By Mona Al-Zuhairi
Yes, we are human right observers, and we are locals.
In September 2020, CPT Palestine was back to work after months of lockdown and restrictions due to COVID19. But, this time the team was different, for the first time the Palestine team was a team completely made up of locals.
Being a local team carries its challenges but also offers many benefits.
For years this team has conducted our meetings in English, and now it can be held in Arabic.
Using our mother tongue eases the process of building relationships with the community. Moreover, it makes the data collection easier during the incident and finally, the team can get information using the local community language.
Besides the importance of the accuracy of the information, speaking the same language creates compassionate communication. When talking to someone who is dealing with an emergency, it is essential to be aware of the culture and the words that should be used. It is more likely the community members will feel comfort and support due to the shared culture and proper language usage.
Another strength that a local team brings is the contextual insight into what is happening, as they themselves have been the subject of CPT documentation.
A working day on team is unpredictable and can be hard sometimes, so one of the crucial aspects of being a team of locals is the ability to use our first language for jokes and sarcasm; a good sense of humour lightens the load.
Having a local team also carries challenges, mainly around oppression and internalized oppression.
As a Palestinian and human right worker, a local team faces more restriction than foreigners in terms of locations they can access. For example, Palestinian team members have no access to Shuhada Street; walking there as a Palestinian is considered a felony under Israeli military order.
Although arrest, detention, or harassment are risks that all human right workers face while working in Al-Khalil, the chances are higher when you are a Palestinian human rights worker.
Another challenge arises in connection to the local community and internalized oppression.
Being a local means that this person does not carry any privilege connected to race or passport. Growing up in the Middle East, we learned that white people are better and more valued. In Al-Khalil, the western human right worker is more trusted, considered more helpful and more valued, not because they do the work better, but because of the oppressive systems the world operates through. This system makes a testimony from a white male more valid to Palestinian males under oppression. Therefore, the team has been asked, “What would you do for us?” and they have heard “they can't do a lot, where are the foreigners”?
Having a local team means to struggle and fight systemic oppression by the Israeli occupation as well as internalized oppression. However, they also bring authentic compassion and a sense of humour needed to keep going.