Hani Abu Haikel and his family live in a home on top of Tel Rumeida, the hill which the ancient, biblical city of Hebron once sat upon. He owns some land surrounding his home, including an olive grove of around 50 trees. On the side he sells coffee in the streets (Remember that guy who valiantly saved us from tear gas a few months ago, that was Hani)
The beautiful, historic hillside Hani’s family lives on was colonized by Israeli settlers in 1984. They built an apartment building directly on top of an archeological site. The apartment building is also on the road leading to Hani’s home. Soon Hani’s road was closed off to him (and any other Palestinian) by military decree. He now has to park far away and walk around the back way to his home. Most of the other families have left Tel Rumeida, but Hani stays explaining that this land has been in his family for generations, and he can’t just leave that legacy.
At one point the settlers offered to buy Hani’s property. Explaining his reasons Hani refused. The settler responded with something along the lines of “We’ll get you out one way or another, you should have taken the easier way.” A few days later Hani found his car lit on fire. This would be the first of many acts of intimidation against Hani and his family. The most recent happened last Sunday.
Sunday afternoon I was preparing for a visit to the South Hebron Hills (Firing Zone 918) in the CPT apartment, down hill from Tel Rumeida. At one point I smelled smoke, but figured it was a neighbor burning trash or something, although it smelled peculiarly like a wood fire. A few minutes later we got a call to go to Hani’s house as soon a possible.
We hustled up the hill toward the billowing smoke. We’d been told that soldiers had closed the main road, so we had to go around the back. As we trudged up the last incline we were greeted with the sight of an olive tree in flames. The fire department was there with a single hose putting out the last of the remnants of fire. The ground all around us was black soot, the remains of the small brush surrounding the trees. All the majestic olive trees still stood, but all were damaged by the flames. Some will not survive.
I went to Hani to give my condolences, and see if I could help in any way. His response startled me. Hani is a joyful man. He always gives me a warm greeting with a huge mustachioed smile. This day, with his fields in flames Hani… gave me a warm greeting with a huge mustachioed smile. That’s Hani.
Hani reminds me of that guy. I have personally witnessed him inviting a settler, who had set fire to his car, over to his home for tea. After the settler refused Hani told me he genuinely hopes the settler will take him up on the offer, because it is in humanizing one another that peace can happen. What more humanizing activity is there then sitting down and having a cup of tea together? Hani has used this attitude of love filled resistance to become one of the leaders in Hebron’s non-violent movement. But that’s a whole other blog post. For now back to last Sunday.
Hani calmly informed me that this is the eighth time his olive trees have been set on fire. Eight times! He asked if I’d like to see how they did it, he’s kind of an expert after experiencing this eight times. He showed me how the fire proceeded from just below the Israeli military base. He speculated that the security cameras on the base had been turned off at the time of the incident, at least that’s what happened all the other times.
As we were walking around I noticed something peculiar, there was a section in the grove, near the genesis of the fire, which was untouched by the flames. Hani explained that a while back the settlers started planting a garden on his land (against Hani’s will of course). It was that garden which survived unscathed. Hani said that he saw settlers around the garden as he left for work in the morning. He thought they were just watering their section, but now believes that they watered their section and gasolined his. The fire consumed so completely everything, except the garden, that his theory seems credible.
Hani plans on filing a complaint to the Israeli police, but if this is anything like the other incidents nothing will happen. Besides the eight times his land has been destroyed his car has been destroyed five times. None of those times have there been any repercussions to the settlers involved.
It was an extremely difficult day for Hani and his family, but his reaction to it, his talks with the soldiers, giving interviews, and filing a complaint, was intended to show one thing: resolve. Hani’s resolve was only strengthened after this attempted intimidation. He and his family will stay in their home and continue to resist through living their lives peacefully. And we will continue to resist with them.
Pray that Hani continues to find hope.
Pray for the Abu Haikel family.
Pray for peace.
UPDATE: The Israeli police ruled that the fire was natural, claiming it had been started by the sun. They did not allow the Abu Haikel’s to see the security camera footage from the military base overlooking the olive grove. The police did not attempt to explain why the settler’s garden was untouched. For more examples of Israeli police disregard for the rule of law see this article: Welcome to Hebron, where the rule of law is nonexistent