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Jerusalem’s interfaith ‘Peace House’ faced with Israeli demolition order

Israel/Palestine
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Haj Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa has shaken the hand of President Jimmy Carter, listened to Ravi Shankar perform in his honor, met the singer Alicia Keys, was a great friend to the moderate settler leader Rabbi Menachem Froman, and is also indebted to the city of Jerusalem for nearly $100,000 in fines and taxes—all of which was disclosed in the first five minutes of meeting him. The 73-year old Palestinian proprietor of the Jerusalem “Peace House,” a modest hostel in the Mount of Olives that was opened by his grandfather after the June 1967 war, built an extension to his personal family house. Because of this addition, Abu el-Hawa, a fixture of Jerusalem’s coexistence camp, has been entangled in legal woes that could end in his imprisonment and the demolition of his family home if he cannot cover the fines.

“I want to be king, why not, the mother of my ten children, I want her to be queen. I want to have this old home so I can welcome you,” said Abu el-Hawa from his rooftop a short drive from the hostel, overlooking Jerusalem’s Zeitoun checkpoint and Israel’s separation wall. Abu el-Hawa moved into this building six years ago. His family of more than 40 persons is cramped. They need more space and so in 2008 the decision was made to begin construction on 10 new rooms, intending to fix two additional apartments inside of the structure.

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Haj Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa’s home with demolition orders, At-Tur, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Allison Deger)

But Peace House was Abu el-Hawa’s childhood home. Like his children and grandchildren now, he was reared in the company of foreign travelers. Today, the building in East Jerusalem is a guesthouse to globetrotters on budget trips to the holy land, and Abu el-Hawa is the esteemed manager and tour guide, offering visitor a glimpse into Jerusalem through the affairs of his personal life.

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Haj Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa in the Jerusalem Peace House. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Two of his grandchildren sat on the stairs to the second floor bedrooms, now filled with bunk beds. Abu el-Hawa pointed to where one of his cousins was born in the late 1800s. Tacked to a bulletin board he showed a large photograph of the late A.J. Howar (née Yosef Abu el-Hawa), a Palestinian émigré who achieved success in America as a real estate mogul and the founder of the first mosque in the U.S., the Washington D.C. Islamic Center. It is one of many photographs slap dashed to the walls of the one-time prominent Jerusalem family that has struggled to make ends meet since the Peace House was opened.

The rooms used to be free of charge as part of his grandfather’s altruistic vision of bringing together followers of different faiths. “I believe in a way we are all the children of Adam and Eve and we are all one and we have to love one and another. But the leaders don’t want us to live together,” said Abu el-Hawa. However, like many Palestinians, financial burdens befell him.

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Abu el-Hawa family in their living room. (Photo: Allison Deger)

To cover his bills Abu el-Hawa now asks the guests at his hostel for donations. The money the travelers leave him goes directly to the city of Jerusalem. Every month until 2018 Abu el-Hawa needs to muster $128 (500 NIS) for the cost of a building permit, and an additional $1,230 (4,800 NIS) to keep himself out of jail, a punishment for building without the permit. Even if his home is demolished, he will still owe the city thousands of dollars in punitive damages. In years past he used to earn a meager salary, but now Abu el-Hawa’s wages are garnished.

More recently, Abu el-Hawa was ordered to pay a lump sum to the municipality of $7,700 (30,000 NIS) for his constructing without a permit. That amount was first requested in 2013 through a court order. Abu el-Hawa had a stroke during the proceedings. “They moved me directly from court to the hospital,” he said, continuing that he was in a wheelchair for two months following the cardiac event. The trial was postponed until last month when Abu el-Hawa was given 30 days to pay the balloon amount. He said at first he was frightened of going to jail because of his failing heatlh and family responsibilities. “The judge told me, don’t be worried about this, old man. Everyone in prison is sick and we have doctors for them,” relayed Abu el-Hawa.

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Dorm room in the Jerusalem Peace House in the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Allison Deger)

But with the assistance of an Israeli friend who set-up an Indiegogo crowd funding webpage Abu el-Hawa was able to receive the sum he owed the court in just under a week. Because of his Peace House, Abu el-Hawa has connections to donors across the world. “I’ve visited America 26 times and I’ve been to 44 states,” he boasted.

The situation of home demolitions in East Jerusalem is not unique to the hostel owner. The United Nations estimates that one-third of all Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in houses without permits. The city of Jerusalem also limits the amount of space where Palestinians can legally build to around 13-percent of the eastern half of the city. And an average of five-percent of Palestinian requests for building in East Jerusalem are approved each year, and the processing takes between five and 10 years, according to the legal group St. Yves.

Outside of the family home Abu el-Hawa’s son who lives in the same structure in a separate apartment, Mohammed Abu el-Hawa, 36, a plumber, said the family would move, but there are no houses for sale in the area with building permits. He shares a two-bedroom flat with his wife and four children. “I was born in the guesthouse,” he said continuing that he is proud to have been raised by a community of internationals. “We love it. It’s our life, we lived in this way since we were young children.” Many afternoons he still passes by for coffee or tea.

Pointing to rows of houses on the same street, Mohammed noted which residents were in jail for not being able to cover their fines for building without a license. Then motioning to the pavement below him Mohammed said, “We made the road not the government. We don’t have a permit.”

