Five checkpoints to home

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Stories from Palestine
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Imagine going through five checkpoints to get home each evening. One has a metal detector. The others are simply young soldiers with guns and phones. At each checkpoint you can be delayed until a phone call determines whether you can move on or not. Arriving home, you greet your children inside because it is unsafe for them to play out in the backyard. Your neighbors don’t like your family and want you to move.  They throw rocks and rubbish at your children and into your yard. Your fruit trees are close to the neighbors, so they call soldiers to prevent you from harvesting your own crops. You are prevented from driving your car up to your own home; everything must be hauled uphill on foot. Your one friendly neighbor no longer lives next door. Another family took advantage of your neighbor’s absence and moved into the house. The police will not evict the family but will, in fact, prevent you from getting too close to that house, even to pick your own grapes. Of course you could move. You have even been offered a lot of money for your house and your land. So why do you stay? Because this house, this land, these grapes and olives are your inheritance. Like Naboth, who refused to sell or trade his vineyard to King Ahab, you say to those who rule the land,”The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” (1 Kings 21:1-16)

What we can hardly imagine is Hani’s story. Our CPT delegation walked with him through the five checkpoints to his home on the top of Tel Rumeida in Hebron, West Bank, Palestine. We had just cleared one checkpoint and were halfway up the hill when the children of a settler family spotted us and called to their mother. She has a particularly vindictive personality and regularly calls the soldiers to delay Hani. That day was no different, even with eleven internationals accompanying him. We all waited until the soldier made a phone call and finally waived us through.

We walked past several settler cars parked in front of Hani’s gate. Hani cannot drive up to his home. Everything must be brought in on foot. Recently he had to drag his washing machine down the hill for repairs. Once inside his gate Hani pointed to a ripe olive overhanging the wall. “I can’t pick this,” he said. I didn’t understand–why couldn’t he pick an olive that practically hit him on the head as he walked in his own yard? “Their are cameras everywhere,” he explained. “The soldiers will come and arrest me for harvesting my olives.” He motioned to several trellises full of ripe grapes. “I cannot work the grapes because the settlers throw rubbish at me and call the soldiers.” Sure enough, the ground just under the windows of the house next door was full of trash.

Hani’s daughter showed me around the back side of the house. “We play in here,” she said, pointing to the enclosed back porch. Rounding a corner of the house she showed me a circle of chairs about ten feet away. “The settlers sit there and yell at us,” she said. Walking further behind the house we saw ancient olive trees loaded with ripe fruit. Hani was given two half-days to harvest his olives. This was a good year and the harvest typically takes four weeks. Hani pointed to a fenced off area and indicated that it contained an Israeli military post that is located on his land. The cameras and soldiers prevent him from even trying to harvest his trees.

Hani told us that his nearest neighbors are Jewish settlers who moved into the house when the Palestinian owner was away. The owner’s elderly parents were in the home, but settlers broke in and beat them. When the owner’s parents were taken away for medical care, settlers occupied the house. The owner has been to court several times–at great expense–to evict the illegal settlers. But each time he presents the eviction order, the family named in the order has moved and another family taken its place.

We took a different route back into the Old City of Hebron. Hani led us down a steep and broken stairway. I held on to rocks and branches and gingerly felt my way down the steps. I tried to imagine Hani’s wife traversing that stairway in her long dress carrying groceries or her youngest child. Somehow they manage.

Hani said that he has been offered $20 million for his property. He was encouraged move to another country and start a new life. The settlers told him that if he didn’t take the money and leave, they would make his life miserable and find ways to make him move anyway. But Hani is determined to stay on his ancestral land. He knows that his hilltop home is an ideal place for settlement expansion and that if he leaves, the few remaining Palestinian homes in that area will be confiscated. Besides, he asks, “Where would I go? This is my family’s land. This is my home.”

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