Two brothers from al-Khalil
*Please note, due to safety reasons for the brothers, their real names will not be used. Quotes have been taken from an interview conducted by CPT with the brothers.
Gasim and Waleed are two brothers who were born, and have grown up in the Old City of al-Khalil (Hebron). They are from a big family, with five brothers and three sisters. We spoke with them about what their life has been like, what their hopes are and what they see as important to create change.
G: “I left my school when I was 12 years old. I left my school because when you are born in the Old City of Hebron, in the middle of Israeli settlements, and the military it’s difficult to live. When I left my school I worked, to help myself and my family. It was my choice…
I know a lot of people who have left school because they can’t see a future for themselves.
Actually, leaving was good for me. I would like to study, but when I left my school I learnt a lot of things, and I have had lots of experiences…
When I left school I was selling things in the city, near the al- Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City, even before I left school, when I was 8/9 years old, I was selling things to the tourists, and I started to learn English from them.”
At 20 years old Gasim has opened up a shop and a hostel. Waleed, who is two years younger, works at the shop now while Gasim takes care of the hostel. Waleed left school when he was 11 years old. He also sold things near the Mosque, with his brother.
Growing up under Israeli occupation, in particular, in the Old City, they have seen a lot of violence, oppression and even killings.
W: “This is our life; it’s normal. It’s the life I’ve grown up with. I have seen many things. I’ve seen Palestinians shot. Just here [points up the road] at this checkpoint, a 15-year-old girl was killed. I was sitting here at my shop. She wanted to go to the Mosque. She entered the checkpoint, and in Hebrew the soldiers said “open your back.” She didn’t speak or understand Hebrew. She was very scared. There were 6 soldiers around her. They thought she had a knife because she was so scared. They shot her in the leg. She tried to stand up, then they shot her with 5 bullets. Even if she had a knife, you’re soldiers, you shoot one bullet in her leg. Don’t shoot her with 5 bullets. Of course she was scared. If it was me, I would be scared with 6 soldiers around me.”
Gasim often takes tours through the Old City. When asked if he had happy memories in the Old City, he said yes.
G: “I was happy when I was going out with my friends and when I saw tourists, I was happy to see different people visiting the area. It was something that made me happy but other things made me sad as well, because you don’t have freedom to do what you want. There are more sad things here than happy.
I went to Denmark in 2015-2016, for one year. That made me very happy but also sad at the same time. I was happy because I had a chance to go outside of the country, a dream I had since I was very young. Denmark is beautiful. I saw the difference in the life there, you can walk freely and it’s safe. You can travel anywhere, you can study and do whatever you like. You don’t see war, violence, killing or guns. That’s something that was very good for me to see. A lot of things changed in my life when I saw how beautiful and free things were. We don’t have this here.
While I was happy, I was sad at the same time, why can’t I be like anyone who lives here?
Years later, after a happy child enjoyed seeing tourists coming to the Old City, Gasim now runs his hostel and takes tours around the Old City. He see’s this as a very important way to create change. Gasim and Waleed have great insights into what they can do to be part of change in Palestine.
G: “That’s what I dream to see here also [health cover, free education, a safe life like they have in Denmark]. To see things change, to have more support and more chances in our life… I’ve always known I don’t have a future. That’s why I left my school. If I thought there was a future I would have studied, gone to university and got a job. But when I see that even doctors and teachers are without jobs, I say “what about me?”
You can make mistakes in life and learn from them, and you can meet people and learn from them. I learnt English from the street, not from school.
I like to share these things because it’s very important for other people to know and to read it, to see stories of us here. These are stories people don’t see in the media. Maybe people will see it and some people will be interested in reading it. Others may want to come and visit, to see for themselves.
That’s what will change our life. Talking to and meeting people; showing them around. That’s the solution. Violence is not a solution, it’s never the solution. I don’t believe in war, or killing because that will make it worse, it won’t solve anything. We need solutions. We need people to know the truth, to see both sides. Not just one side; everyone hears from the Israeli side but people should also listen from our side. They shouldn’t only listen to Israel just because they have power, guns and money. They should listen to the Palestinian side. There are many people with stories and many who want to share them.”
W: “What can I do? Make a free Palestine? I can’t. I can only do one thing, myself and other people my age, when we cross the checkpoints we should be nice. Then slowly, over time, as we treat them nicely, maybe it will change a little bit. Because it’s the state of Israel, not about the individual soldiers. The soldiers are children, a lot of them are 18,19 and 20 years old.”
Waleed hopes that the future generations to come won’t have to live under the occupation, like he and his siblings have had to.
W: “One day when I get married and have children, I need my children and the other children, to grow up in a free place. For myself I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve grown up in this life. I’m 18 and I am very tired.
I pray and have hope. That’s how I get by every day.”
Waleed has a beautiful love for his home city of al-Khalil. When he speaks of his home a contagious smile shines over his face and you can’t help feel the love he has for this place.
W: “It is a very nice place, Hebron. It is a holy place. When I travel, to places like Bethlehem, I am happy. But when I am on the service taxi coming into Hebron, I feel home. I smell Hebron. I like it more and more when I return. I am relaxed when I’m here. I feel very relaxed and happy.”