From right to left: Hazem Abu Rajab, 27; Saleh Abu Rajab, 11; Mohammed Montaser Abu Rajab, 17 For those well versed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is no secret that Israeli settlers have been encroaching upon Palestinian lands for decades. Yet the case of the Hazem Abu Rajab family is exceptional in that the settlers have gone as far as to forcibly displace the family from their own home. On Thursday morning, 25th of July, settlers, accompanied by the Israeli police, took over the top two floors of the family’s house, forcing the family out of this section of their home. The house is situated between area H1 and H2, so that one part exists outside a military checkpoint and the other inside, which for the family means it is unsafe to use one of the entrances of their house.
The dispute over the Abu Rajab’s house started on the 27th of November 2012, when settlers for the first time occupied two top floors of the house, claiming they bought it. However, according to Hazem Abu Rajab, the house is owned by many people, making it impossible to sell without the approval of every single owner. The family took the matter to court that ruled that the family had the right to keep their home, so the settlers were thrown out until the final verdict takes place.
Despite the court’s decision, the settlers came back to occupy the house once again. Over 50 settlers came to take over the house, arriving before the return of the male inhabitants. The men returned just in time to start filming and attempting to push the unwanted visitors out the door, but by then the settlers had already reclaimed most of the house. The attempt to occupy the ground floor and first floor was unsuccessful as the settlers faced steadfast resistance from the Abu Rajab family. Eventually, the settlers were evacuated by the soldiers from the two remaining floors in order to avoid injuries. According to Hazem, with the current situation, 4 families consisting of 15 people altogether have to fit in these two floors. In the evening on the 25th of July, the family contacted their lawyer, who sent a complaint letter to the Israeli defense minister and to the chief of police demanding the evacuation of settlers.
During a visit to the Abu Rajab house, we had the opportunity to talk to Hazem Abu Rajab, thanks to Badee Dwaik, an activist from Human Rights Defenders group. Dwaik was visiting the family in order to donate a camera to the eldest brother, Hazem Abu Rajab, as part of the group’s documentation project “Capturing Occupation.” The group promotes citizen journalism efforts among the people living in Hebron, to assist them with documenting and publicizing their lives under the occupation.
Hazem is 27 years old, married with one child, and is the one that represents his family in the court. Hazem was telling us about the situation, ownership issues, and the general struggles of living in the house partially occupied by Israeli settlers. Hebron’s Old City is one of the most difficult places to live for Palestinians due to the number of Israeli settlements and the oppression that these entail. Therefore, many Palestinians move out of this area fearing for their children’s safety. However, for Hazem it is impossible to even imagine leaving as his family has been living there for 60 years. He says that they will keep on resisting this injustice and that they are ready to die if necessary. When asked about the safety of the children, he simply responds “God can take care of everybody.”
As an experiment, on Thursday the eldest brother of the family attempted to use the entrance to his house on the Israeli side, and was warned by the Israeli soldiers that this was unsafe for him. The home has been around for about 600 years, since Ottoman times, and has been owned by the family for generations. Now they are unable to utilize over 60% of their home. “I am proud to keep resisting” says Hazem, the eldest brother. They believe that one day their house will be returned to them and are pushing the matter in court, but it is a long and slow process. Yet for the family, this is the only way at their disposal to legally get back their house, despite it being illegally poached off them in the first place. For many Palestinian families living in the region, events like this one are the unfortunate reality of living under the occupation, and the only way to counter such unfair measures are a long and hard battle under the legal system.
While speaking about the events in Jerusalem, Hazem further points out that there is a connection between the situation in Jerusalem and the occupation of their house in Hebron. He believes that it is not coincidental that the occupation of their house is taking place now, when all the national and global attention was fixed upon the Al Aqsa crisis throughout the last two weeks, producing the perfect opportunity for the settlers to take over the house. He also assumes that it is possible that the house will stay occupied for a while, before any action is taken by the Israeli court due to the Palestinian victory in Jerusalem - what he describes as “a compromise” in regard to Israeli- Palestinian power relations.