Friday, August 3, 2007

'Ayn Hawd (Hebrew: עין חוד, Arabic: عين حوض)

'Ayn Hawd (Hebrew: עין חוד, Arabic: عين حوض) is one of the al-Hija villages in northern Israel named after Emir Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija. Being one of the most well known unrecognized villages In Israel until 2005, 'Ayn Hawd has always been a symbol for the unbelievable issue of the unrecognized Arab villages in Israel. Back in 2002, when I was a journalism student at Koteret it was just like any other unrecognized village. No one knew if and when the village and its people will become a legitimate residents of Israel. When I had to choose a subject for my final video class assignment I thought telling the story of Ayn Hawd and Mohammad Abu al-Hija would be a good idea. The video was later on included in the official graduation documentary magazine and actually got better reactions than I expected.

Mohammad serves his people as chairman of The Association of Forty ever since its establishment in December 1988, when residents from several unrecognized villages and other localities - both Arabs and Jews - met in the village of Ein Hod to discuss ways to confront the recommendations of the official Markovitch Commission Report, ordered to investigate the phenomenon of "unlicensed construction in the Arab sector" in Israel. They formed The Association of Forty which represents the residents of the unrecognized villages and their problems, and promotes support locally and internationally. Among The Association of Forty's goals are to obtain official recognition for the villages, to improve living conditions, and to claim full rights and equality for the Arab citizens of the state.

As most of my class mates, just like most Israelis, have never even heard about the existence of the unrecognized villages and Internally Displaced Palestinians (Hebrew: נוכחים נפקדים) problems I thought it might be a good idea.

The unrecognized villages

There is no exact figure for the number of unrecognized villages in Israel since there is no clear definition of what constitutes a village and since this situation is very comfortable for Israel's authorities. Generally, Israeli government officials have always claimed those villages are unrecognized because they are too small.

Yet, In reality there are many examples for very very small "recognized" Jewish settlements whereas dozens, perhaps even a hundred Arab ones with many more Israeli citizens living in them are not. Its also not clear exactly how many Palestinian Arab citizens live in villages that are constantly threatened with destruction, prevented from development and are not shown on any map. some say 10,000. some say over 70,000.

Another important aspect of the subject is a common mistake regarding the Geo-Political essence of the people living in the "unrecognized villages". Usually, the few Jewish Israeli people who have ever heard anything about the subject are convinced the Palestinians being discussed are refugees and the unrecognized villages are somewhere in the West Bank or the "Gaza strip". That is very far from being true.

None of the unrecognized villages is located in what is commonly described as "The Occupied Territories", "Yehuda Veshomron" etc. That is very much Israel of the 1967 lines we are talking about here, and the residents are not members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They are simple ordinary law-obedient Israeli citizens, legitimate in every other aspect of their life just like me and my wife. Only we are Jews and they are Palestinians.

And now the good news

But there is also a good side to the story of this post. On July 30, just a few days ago when I was already planning on posting this, I red in this laconic news item on the Israeli MSN site that after 60 years the residents of Ayn Hawd have finally got their village powered with state electricity (they were using their own generator until now). Hard to describe how happy I was to read that. Can't remember when was the last time any news item made me happy this way.

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