“They will not break me”

Hani Amer walking near the wall which runs next to his home in Mas’ha. In the background lies the Elkana settlement. (Amer Madi)

Hani Amer lives with his wife and six children in the village of Mas’ha in Qalqilya district. His six-year-old son is the youngest child. According to Hani, since the 1970s Israel has confiscated at least 7,000,000 square metres — eighty percent — of the land of Mas’ha, to build the illegal Jewish settlement of Elkana. Until now Hani Amer and his family have resisted all attempts by the Israeli military and settlers to chase him away. Today their house has completely surrounded by the wall and high fences. The family exhausted all its resources in its resistance to the wall, but Hani Amer is determined to stay.

A visit to the Hani Amer family

Two volunteers of the Stop the Wall Campaign arranged our visit to Hani Amer. One hour after we left Ramallah we arrive at what appears to us to be a highly protected industrial site. It turns out to be the blocked entrance to Elkana settlement. Some years ago, the road used to connect Mas’ha with Nablus was closed by the Israeli military with a road block, which has been replaced by several gates over the past few years. Hani Amer has been waiting for us behind the gates and the minute we are seen, he comes to greet us.

The first gate with heavy metal bars is right in front of us; it is two metres high with barbed wire on top. It completely closes off the road. The Israeli army used to have the only key to this gate. The lock on the gate has been removed after successful protests by Hani Amer. After four metres another gate blocks the road, this time a solid, one metre high metal gate. On the yellow painted gate we see a red sign with a white hand that warns us to stop.

Then we approach the wall, which crosses the road as a high metal fence with sensors. Right behind the fence is a dust road that is swept every day, to enable the Israeli military to identify the latest foot prints. The wall is built on Hani Amer’s land at less than twenty metres from his house. Next to his house the well known grey concrete wall arises. Between the concrete wall and the fence, there is a small two metre high metal gate, also painted yellow. Hani Amer holds the key to this gate. Every time he opens the gate he is confronted with the message the Israeli military painted on the wall next to ‘his’ gate, a yellow Star of David and ‘Israel’.

We cross the dust and asphalt road behind the wall and see another high fence with a red sign warning us: ‘Mortal danger military zone. Any person who passes or damages the fence endangers his life’. Our footprints are wiped out within half an hour by the two tractors which daily sweep the dust road.

A story of resistance

A sign posted on the fence near the Elkana settlement. (Amer Madi)

Hani Amer tells us that the settlement was developed from a military compound nearby, which was used by the British, the Jordanian and later the Israeli army successively. In the ’80s the first settlers came to live on the compound in mobile caravans. Gradually the settlement expanded and about eighty percent of Mas’ha is now within the wall, including a natural well that was destroyed by the Israeli army in 1967. The villagers tried to rehabilitate the well, but could not obtain permission to get access to electricity for the water pump. ‘We understand that they also want to have that land’, says Hani Amer.

Hani Amer’s story of material loss started in 1991, when part of his house was demolished because it was ‘too close to the asphalt’. This reason was difficult to understand, while the house was situated in an agricultural area. In 1994 the restaurant he owned was demolished.

In 2003 and 2004 the nursery and the agricultural shop of Hani Amer were confiscated by Israel in order to build the wall. The house of Hani Amer stands on the land of the once flourishing nursery of 3.000 square meters. He shows us the spot where the agricultural shop was situated. Hani Amer invested 55.000 US dollars earned from the sale of his house in town, in a poultry farm on his land, which is now inside the wall. In 2004 the Israeli army demolished the farm.

Hani Amer has taken demolition orders to court. In the courtroom he stated, ‘I know I will lose. I am here to prove what you are. You are not a state. You are a mob’, and then he left.

Increased threats

Initially the Israeli government tried to buy Hani Amer’s cooperation, offering excessive amounts of money for his property. But Hani Amer refused all offers. He once explained to an Israeli officer, ‘Your understanding of life is different. It makes me happy to talk to the land, live with the land and the trees. There is no price for it’.

However, when Hani Amer refused to leave his land ‘voluntarily’, a new strategy was introduced. An Israeli officer came to Hani Amer and threatened that he could not stay. According to Hani Amer, he said, ‘We will break you, if you don’t accept our good offers. We could send someone to shoot at the settlement and we will have already prepared the charge against you. Then your house will be bulldozered because you are known as a terrorist.’

Shortly after the wall was erected the Israeli military closed the gate when a son was still outside. They were separated from each other for one week. Friends threw food and other supplies over the gate. Now Hani Amer has the key of ‘his yellow gate’, and the enormous gate at the entrance remains open. But whenever people come and visit him, the army is around. They are warned by the sensors on the fence of the wall. Sometimes they interfere, like this time. Two Israeli military men call Hani Amer from behind a huge fence that separates the house of Hani Amer from the settlement. They question him and after a while they want to talk to the international guest. I walk the twenty metres to the fence; they stand on the other side with their guns, sunglasses and green military jeep. I look them straight in the face when they ask me why I am here. I explain that I am paying a visit to Hani Amer. They order me not to take pictures from the settlement. They don’t know that is too late for their command.

The settlers live in their posh houses within twenty metres of Hani Amer’s house, on the land of the villagers of Mas’ha. They also have their share in threatening Hani Amer’s family. At night they throw stones at the house and keep the family awake. Sometimes the solar power panels for hot water on the roof are damaged. Sometimes, when the children play outside in the garden, the settlers start to throw stones. With both his hands on his heart Hani Amer says, ‘I am most of all fearful for the safety of my kids. However, I am not going to give up my resistance. If the entire globe stands on one side and want to fight me, they will not break me. It is easy to kill me, but to break my will to stay is impossible’.

Adri Nieuwhof and Amer Madi are independent consultants from respectively the Netherlands and Palestine.

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