A day on call with CPT in Hebron, Palestine – February 2020

This is a perspective from a CPT white male reservist from the UK, so bear in mind that this is through a lens of passport, white and male ‘privilege’. In other words bear in mind I cannot know what Palestinians feel about these issues.

I have deliberately chosen a day without extreme violence or clashes etc. to emphasise the routine and everyday structural violence of the occupation and settler colonisation.

Being on call involves working as a pair. with phone to hand, ready to take calls from the CPTer allocated to the team phone that day as part of rotated daily duties, for routine on call work and any incidents that may arise.

So, take today the 13th February:

We’re up at 6 for a quick cup of tea and a pastry, and meet up with the others in the team office at 06.40, and divide ourselves between different checkpoints.

Our role at checkpoints is to monitor and document the numbers of children going through, and to record any other violations of human rights such as searches, delays, detainments etc (bearing in mind that having to go through a military or border police controlled checkpoint is already a restriction on freedom of movement and a violation of human rights).

This morning two other pairs of CPTers are going to Qutein, and Salaymeh checkpoints, and Louise and I are heading over to Cortoba check point.

We walk through the tunnels of the Old City souk only to find the mosque check point crowded with Palestinians, held up because of some delay of unknown cause.

We’re already running late so we turn tail and re-trace our steps towards checkpoint 56, an alternative entrance to what is known as the H2 high security zone (H2HSZ). See the map, but note that the topography is complex.

We are trying to get to Cortoba checkpoint by 7am – this checkpoint lies on Shuhada street within the H2HSZ, and consists of a soldier in a sentry box, with his ubiquitous machine gun, who controls the gate that leads to Cortoba kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools.

By the by, since Trump/Netanyahu’s proposed plans for Palestinian subjugation to their domination there has been increased aggression and questioning of CPTers at checkpoints which has made us a little nervous. We all have a good idea of what to say if we’re asked why we’re there. And we double check we have our passports and no incriminating photos on our cameras.

We walk briskly past the watchtower at Bab al Balladye, past Bab az Zawiye, and through to check point 56 where a child of 16 was shot dead through the chest by the Israeli Defense Force a few days ago. We are nervous as we go through the intimidating architecture of the checkpoint (see photo).

At first encounter these monstrosities make no sense to the foreigner, and it takes time and repeated exposure and experience of them for feelings to develop appropriate to the dehumanising impact they have (on, I suggest, everybody, but of course intentionally and oppressively on the Palestinians). The checkpoints guard the H2HSZ, which is the area demarcated by the military to enable and protect Israeli Jewish Zionist settler colonisation.

We pass through the heavy metal turnstile, and through the concrete shed with its metal detector under the gaze of two soldiers behind a (presumably bullet and knife proof) screen. We glance at them to double check whether they want to check our IDs, and also, possibly, to hopefully indicate our fearlessness and hence innocence of wrongdoing – to avoid being stopped. Anyway, we both get through unscathed.

We walk along Shuhada Street for a few hundred metres, and turn right by Cortoba checkpoint where we’re both asked where we’re from, and to show passports, by the soldier on duty: a form of minor harassment of activists, and becoming more common.

We wait on a path higher up, overlooking Shuhada Street, the checkpoint, and the stark huge overbearing Hadassah settlement building, on the path that leads to the school.

We watch the children and teachers as they also pass through this soldier-controlled gate.

We’re there for about 90 minutes, and we really enjoy interacting with the children as they pass by.

But as well has happy children, we are aware of the checkpoint and the settler children on Shuhada Street, escorted by settlers holding machine guns.

From where we stand we see and hear an over-bearing and loud settler giving a tour to American youth. He is using forceful, indoctrinating and biased de-contextualised narratives about the 1929 massacre of Jews (ignoring Zionist violence in Jerusalem by extremist religious European Jewish immigrants fomenting unrest). And, he is extolling stories of past Zionist settler heroism, and the ‘necessary even though reckless’ sacrifice of individual life of Jews so that Jewish life may live. He exhorts the all-too impressionable youngsters to seek out the sacrifices they each can make, as if for the greater glory and longevity of Jewish Israeli nationalism.

This illustrates just one of zionism’s fascist features – the cult of heroism: described by Umberto Eco in his 1995 essay:

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

So, we are becoming increasingly aware of the intensity of this apartheid and oppressive security regime imposed by a settler-military-state ideology of relentless colonisation: in the name of a mixture of biblical origin myths and more contemporary fears and antisemitic victimhood.

The rest of the day is uneventful, in the afternoon we escort children from the kindergarten near the mosque and patrol the checkpoints at Qutein and Salaymeh for the children going home.

We have other tasks in hand to think about, inputting data on the computer, writing as part of our advocacy activities, meetings with partners in Hebron and with visitors or delegations, domestic tasks such as maintenance work or preparing dinner for the team.

Not much down time, but we emphasise the importance of self-care for everybody and try to get some rest at some point. Some team members use the gym in the newer part of Hebron about 20 minutes walk away from the apartment.

That evening we get a call from a team member, it appears that the military are carrying out a home invasion, and somebody has contacted the team and asked us to go. We get a taxi, but there is confusion over the location. We have a team member who speaks Arabic which helps and she liaises with the family and the taxi driver. We are dropped off in a residential area near Tel Rumeida. And we feel apprehensive about confronting the military in this situation. However, despite making enquiries we draw a blank and head back to the team office/apartment. We were at the wrong location, and we hear the military have left the home. We agree a home visit by us next week would be a good idea.

Back to bed. A day without any major crisis, of routine work, but demanding in many ways nonetheless.

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