'What I'm doing is right, and I have to do it'
The image of Hani Amer’s face behind the metal gate is still with me two months after meeting him. It is hard to forget a person whose convictions are so strong that he is willing to compromise his safety by accepting a form of imprisonment in order to be free. Ironic, isn’t it?
His story of freedom, dignity, honour and ownership is an example of how one’s power can cause suffering for others. It is a story heard too often in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Filled with uncertainty, I drove on the main road of the Palestinian village of Mas’ha. Except for a lone pedestrian, the street was deserted. Could it be because it was Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, I wondered? I was later to find out that Mas’ha, population 2,000, was always empty.
The pedestrian’s directions: ‘Just go straight, but you can’t get in.’ What does he mean I can’t get in? I was soon to find out.
The fencing leading to the settlement.
Ahead, a series of metal fences and twisted barb wire blocked my way. Not sure where to go, I called Amer. Then I saw him on the other side of the fence. He unlocked a yellow gate which was attached to tall concrete slabs, and welcomed me to his home.
Amer behind the yellow gate. His house and the settlement can be seen in the background.
Looking around, I realized that his land is completely encircled. A surreal feeling came over me. The Amer family is BOXED in!
I suppose it is Amer’s misfortune that his house is the last one in the village. The surrounding natural beauty is interrupted by electric fences, barb wire, a tall concrete wall, cameras, and a military road, all in the name of security – not the security of the Amer family, but rather that of Elqana settlement, just a few metres away.
The Amers are yet another Palestinian family whose life is defined by settlements and the Separation Barrier aka the Apartheid Wall, which separates Israel from the West Bank.
For Amer, 53, the past and present run together. Amer complains: ‘Every day Palestinians pay the price for the Nakba,’ referring to the Catastrophe of 1948 when Palestine became Israel, resulting in the loss of homeland, and the suffering of millions of Palestinians scattered around the world today.
The Wall. Amer's children, together with others, painted on the wall, but the military put a stop to it.
His family’s lack of financial advancement resulted in no-one obtaining an education. Life has taught him that one must first fulfill basic priorities such as food, housing and clothing, and then if one is financially able, one can get educated.
However, in 1973, Amer built his home on his three-quarter acre plot, and his family lived simply and comfortably. But in 1977, Elqana was built, and life lost its simplicity.
Approximately 1,977 acres of village land were confiscated in order to build three surrounding settlements. Villagers can no longer reach their lands, businesses were forced to close (thus the emptiness when I entered the village), and the fences around the settlements have blocked roads, not only separating villages, but also making the distance between villages unreasonably long.
As for Amer, he lost both his right to build on his own house, and his five acre plot of land became inaccessible to him.
The Amer house is on the left (blue shutter), and the settler house is on the right.
Efforts to force him to leave his land failed. His restaurant, chicken coop and nursery were demolished on the pretense of him not having a permit. ‘I did not refuse a permit; they just would not give me one,’ he explained. ‘They don’t want anyone to make a living.’
Refusing the family entry to their home for a month in 2000 also failed. Upon their return, they found their belongings had been broken, burned or stolen.
Then in August 2003 construction of the Wall began, just twenty metres from his house. Again, attempts to get him to leave his home were met with refusal. ‘I thought of only one thing – I want to live in my house because if I don’t, where will I live?’ he said.
Now his home is neighbour to an eight-metre high, 54-metres long concrete wall.
The military offered him passage through a gate which they ‘generously’ agreed to open for 15 minutes a day, in effect giving the army control of the family. With the help of human rights organizations, he finally got the key to the gate. ‘I am in control of my home. What right do they have to tell me who can and cannot enter my home?’ he stated defiantly.
Amer does not feel safe, and rarely leaves the house unattended. Settlers sometimes throw rocks at their house, and soldiers enter his property and house when they feel like it, often on cold nights.
Amer with his wife Munira.
Amer’s goal is to ‘remove the occupation,’ he said. ‘I am convinced that what I am doing is right and that I have to do it.’
Upon completion, 46 per cent of West Bank land will be annexed by Israeli settlements, military areas, and the Wall. 266,442 Palestinians will be forced to leave their homes due to difficult living conditions.
Photos by the author.