The raiding of the village of Ein Hajlah

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Photo: Samer Nazzal

Ein Hajlah village eviction (Photo: Samer Nazzal)

It was secretly reported that youth resistance activists in Palestine decided to return to the Palestinian village of Ein Hajla, the residents of which were evicted during the 1967 war. Ein Hajla is mostly Canaanite land owned by the Orthodox Church, on which there are historical houses built from straw, mud and palm trees, giving it an exceptional aesthetic charm.

In support of and solidarity with the peaceful protesters, I joined those who were among the first to reach the depopulated Palestinian village. We cleaned the village and cleared its houses of the mud and garbage that was lying about. We then collected dry palm tree branches and burned them at night. We divided ourselves into work teams, including one team in charge of food distribution and one in charge of security. We stayed the night, organizing activities inspired by the village’s history and heritage, such as dancing dabka, organising workshops and singing Palestinian songs calling for freedom, hope and love.

I left the village with those who were accompanying me that night and it was a toilsome trip because of the siege that the Israeli army had placed on the village. We spent several hours on the road.

Nevertheless I decided to return two days later to spend the night there, joined by medical relief volunteers. We went there with two cars, one of which was an ambulance car. We brought food and drinking water. When we arrived at the village, the army inspected the two cars and confiscated the food and water. We understood that the siege would continue until the activists were forced to leave the village. That night we installed a large screen to watch a film. A group of Bedouins joined us, as a gesture of solidarity, and we started to dance and sing traditional Bedouin songs. Sleeping was very hard because of the extreme cold, particularly at dawn, and the lack of blankets.

We remained until Thursday night December 31, 2014, when a large number of people from all over the West Bank gathered for Friday prayers in the village. It had been expected that hundreds would come the next morning to Ein Hajla, and indeed groups of young women and men came, with children also arriving with their families to stay in the village. It was an exceptional night, in which we celebrated the birthday of the little girl Ahed Al-Tamim, and others who had birthdays that day.

When I lay down on a sleeping mat and the others were busy dancing and singing, I felt that the eyes of the Israelis were on us, but they did not intervene. I speculated that the absence of foreign press, in contrast to the Bab al-Shams experience (when activists established a ‘return’ camp near Jerusalem) may have been one of the reasons why the Israelis had allowed us to enter and stay in this village. Another reason might have been the Israeli concern that hundreds would come and others would join the next Friday morning for Friday prayers which means there would be thousands and would make the situation difficult to control. We had expected them to assault us from the beginning. However shortly after I heard voices asking people to stay in the houses and tents, and  there was talk of a raid operation.

Photo: Samer Nazzal

Ein Hajlah village eviction (Photo: Samer Nazzal)

It was 1.30 am on Friday and immediately I headed towards the place where the Occupation Forces had started attacking the village. There were hundreds of soldiers and they had brought huge bulldozers, dogs and stink-water cannons. The activist Tamer Alatrash and I went to evaluate the number of soldiers and when we saw that there were many we returned and attempted to make a human chain to stop them from storming the village. Tamer Alatrash, Amad Al-Atrash  and Imad Abu Shamssih came with me in the first row and the soldiers used sound bombs to generate panic among us, in addition to hitting whoever was near them in a savage manner.

Ein Hajlah village eviction (Photo: Samer Nazzal)

Ein Hajlah village eviction (Photo: Samer Nazzal)

They violently dragged me by the shirt for a few meters, my face to the ground, and hit me and stood on my back. They tried to tie my hands behind my back and twisted my arm painfully. I could hardly breathe because of the soldier standing on my back and neck, and I felt my body going weak. I woke up after a while, with two ambulance workers around me, pushing me into one of the ambulances. I went in and heard that the Occupation forces had destroyed the village with bulldozers and were trying to evacuate the people of the village by force.

They had also stormed into one of the Christian monasteries near the village, and had sprayed everything with skunk-water.

I did not think of my son, who is 15 years old, except after entering the ambulance, because I consider that my son is part of the village and that his fate is tied with it. What happens to him happens to others. He is not better than them. We were taken to the hospital because of the critical condition of some of us and the severe bruises of others. According to the Jericho hospital staff, there were 41 wounded. Only after I received treatment I realized that I had lost everything – my money, my camera and other means of recording the events, which to me are the best weapon to monitor the human rights violations of the occupation and its crimes.

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