Interview with CPT Palestine

Ameera and Bahaa discuss how their lives have been affected by Israel’s war on Gaza and speak to the Palestinian dream of life without apartheid and occupation.
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[Interview has been shortened and edited for clarity] 

Apartheid-Free sat down for an interview with Human Rights Observers Ameera Nadir and Bahaa Sultan to discuss how the Israeli occupation affects their daily lives in Hebron, Palestine—a city divided by 24 Israeli checkpoints. Ameera and Bahaa both work for Community Peacemaker Teams, a Palestinian-led, nonviolent, grassroots resistance group against Israeli apartheid located in the H2 area of Al-Khalil/Hebron city and south Hebron Hills. Ameera and Bahaa discuss how their lives have been affected by Israel’s war on Gaza and speak to the Palestinian dream of life without apartheid and occupation. 

Could you both start by introducing yourselves and describing your roles in Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT)? 

Ameera:  My name is Ameera Nadir and I’m from Hebron, Palestine. I’ve been working as a human rights observer for CPT since 2020 right after the COVID outbreak. We used to be a foreigner team with one or two locals. But after the pandemic, we are now fully Palestinian. We have foreign volunteers come and leave, but they just come to volunteer for a few months. 

Bahaa: My name is Bahaa, I’m also from Hebron. I started working with CPT in 2021, almost two and a half years ago. I work as a human rights observer as well. 

Can you tell me about Community Peacemaker Teams and why CPT-Palestine is located in Hebron?  

Ameera: So CPT Palestine started as a small group from the Mennonite church who came to Hebron after the Hebron massacre in 1994, where Baruch Goldstein, the settler, entered the Ibrahimi Mosque and started killing the Palestinians there. He killed 29 Palestinians and more than 50 were injured that day. Then the Israeli occupation took the whole mosque for three months, and at that time the [CPT] group came to Hebron and the Hebron municipality asked CPT to have a team in Hebron. 

The plan was for the CPT Palestine team to stay for just six months, but then the situation became worse and worse after the Israeli occupation signed the Hebron Protocol, which divided Hebron to H1 and H2. H1 is under the Palestinian authority and H2 is under the Israeli authority.  

Then they [Israel] started building the settlements in the middle of the city, so now there is the restricted area and the H2 area, and the restricted area is where the [Israeli] settlements are built, which is surrounded by 24 checkpoints. So, there are Palestinians left in the restricted area, but they have access from the soldiers to go outside and inside this area. [See explanation of H1 and H2 here]. 

What does your daily life look like in occupied Hebron as a Human Rights Observer? 

Ameera: The human rights observers on the CPT Palestine team accompany [Palestinian] children who pass from the checkpoints in the restricted area while they go to school, because there are thousands of families that live in the restricted area, their children they have to go to school, and they have to pass through the checkpoints and the [Israeli] soldiers always try to attack them.  

And these children, whose ages are between 5 and 18, might be detained, arrested or attacked from the soldiers. So our work is to stand by these checkpoints and observe the children. If anything happened to the children, we try to contact other organizations or the DCO(District Coordination Office) in the Palestinian side [H1] who can fix the problem with the Israeli side, but they might help or might not help. There are many children under 18 who are arrested for months in Israeli prisons. So this is the most important thing that we are doing in our work. 

We also do a lot of family visits and we make sure to tell their stories in our website, monthly newsletter, and our social media. We always try to stand with the indigenous people, the Palestinian people, talk about their stories, and try to observe what is happening in the area. 

Could you describe the conditions that the Palestinian children who are detained face? 

Ameera: As a human right observer, I witness many children get detained in each two areas [H1 and H2]. 

One of the stories I want to tell you is because this story is really hard.  

So, we observe the checkpoints twice a day, first when the children go to their schools and then when they leave the schools. One day, when the children were leaving their schools on the first day of the semester, there were some children throwing some stones on the checkpoint. The soldiers went outside and spoke to the children, one of them was five years old and the other one was seven years old. They [the soldiers] took them inside the checkpoint, so no one could see them. 

So we stood outside and tried to contact another organization who has direct coordination with the Israeli side, but they [Israeli soldiers] didn’t allow us to see the children. Then, their father came to the checkpoint and they [Israeli soldiers] didn’t even allow for the father to see his children. They detained the children for more than five hours, and they were really scared. After five hours [passed], we called ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and they came and helped release the children. 

We went to the family the next day and we asked them what happened. So they told us it was [the children’s] first day in school – they were in a school in H1 and not in H2 – so it was also their first day crossing the checkpoint. The [Israeli] soldiers wanted the children to tell them the names of who was throwing the stones but the children didn’t know the other kids yet because it was their first day in school. So they [Israeli soldiers] told them ‘you are liars and we will not leave you until you tell us the names of the children.’ 

I remember this story really well, and how the father was really scared. He just wanted to cry because he wanted his children and it was their first day of school. So yeah, this one of the stories that happened on the checkpoints. And many other stories happened, there is a lot of children arrested by these checkpoints. Imagine the children, they have to pass the checkpoint every single day. 

Bahaa: I want to talk about another story that I witnessed, its was maybe one year ago. CPT was monitoring a checkpoint in downtown Hebron, called Bab Al-Zawiya. There was one child around 10 or 12 throwing stones at the checkpoint, and suddenly the soldiers came, caught him, and put him on the ground.  

It is a sad thing, I can’t forget it. The kid started crying and said, ‘it’s not me, it’s not me.’ The four soldiers put him on the ground and started beating him and yeah, I won’t forget this. 

Could you talk about how you see Apartheid affecting your community?   

Ameera: In CPT, we work on different projects such as the Through their Lens project which is where we do workshops for children to give them a space away from the occupation and away from their families to talk about things that they love to talk about. The workshops are for children between 5 to 10 and we give them the space, they choose the topics.  

