Read the group account of yesterday here. For me, yesterday was the day that things started to get rough. I don't know how anyone could see what we saw and say that it is not injustice.
When considering the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the situation often gets boiled down to two groups: Jews/Israelis, and Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian). But what about Arab Israelis? The Galilee, for example, where Nazareth is located, is all part of Israel (meaning, not part of a Palestinian territory). In this area, there are at least 100 Arab villages--and all of the inhabitants of these villages are Israeli citizens. How have they fared?
Yesterday we visited one such Arab village--Ayn Hawd. Located in the state of Israel, all of the 300 inhabitants of Ayn Hawd are Israeli citizens. We met with Mohamad Abu El-Hejah, a now-elderly Arab Israeli who grew up in Ayn Hawd, and whose family goes back there for generations. Mohamad told us the story of his village.
"Our village was over there," he said, pointing out the window to an area in the distance. In 1948, he explained, the Zionist militia came and the inhabitants of Ayn Hawd had to flee their village to the surrounding land. When they tried to return to their homes, they were prevented from doing so. Their village was taken and settled by Jews, and had even been renamed Ein Hud (the Hebrew-ized version of the old name). The previous inhabitants of Ayn Hawd were told by the government to go live elsewhere.
These families were simple farming families who grew things and herded cattle. They couldn't afford to leave the hills of Ayn Hawd and go settle in Haifa or elsewhere. How would they get there? How would they get money to buy houses? It was an impossible situation. Not to mention the fact that this was their land, and their identity was/is bound up with the land.
So they did the only thing they could do: start over. They slowly rebuilt their village a short distance away from the homes in which they had dwelled and the farmland they had cultivated for generations. But there was no end to the problems they would face. Their old village had a well, which was the source of water for their whole village, their livestock, and all of their farming. This new area of land had no water source--and worse, the Israelis had PUT UP A FENCE to prevent the Arabs from accessing their old well. The Arab children would look through the fence and see the Israelis' cows drinking water and ask, "Why do the cows have water and we don't?"
The Israeli government would not provide their rebuilt village with services (water, electricity, a road, etc) because it was not a recognized settlement. "You are squatters on agricultural land," the villagers were told. Nevermind that it was their land, and that when their old village was taken they had no where else to go. And why should they go elsewhere, anyway? The land belonged to them, whether it had been zoned as 'agricultural' by the new government or not.
Also because the village was not a recognized settlement, they were not allowed to build a school. But they did, in secret. They did not have electricity, but they were able to get it illegally for a while. They did not have water, so going down the mountain to get it and haul it back up (manually--no one had a car) was a daily task. They lived in this manner until 1994, when they were finally recognized by the state as a legitimate settlement--and were finally 'entitled' to receiving something as basic as water. They didn't officially get electricity until 2008.
This brings up one of Mohamad's points--that Arab citizens of Israel are second-class citizens. Even third-class, he added.
One thing I have neglected to mention is the way in which Israel finally gave recognition (and services) to the village of Ayn Hawd starting in 1994. They did not just decide to benevolently do it on their own accord. Rather, it took 30 YEARS of dedicated work from Mohamad and other village leaders. He told us that during his career of advocacy for the villages he has spoken with leaders from all over the world; spoken repeatedly at the United Nations; and authored or helped author 70,000 publications in newspapers and other types of print media throughout the world. "The story of my village is proof that one person change the world--a country--its laws. I did that."
This acknowledgement of his success on behalf of his village came with a caveat--that there are other Arab villages in Israel--again, whose inhabitants are Israeli citizens--who have a similar story and who have not been as successful, or successful at all (at securing basic services). It was at this point of the conversation that the humorous fatalism that Mohamad had exhibited throughout our time with him became quite strong. "I have worked for this for 30 years," he said. "I 'retired' from it 6 years ago. I could not do it anymore. I was done. There is no future for my village--I know this." He elaborated that there was no possibility of growth for Ayn Hawd--that even though they now had the 'right' to be there, that even to build one additional house required permission from the government--that is, if one could pay the price of $250,000 dollars for the land to build a home--a sum that the entire village doesn't have--not even close--even collectively. "Can you imagine, having to buy the land that has always been yours?" he asked.
Toward the end he came out of the reverie of storytelling, and with a deep breath and shake of the head said, "anyway, I can only look forward. I don't like history. I can't look around me," gesturing to the village in the distance that has for years been inhabited by strangers.