Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Story of Two Ein Hods

If you google Ein Hod, you find an artists’colony in Israel, near the Mediterranean Sea, with galleries, art workshops, guided tours, restaurants and a map showing you how to get there for a day of relaxation. Our bus, enroute to Ein Hod, didn’t stop here however. We had an appointment to meet with the mayor of Ein Hod, Muhammed Abu al-Haija, who does not live in the quaint artists’ village. He and his family and all of the other residents fled this village in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war.

When the war ended, the Israel authorities did not permit them to return to the village, so, rather than go to the Jenin refugee camp, Muhammed al-Haija’s grandfather and 35 other families trekked up the hill to their farmland and lived in their olive groves and the fields where they grazed their sheep. They built houses to live in, but, because the new village at the top of the hill was “unrecognized” by the Israeli authorities, they could not get access to electricity or water. The Israelis bulldozed some of their homes because they were built without permits. Although the Arab villagers were Israeli citizens and paid taxes, the Israeli government would not build a road to their village because it was not on the map. When they petitioned the government for recognition, they were told that it was too small, it was classified “agricultural land” and that they could not build there; they were called “squatters.” Finally, after many years spent in Israeli government offices, contacting officials, organizing with other unrecognized villages and holding protests in Jerusalem, upper Ein Hod was finally recognized in 1992, and their village address could be listed on their Israeli identity cards.

It took fifteen more years, but in 2007 they were finally connected to the electric grid. They built a kindergarten and an elementary school., and they built a road with money they withheld from their taxes, so that their children could ride the bus to the high school in Haifa. And finally they were permitted to install a water system. They still cannot use their cemetery, but they have built a new one at the top of the hill.

One hundred other Arab villages are still waiting for recognition.

The ultimate insult was when Iaraelis “discovered” the “abandoned” village of Ein Hod at the bottom of the hill. Artists moved into the empty buildings, even turning their mosque into a restaurant for tourists. The artists sit and paint under the beautiful olive trees which were planted by the Arab villagers hundreds of years ago.

With the electricity, Mayor al-Haija has built his own restaurant in the village at the top of the hill. It has a patio with beautiful gardens and ancient olive trees and people like our tour group come there for delicious hummus and roast lamb. Mayor al-Haija told us that he worked hard for many years to get recognition for his village and then fighting for electricity, water and roads. Now he is tired and he says it is up to the next generation. Only two houses currently have electricity—the others await permits. Their houses can be bulldozed at any time because they still do not have permits to build.

No comments: