For Majd Abu Haikel’s graduation project from Al Quds University, she was supposed to take an object’s photograph and then paint a vision of what it could become. The object she chose was one familiar to all the residents of Tel Rumeida in the city of Al-Khalil/Hebron: a tree destroyed by settlers. She painted the dead almond tree bursting into blossom. That painting hangs in the home of her parents, Feryal and Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel, who, in spite of decades of settler and soldier violence, have managed to raise eleven children on Tel Rumeida. They have gone on to university and careers but remain close-knit and determined to stay where they are in spite of all the efforts of the Tel Rumeida settlers to get them to move.
The newest blow to the Abu Haikel family happened on 5 January 2013, when a bulldozer leveled their sixty-year old almond orchard and installed a caravan (mobile home) in preparation for yet another expansion of the Hebron settlement enterprise. The father of Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel, Rateb Abu Haikel, had sublet the land from Chaim Bajaio, a member of Hebron’s original pre-1929 Jewish community (whose family the Abu Haikels rescued from the 1929 massacre.) Bajai had leased it on behalf of the Jewish Waqf (religious foundation) from the Islamic Waqf, run by Tamim Adari. In 1949, after the West Bank came under Jordanian rule, it was transferred to the Custodian of Enemy property, which, after the 1967 war, was renamed Custodian of Absentee property and came under the control of the Israeli government. Throughout the changes in government and names, the Abu Haikels continued to pay a rental fee of ten Jordanian dinar every year on the land.
In 1980, the government of Israel stopped accepting the Abu Haikels’ money, although they kept trying to pay each year. The Zakaria Bakri family, which had a lease agreement similar to that of the Abu Haikels, also had their lease payments blocked and in 1984 had the settlement of Ramat Yishai move on to their land: six caravans (mobile homes) with six families, among them the family of Baruch Marzel who had a reputation for instigating much of the violence in Hebron in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1999, the Israeli DCO finally allowed Abdel Aziz Abu Haikel to pay his rental fees for the land from 1980 onward in a lump sum. He paid three years in advance, for two plots containing the family’s cherry and almond orchards. In 2002, the DCO again stopped accepting payments and fenced in both orchards, but said they would give keys to the family, a promise it never fulfilled. Years later, when settlers attempted to cultivate the orchard plots and the Abu Haikels complained, the Israeli authorities told the monitoring group, TIPH, that the land was Israeli state land.
The Abu Haikels believed that at some point the Israeli DCO would allow them to make another lump sum payment as they had previously, but instead, it appears that the Israeli government may have chosen the old strategy of preventing Palestinians from cultivating land, and then claiming that because it was uncultivated, it was now state land. Its plans are to turn it into an archeological park like Silwan (more about that in an upcoming release I’m working on.)
Arwa Abu Haikel, who now lives in Sheffield, United Kingdom, but joined the family for an interview via Skype, told a CPTer, “I didn’t realize how much pressure we live under until I came to the U.K.” She still marvels at the way her neighbors in Sheffield smile at her when they pass in the street, having grown up among Israeli settlers who wished to do her harm. She has vision problems from a 1999 settler pogrom in Tel Rumeida when settlers hit her on the head with a baseball bat, and a knee problem when a soldier kicked her and her husband in 2008. “But emotionally,” she said, “I’m still here” [in Tel Rumeida.]
When the CPTer conducting the interview asked the family how it is that their children, despite emotional and physical scars such as these, have become successful, caring individuals. Marwa Abu Haikel, a civil engineer said, “We believe in the creativity coming from struggle.”