Sunday, 6 May 2007

His Own Private Yellow Gate

The last house in the Palestinian village of Masha belongs to a man named Hani Amer, his wife, and his six kids. Hani has become a symbol, through no choice of his own, for his refusal to leave his home. Ten metres behind him, the settlement of Elqana. Ten metres in front of him, the wall. And surrounding his house is a heavily secured military zone. Hani can, when the military allows him, pass through the small yellow gate that is his only access to the outside world.

Even then, he has nowhere to go. He has no job, his farm has been destroyed. He can’t go to the centre of Masha because he has no money. Even if he could, the centre of Masha is virtually dead since Israel moved the main road, a settler-only road, a few hundred metres away.

People talk about the wall as trapping Palestinians in a cage. In Hani’s case, it’s a reality, not a metaphor.

He opens the yellow gate, wired with motion detectors, and invites us into his home. He sits in his chair in the front room, looking out at the mural that has been painted on the wall. There is no other view. He explains carefully that he's been living in his house since 1973. At that time, there was nothing around. He could easily walk for six or seven kilometres around his own fields. The settlement was built in the 1980's. Since then, he has faced pressure and abuse in an attempt to force him out. The settlers throw stones, breaking windows and the solar panels that heat his water, and insult his family.

Then the military came, and began construction of the wall in 2003.
"When they came to build the wall, they said I have two choices. Either we keep it like this, in front of your house, or we demolish your house and put the wall in its place. I told them you've given me no choices. I have a third option, better than the others. I said 'build the wall between me and the settlement.'"

In the end, they refused. It would have ruined the view from the settler's houses.

His farm storage units were demolished. In 1990 the new extension to his house was destoyed. In 2003 his orchards were destoyed. His water storage tank was torn down. He has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment in a chicken farm. He was once one of the richest men in his village. "Today," he says "I don't have a single shekel for my kids."

He locks his hands together, and looks down at his feet when he talks. He says he has to stay alert 24 hours a day, keeping an eye out for settlers and soldiers. The Israeli military routinely enter his home, armed and unannounced, and ask him who’s been visiting, what he was doing outside, when he’s going to leave. Theirmost recent visit was last night, at 2:30am. They asked him how old he was,
“Fifty,” he replied
“Do you want to keep fighting to 100? Why don’t you just die? Let your children leave this place…”

But Hani isn’t doing this to be a martyr. He doesn’t feel he’s fighting the Palestinian cause. He feels he's simply staying on his land, in his home. Originally from 1948 Palestine, the village of Kufr Qasim, he came to the West Bank as a refugee.
He has no choice, nowhere else to go.

On our way out, he asks one thing, the one thing that many Palestinians have asked of us. "Send this story to the rest of the word. Tell them the truth."

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