The last workshop was about the occupation and the aggression on Gaza. We heard many stories from the children. I really love this project because you can hear many different stories. We always tell them, don’t talk about the occupation, just think about things you love. But in one way or another, it always ends with the occupation. They have been facing this occupation every day since they were born.  

Bahaa: As Ameera mentioned, the children talk about their dreams, but the occupation is always the main problem. 

In the last session, we asked them to draw things about children’s rights. Most of them draw beaches or them playing football or something like that. They dream to move freely to anywhere without waiting at the checkpoint, many things like that.  

Ameera: As I told you, because of the restricted area, Israel is taking many buildings and trying to say that it’s from Israeli history. 

So we have a project called Stories Within Stones where we talk with Palestinians who have memories in different buildings and try to save the history because they [Israel] are taking many buildings and claiming it for Israel. We have [Palestinian] people who have history in these buildings. So we try to make episodes about the buildings in the old city to talk about the history.  

One of them [the buildings] was Osama School. Osama was the first school in Hebron. There are many people who have studied in this school because it’s the first one. So after 1987, the Israeli occupation claimed this school and built another two floors and made it a Jewish school. So now we’re not allowed to go in this school. So we made an episode about it and spoke with people who used to study in this school. So yeah, we try to save history with this project. 

I wanted to ask if you could you describe what has changed for you and other Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7th? 

Bahaa: Our work has changed since October 7th and life has changed for the people who are living in the restricted area. Like Ameera mentioned, H2 is the restricted area and is surrounded by many checkpoints but we can’t access them like we could before the 7th of October. 

The people who are live there [H2], they [Israeli soldiers] give them like limited hours to go out and buy food or supplements for the home and to come back. Once the curfew is over, they don’t allow them to leave.  

Ameera: After the 7th of October, our whole life changed in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the 7th of October, the Israeli soldiers closed all of the checkpoints in the restricted area and didn’t allow for the people to go through. For the first two weeks, they didn’t allow for the people even to go outside their homes. 

I spoke with someone who lives in the restricted area, she’s a university student. She told me that she couldn’t even stand by her window because she lives next to one of the checkpoints. She told me if a soldier saw her, he would start beating her just because she is not allowed to go out. It was really horrible.  

After the two weeks, they [Israeli soldiers] gave them a curfew with specific hours. For example, you will go outside from only 7 to 9pm for only 3 days a week. So that was the situation for four months. 

Bahaa: Now they have more hours – it’s getting a little bit better than before. When the war started, we couldn’t go to our office because our offices are all in the old city, which is now totally under Israeli control. Other people too feel a little bit scared to go to the markets in the old city like they could before. In the restricted area, many people were also sick in the first part of the war, [but] they [Israeli soldiers] don’t allow for them to go to the hospital or to get any medicine. 

And are the children going to school? 

Ameera: Yeah, this is the point that I want to talk about. The children have to go back to the schools online like during COVID, and when we talk with the families, they have many sad stories. For example, the internet in the restricted area is really bad because the Palestinian Internet company doesn’t have good access to Internet. 

There are some families that have five children and just two telephones. So some of their children can be in their classes, but the others can’t. Some fathers also cannot go to work, so if there is no money, there is no Internet. So the children cannot learn and there are no schools. 

What is your vision of Palestine without apartheid and occupation? What would it look like for the children that you monitor through the checkpoints who go to school every day? From what you have shared, it seems like they have many dreams of life without apartheid.  

Ameera: I think I just need a city without checkpoints, I just want to go to any place I want to go. I just want to visit the sea. I’m 25 now and I have never seen the sea in my life. It’s the same for many Palestinians. 

I just want to go to Haifa. It’s one of my dreams to visit Haifa, but I can’t. I just want to have one week without the occupation controlling something in my life, but every single thing in my life is controlled by the occupation. It’s not just about checkpoints and soldiers. There are a lot of things I want to do, but can I do them? No. 

Bahaa: For me also, my age now is around 40. I remember that I passed into Shuhada Street like two or three times, but after the second Intifada, it’s [been] closed [for Palestinians]. It used to be very easy for the people of Hebron to access to the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of the city. It is my dream to go there again. And of course, I have also have a dream to go to the beach or to travel without these borders. As a Palestinian, we have to travel from Jordan because it is not allowed for us to use the airport here. So, as anyone in the world, we have a dream to travel freely, to move freely anywhere and to go to the beach without a checkpoint and, inshallah, without soldiers. 

What do you as Palestinians who live in Hebron see as the most impactful form of protest from those who don’t live in Palestine? 

Ameera: So for me, I really want the people to boycott the companies who are supporting Israel, especially now McDonald’s and Starbucks, and many other companies that were announced in BDS (https://bdsmovement.net/)

Also, making demonstrations to put pressure on your governments to stop this genocide against Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank. You can also invite speakers from Palestine to talk more about the stories that happened here from Jerusalem, from Haifa, from Jenin, and from other cities in West Bank. I will also ask the people to come to Palestine and see these stories of apartheid with their eyes because it’s really different. For example, CPT is announcing delegations where people can come visit Hebron. So, I would like to ask the people to come to here and to watch everything in their eyes and talk about their stories. 

I will also ask them to continue to share posts on social media because it’s raising the awareness around the world, so more people know about the reality of Israel and Palestine. 

Bahaa: The media is very biased in the western world. And some people, unfortunately, don’t look for the reality, what is really going on here, so it’s very important for the people to know about what is going on. As Ameera mentioned, CPT Palestine has a delegation here. I think it’s different when people come [to Palestine] and see the reality, it’s very different from hearing about it. 


This article was first published at Apartheid-Free Campaign, AFSC

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