Next month, Shatil will launch the fourth cadre of “Lowering the Walls,” an anti-racism training for Jerusalem leaders. In anticipation, we introduce you to a member of the last cohort, who as a result of his participation, is establishing a unique tourism project.
At 25, Ameer Abu Hamad has a college degree, co-owns a small business, is charming, smart, accomplished — and a living example of the little-understood complexity of being an Israeli-Palestinian. Born and raised in the pastoral northern Arab village, Uzier, Ameer grew up under the shadow of his soldier uncle’s death in action and a young cousin killed by police during the second intifada.
“I’m (considered) a traitor to the Palestinians because my uncle was a solider and a traitor to the Jewish side because my cousin was killed in the second intifada,” says Ameer. So he stopped telling the story.
The Abu Hamad family’s emphasis on education meant private schools for their children. Ameer’s father, a police officer, was the only one in his age group to earn a university degree. For his senior high school project, Ameer developed a drug classification system for hospitals, which inspired him to study medical engineering at the Hebrew University.
His first year there was miserable.
“Mohammed abu Khdeir was killed that year; there was a war with Gaza,” Ameer told NIF News. ” I didn’t connect to anyone I met. On every visit home, I announced I was not going back.”
But a chance conversation with a group of Jewish and Palestinian students changed his life.
“We talked about our distress and what we were experiencing,” says Ameer. “I finally had a place in which I could discuss my ideas, be myself and feel accepted. An idea was born to bring Arab and Jewish students together.”
The group called its project Wahad al Ahad (One-on-One.) About 250 students have participated in it every year since.
“During the memorial days, we lit two candles next to each pair and asked them to talk about their personal memories. It was the first time I saw an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian sitting opposite one another and talking about the own memories during this time.” Ameer was finally able to open up and tell his own story.
“Wahad-al-Ahad returned my faith in Jerusalem to me,” says Ameer. It also opened many doors. He continues to voluntarily guide the program with a Jewish partner, Noam Sonennberg. And through the project, he discovered he preferred to work with people than in a lab. After graduation, a contact he made through the project hired him to coordinate a program that trains Jerusalem Arab and Jewish teachers to combat classroom racism. One of the teachers’ meetings was held in the abandoned Arab village of Lifta, where one of the teachers was born. She told the group that her grandfather was killed during the 1948 expulsion and her father was killed during the family’s expulsion from Shoefat in 1967. Her brother is in jail for killing people in terror attack in 2001. At the end of her story, Ameer looked around and saw understanding in some of the Jewish teachers’ eyes. And tears on both sides.
“It was a powerful experience for me and connected to my own story. A seed was planted,” he says.
That seed was nurtured when Ameer woke on June 7, 2017 to find that his car had been damaged in a Price Tag attack. His anger and hopelessness were mitigated when dozens of people showed up to support him through Light Tag, a movement that counters Price Tag actions.
“I told them who I was and what happened in the place it occurred. It was an unforgettable experience. And I knew: This is what I need to do: Show Jerusalem to people through its residents.”
That same year, Ameer co-founded April Tours in East Jerusalem, so he was perfectly positioned to develop the idea of educational tours of Jerusalem based on personal stories. In Shatil’s Lowering the Walls training, as well as in a three-month Greenhouse that followed, Ameer and Noam Sonennberg, developed the idea and conducted two pilot tours.
“Lowering the Walls and the Greenhouse were among my best, most meaningful experiences in Jerusalem. I got tools from excellent professionals who were more like partners than facilitators,” says Ameer. “If I hadn’t participated in these, Nas Jerusalem (People of Jerusalem) would still be on the drawing board.”
April Tours’ location in East Jerusalem enables Ameer and his partners to have an office with original arches and exposed stone walls, but it also means major credit card and check cashing companies won’t work there and banks put limits on them. “These are some of the thousand difficulties we face on this path,” says Ameer. Not to mention the fact that in his French Hill neighborhood, he is stopped by police if he goes out to buy milk in the middle of the night.
Ameer is excited to be launching his dream project. “The goal of Nas Jerusalem is simply to know Jerusalem through its people – all its people. It’s about what is happening in Jerusalem now. We need to know the present so we can build the future.”