Hospitality Lifts Tired Holy Land Traveler

West Bank

A Palestinian family living in tents in the hills of Susya in the West Bank participates in the CRS Food for Work program. Photo by Liz O’Neill/crs

Communications officer Liz O’Neill recently visited CRS programs in the Middle East. She submitted this report on her initial impressions:

I wasn’t really in the mood for a conversation. My first journey to the Holy Land had begun more than 20 hours earlier at Dulles International Airport. Except for a catnap on a hard bench during a layover at Heathrow airport, I hadn’t slept much. I was hungry and tired. I decided to attempt sleep once again. That is, until the strangers sitting beside me suddenly decided they wanted to chat.

Our conversation started as a slight annoyance. It ended with a display of what everyone around me already seemed to know about—the tradition of Arab hospitality.

They were a young couple—he a PH.D who taught Islamic philosophy, and she a proud mother with a two year old at home. They lived with extended family just outside of Nazareth. When I told them I worked for Catholic Relief Services, they were fascinated. “Ah,” said the husband. “You do human work. This is good.” During the next hour, we talked about everything from children to religion to airline food. Before the plane landed, they asked me to please come spend a few days with them at their home, where they would introduce me to their cooking, culture and customs. “This would make us very proud and cheerful,” said the husband.

Palestine tea

A member of a Palestinian family living in tents in the hills around Hebron prepares to serve guests hot coffee and tea. Photo by Liz O’Neill/crs

I was taken aback by the gesture of generosity. But my schedule, I told them, was packed. I explained that I was visiting the Middle East to learn more about CRS programming in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Lebanon. I was busy from dawn till dusk. They tried convincing me to drive to Nazareth for a day visit, insisting it would be their honor to host me. I thanked them for the invitation, but politely declined.

In the last few days, I’ve learned that Arab hospitality knows no bounds. A Palestinian woman with six children who can’t afford a door for her home warmly greeted a group of us with a serving tray of hot coffee before explaining, through an interpreter, why she depended on the CRS Food for Work program. (A single mother with little education, she relies on the program to feed her family.) Another Palestinian woman of modest means overwhelmed us with kindness by serving coffee, tea and trays of homemade baked goods. But my favorite example took place in the hills outside of Hebron, where an elderly Palestinian man lived with his wife, children and extended family in several tents—one for cooking, one for gathering and another for sleeping. His son served us coffee and the most delicious tea I’ve ever tasted. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will take up my time and thoughts for the next few days; for now, I am overwhelmed by the good conversation and great coffee. As for my seatmates on the plane, at least I have their e-mail.

– Liz O’Neill

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