Palestinian youth worker comes to Bristol to share his experience of living under military occupation

When Abdulwahab Sabbah was 16 he was arrested by the Israeli Army. Now, he is 53 with five children of his own and is working to build hope for young people growing up in Palestine today.

His own family, like many other Palestinians, are separated by the West Bank wall and and have different colour I.D cards which mean some of his children are not allowed to visit his house. As a youth worker at human rights charity CADFA and a Palestinian living under military occupation, Abdulwahab wants facilitate exchanges where Palestinians can share their experiences with people in Bristol.

The Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA), founded in London 20 years ago by Director Nandita Dowson, is now launching its latest project in Bristol and for the first time and Abdulwahab will be visiting the city tomorrow (Sunday, October 15). He said: “Our work is to try and reach people and raise awareness about human rights issues in Palestine.

READ MORE:Inside Bristol’s Palestine Museum – where closing would actually be a good thing

“We met young people who came to Palestine from Bristol through CADFA and we watched the solidarity that people in Bristol had for the Black Lives Matter movement, when the [Colston] statue came down.

“For us, Palestinians, we are in the same situation and we are still suffering racism. I was born in a suburb of Jerusalem and I was married to a woman who lived in the old city of Jerusalem.

“Suddenly the city was cut with a separation wall, leaving me and my family on two sides of the wall. Many people, not just my family, are separated on either side of the wall,” explained Abdulwahab.

In 2002 the construction of the separation wall began and has made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians. At first people would lift their children over the wall or find gaps in the wall so they could get to school, work or just go to the shop to buy a loaf of bread.

In July 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled the construction of the wall to be in breach of international law because it involved the destruction and confiscation of Palestinian property and severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. The court ordered for Israel to dismantle the wall and for Palestinians to receive reparations for all the damage caused by the construction of the wall.

The wall, constructed to protect illegal Israeli settlements in The West Bank was painted by Banksy back in 2005 who described the wall as turning “Palestine into the world’s largest open air prison”. He then opened “The Walled off Hotel” in 2017 to draw attention to the wall which is now over 700km long.

NFS-Israel-Banksy Walled Off Hotel
Banksy Walled Off Hotel
(Image: Noel Flanagan and Arfan Mahmood)

Abdulwahab said that people need to visit Palestine to really understand what life is like there and he said that people are usually shocked when they do. In addition to the wall, freedom of movement is restricted through military checkpoints, a segregated road system which are enforced through I.D cards and colour coded number plates.

Palestinians have to pass military checkpoints to get to schools, hospital and shops. Abdulwahab said he read in the news last week that a women had given birth at a military checkpoint because the only maternity ward was located in a hospital on the other side of the wall.

He fears for his sons lives who have to cross a checkpoint to get to work, especially after recent reports of a 17-year-old in Abu Dis being shot dead by an Israeli sniper. Abdulwahab wants people people in Bristol to see what life is like, living under occupation where he says there is no accountability for Palestinian lives lost.

When he was young, life was not easy for Abdulwahab, living under military occupation but for the young people growing up today who make up the majority of the Palestinian population, they have never known a life without a separation wall.

The West Bank wall separates Abdulwahab from his family, living on the other side.
(Image: CADFA)

Abdulwahab said: “I’m coming to Bristol carrying the pain of one of the fathers who lost his son last week when an Israeli sniper shot and killed him. We’ve lost three young people this year in Abu Dis alone.

“My two sons are working inside West Jerusalem, I’m worried at night that they will reach home safely. We are living under military control, emergency rules, soldiers with guns who have all the authority and are well protected by their government in a way that they can simply kill and [get away with it].

“Coming to the UK is a life changing experience for young people who get to share their experiences. I know exactly how these young people are feeling inside this cage that Israel has built around them.

‘The hunger for freedom never dies’

“Even when a bird is born inside a cage, the hunger for freedom never dies. We want our young people to see something different from this cage and inspire them to work for their dignity, human rights and freedom and not to lose hope.”

Over the past few years, CADFA has organised group visits between Palestine and the UK and would now like to extend those visits to more cities in the UK, including Bristol. Director Nandita Dowson said: “[The visits are] a serious way of taking Palestinian voices (usually not heard) round to many different groups and organisations –school classes and assemblies, youth clubs and community organisations.

“The Palestinian visitors were excited to get out of the confined spaces they are allowed to live in under Israeli occupation, and young people in particular are amazed to be away from checkpoints, settlements and military invasions into local towns. They carried with them the terrible stories that young Palestinians always do, of tear gas and bullets in the streets, army around the school door, separated families with relatives on the other side of impassable military walls.

“People they met listened, were shocked, wanted to hear more and wanted to join them in working for human rights in Palestine. Everywhere that the visitors went, people asked for them to come back, wanted them to stay for longer, wanted them to visit different organisations, and had ideas for new activities. So the idea of Building Hope was born.”

Abdulwahab Sabbah will be speaking about the new project ‘Building Hope’, organised by the charity CADFA, at the Bristol launch this Sunday (October 16) at 5.50pm in The Palestine Museum, 27 Broad Street, BS1 2HG. For more information or if you would like to get involved in the project please email: contact@cadfa.org.

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