Darwish died in 2008.

Yasser Arafat was a Palestinian political leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. He founded the Fatah party, which he led for many years until his death in 2004. Arafat also held positions as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Leila Khalid, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Canada regards as a terrorist organization, is known as the first woman to hijack an airplane.

George Habbash was a Christian Palestinian politician who founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Shared historical events with Canada

Local perspective

For some older generation of Palestinian refugees, Canada is associated with the generous flour rations received in the early years of their dispossession when they fled in fear or were forcibly removed from their homes in 1948 during the establishment of the state of Israel. For other Palestinians, especially in Gaza, Canada evokes fond memories of the exemplary Canadian Peacekeeping Forces who were stationed there in the mid 1960s. The Canadian Forces were courteous, and they left a reputation for being kind hearted, respectful of the locals and highly disciplined.

However, over the last few decades, the new generation of Palestinians are seeing Canada with different eyes. Most Palestinians today believe that Canada has consistently taking a position in the international community, which favours Israel at the expense of their people’s basic rights and freedoms. This view is not only shaped by Canada’s votes at the UN or by statements by Canadian political officials, especially during the last decade, but there is also the issue of ‘Canada Park’ where the erasure of three Palestinian villages in the West Bank was paid for mostly with Canadian money.

Canada Park is located a few kilometers northwest of Jerusalem and stands on the site of 3 Palestinian farming villages annexed by Israel in 1967 and bulldozed to the ground on the orders of Israeli General Yitzhak Samir. The three villages Imwas, Beit Nuba, and Jalu had a population of 10,000 people who were forced to leave and never allowed to return. The remains of the destroyed villages were hidden by landscaping a park over the area, largely with help from Canadian sources and donations made to the Jewish National Fund of Canada. Most contributors to the Park which now sits as another reminder of the erasure of Palestinian dispossession were unfortunately Canadians that is why the Park was named “Canada Park”.

Having said that, Palestinians are highly pragmatic and tend to separate official policies and political statements when dealing with people as individuals. Canadians as a people are still viewed with high regard, especially because there are many Canadians on the ground today in Palestine/Israel who do great work in aid organizations and in various NGOs. Therefore, I don’t think that the perceived Canadian bias will have a great affect on personal, work or social relationships.

Canadian perspective

None that I know of.

Stereotypes

Local perspective

The most common stereotypes are that Palestinians are a closed society, are extremists, don’t want peace and teach their children to hate.

Canadian perspective

Perhaps the most egregious stereotype about Palestinians is that they are all terrorists or suicide bombers. The politics and propaganda in the region over the past century means many news outlets and politicians have succeeded at distilling the news out of the region and the Palestinian fight for justice down to a stereotype that all Palestinians are intent on killing Israelis or those who do not support their cause. This is of course patently false. Palestine is a diverse and multi-layered country filled with people with differing political views and ideas about how to achieve an end to the decades-long occupation and political impasse in the region. While some have used violence to try to achieve freedom, many have highlighted these examples to try to paint all Palestinians with one brush.

Another misconception peddled by some is that Palestinians did not exist in the region in history but are instead Arabs from other parts of the world. This is also not true: there is a rich Palestinian culture and civilisation in the West Bank, Gaza and Historic Palestine going back centuries.

About the cultural interpreters

Local perspective

A Palestinian Canadian writer, political analyst, media commentator and sought after international speaker on Palestine/Israel, currently completing a PhD in the area of Diaspora Studies.

Canadian perspective

The writer has worked as a journalist, communications expert and educator in more than 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa. She has a bachelor of journalism and a master in international development and previously spent a year and a half living in the West Bank cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As a journalist, she produced work for Globe and Mail, Vice, Reuters and the Toronto Star. She currently lives in Canada, where she works for an international humanitarian organization.

Related information

Disclaimer

Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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