On 5 January 2014, CPTers learned that a bulldozer had begun leveling a large tract of almond orchard for the expansion of the Tel Rumeida settlement complex on the previous evening. Two CPTers visited with Hani Abu Haikel, long-time CPT partner, on 7 January to learn more details.
According to Abu Haikel, his extended family has held a lease on the land in question for more than fifty years. The Israeli government has blocked the lease Abu Haikel’s family holds on this area in order to allow the settlers to continue construction on this new, outpost. Police detained Abu Haikel and arrested his cousin Sami Abu Haikel on 5 January for being in a ‘closed military zone’ when they asked by what right the settlers were destroying their mature almond trees. They then banned the two men from going within 250 meters of the site.
Abu Haikel is nostalgic for past centuries when Palestinian Jews and Muslims lived in more harmonious ways than is possible with the current Israeli settlers living in Hebron. His grandfather had a business arrangement with a Jewish friend who would look after his shop on Friday, while Abu Haikel would look after the Jewish friend’s shop on Saturday. He remembers that his own family used to light candles on Friday evenings. He continues to maintain contact with descendants of the Bajaio family and has an extensive network of Jewish friends in Israel and abroad.
When one of the CPTers interviewing Abu Haikel said he had noticed some frightened looking construction workers in the van when he was walking up to visit, Abu Haikel told him they were Palestinian. When asked how he felt about their collaboration with the settlement enterprise, Hani Abu Haikel said it was a matter “for their conscience,” and that he would just as soon the work go to a Palestinian worker as someone from Thailand.
As the conversation turned once again to relationships between Christians, Jews and Muslims, Hani noted, “When we look at the Holy Qur’an, the Torah and the Bible, the common thread is about respecting your neighbor, loving God and doing justice.”
“Soldiers come here with fear in their eyes,” he said, “They are told by their commanders that the women carry knives and the men carry guns.” Abu Haikel found this information out when he asked a soldier, “Why are you frightened of me?” Afterwards, they had a three-hour conversation. The soldier was reassigned to another checkpoint the day after and they did not speak again.
Under international law, it is illegal for Israel to move populations into military-occupied territory. The Israeli government therefore does not have the right to terminate the Abu Haikels’ rental agreement, to destroy their trees, or to offer the land to Israeli settlers.
People wishing to follow developments on the Tel Rumeida situation should check out the Save Tel Rumeida Facebook page, run by the families who live there and their supporters. Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine will also continue to post updates on its Facebook page.