Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

– article by Annabel van Heesbeen

Utrecht is paradise on earth in the summer

Foto: Robert Oosterbroek

“Everything’s so relaxed in the Netherlands: no stress to speak of, the streets are calm and friendly, and people don’t shout at each other. It’s such a welcome change from Israel”, says Najuan Daadleh. “I never felt comfortable in Israel; I have Palestinian ID and I’m officially Israeli.” Najuan explains that she didn’t notice much tension while she was growing up. Government or politics were never talked about at home. But later on, she realised that although these subjects had been important to her family, they were never mentioned for fear of being arrested. She didn’t become aware of her country´s political history until she went to university in Tel Aviv at the age of nineteen. “My attitude towards my own identity changed radically; only then did I understand what it is to be Palestinian.”

In 2000, thirteen Arab protesters were shot dead by Israeli police. This event prompted Najuan to take a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution in Jerusalem. Najuan was the first Palestinian in ten years to take the course. She didn’t like the style of teaching and went to America to complete her degree. “In the USA, I experienced ultimate freedom without tension for the first time ever. I was able to speak English – a neutral language – instead of the forced Hebrew I’d been brought up with.” While on holiday in Cuba in 2007, she met a Dutchman called Oscar. Their holiday romance blossomed and they stayed in touch via e-mails. Najuan moved back to Israel from the USA and the couple met up whenever they could. In 2014, she finally said ‘yes’.

Own cultural centre

The wedding ring signified a move to Utrecht. She refers to the city as small but very diverse. Najuan would prefer to live in a city where she can feel anonymous, but she’s starting to appreciate the compact nature of Utrecht with its narrow streets and alleyways. “I find the winters very difficult. The city is still and quiet and everything closes at 18.00. But in the summer, particularly when I’m biking, Utrecht is like a paradise on earth. Everyone’s outside and you can do more because it stays light for so long.” She’s particularly impressed by the interaction between the municipality of Utrecht and the population. “If the municipality has redevelopment or building plans, you’re informed about them and even asked for your opinion. That’s just fantastic.”

Najuan keeps a blog about her experiences as a ‘new Dutch resident’. It’s called TOCH. She writes about learning not to be frightened when the alarms are sounded every month and that it’s respectful to take off your coat if you visit someone. She’s pleased with her job at stichting Wishing Well West, a social meeting place for people living in the Lombok and Utrecht West districts. Najuan coordinates the Language & Talent project there and helps children to do their homework. Her dream is to open her own cultural centre, with room for the Arab culture. It would be a place with coffee, Arabic books, music performances and debating evenings. Najuan’s ambition is to help people to connect and understand each other better.

Name: Najuan Daadleh
Place of birth: Lod, Palestine
Motto: ‘Anything’s possible if your vision is clear’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

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