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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17 Responses

  1. JustJessetr
    January 6, 2015, 12:10 pm

    Sounds like he’s for normalization. SHouldn’t MW be cheering this demolition on?

    • talknic
      January 7, 2015, 6:20 am

      @ JustJessetr “SHouldn’t MW be cheering this demolition on?”

      Why? Jerusalem is quite simply not in Israel. Under International Law, Israeli laws have no jurisdiction in non-Israeli territories.

      Your comment, rather than being smart, shows people that the poster JustJessetr is without doubt one sick lil’ puppy.

    • Walid
      January 7, 2015, 4:13 pm

      “Sounds like he’s for normalization. SHouldn’t MW be cheering this demolition on?

      Abbas does it all the time and nobody is asking to his home to be demolished. 24 trips to America @ $2000 a pop, there’s about $50,000 that could have gone towards paying his fines. I may be wrong and I don’t know enough about the man but I think the hajj is more concerned about building living accomodations for his very large family as much as he is concerned about offering hospitality to peace-loving travelers.

  2. DaBakr
    January 6, 2015, 12:35 pm

    haj ibrahim is well known , well regarded and even loved by many israelis. it is unfortunate the situation he finds himself in. i am not sure what the article is suggesting, if anything, other then the story that new construction permits in Jerusalem are hard to obtain. imagine if israel allowed unfettered new construction without adherence to style, aesthetics and topography constraints. (and no-i can see nothing particularly out of character or style about the ‘new’ addition). they would be accused by the world of allowing jerusalems unique beauty to be destroyed. israel most definitely has a bureaucracy with layers of red tape, corruption and a system of fines and punishments for violations not always meted out with blind justice. jail is obviously a threat but no more then jail is also the ultimate threat if one were not to pay a NYC traffic violation. its rare that jail is used in these situations-just as it is in other bureaucratic nations. and I doubt it will come to this. while the palestinian angle in jerusalem surely exists it is not as if an israeli jew without deep pockets and possibly ‘connections’ could build w/o a permit without landing in hot water as well.

    also-with sites like MW growing in readership-I would’t be surprised if abu el-hawa would benefit greatly from a crowd sourced campaign-either a spontaneous one born of sympathy-or an organized one.

    it would be interesting-and totally out of character-for mw to feature an article on the rampant and wild construction of new villas, pats and so forth by cronies of abbas and the PA in ramallah and other areas. as if ordinary palestinians in palestine have ANY say over what gets built and how it affects their current and future state. surely there must be some way to write an article like this and still adhere to the mw standard of showing israel as evil and bad.

    • eljay
      January 6, 2015, 1:04 pm

      >> DaBakreee: … surely there must be some way to write an article like this and still adhere to the mw standard of showing israel as evil and bad.

      The Palestinians must be held to account for their own wrong-doings.

      Israel – which must be held to account for its wrong-doings – does “evil and bad” very well on its own. It needs no help from Mondoweiss.

    • Walid
      January 6, 2015, 10:58 pm

      DaBakre, the great urbanist doesn’t seem to be bothered by the Israeli red-tiled row houses that disfigured the West Bank. Sadly, Palestinian entrepreneurs are trying to copy that shitty style in 2 major projects (Reehan and Rawabi) and have no embarrassment in admitting that this is what they are up to. Israel loves these multi-billion dollar projects as 70% of the materials used to build them are purchased from Israel; great for Israel’s economy, with the piranha Dov Weisglass working as a consultant for Rawabi.

      • DaBakr
        January 7, 2015, 3:24 am

        @wd

        ne disputatum gustibus.

        i’ve been to southern calif and seen the proliferation of the same “shitty” red terra cotta tile roofs from $6m palazzos to 3-room bungalows in torrance. i understand that they represent something objectionable and even illegal to you but in terms of affordable housing there are few options in this geographic zone that can beat the cost, performance and appeal of tile. its not just israel that uses these ubiquitous materials (that come in a brown as well and there are more expensive and more efficient choices for those with the money. if you really want ugly-go to europe and look at the post ww2 structures for affordable housing.

        . and while i am no “urbanist” i never claimed to have an opinion on the style of the mass middle-class(and waning at that) housing in either wb, israel, or swaths of america with its mcmansions as well. people are generally tasteless -imo- and its rare that form trumps function in growing societies. and the housing is not just for israeli jews so you can grouse about the occupation but i doubt the palestinians would have done much better -but-i have seen some incredibly sound and interesting housing made with no concrete and complete with vaulted and domed ceilings in gaza with a simple and ancient technique of sand, lime, clay and pretty much the middle eastern arabic version of adobe-but much more elegant.

        and as for style? I did say I had no problems with the style of haj ibrihims house and I expect had I built the same with no permit i would have been slapped with fines. in fact-his abode is pretty nice from the outside in terms of a modernist structure (except for the obnoxious graffiti though i’ve no idea what he had in mind when it was built.

      • Walid
        January 8, 2015, 4:34 am

        DaBakre, you’re still going on as an urbanist, so we’ll continue long these lines. Did you know that the red-roofs on settlement row housing are a legal building requirement imposed on the settlements? These red roofs are what tells the Israeli air force which homes to bomb and which to not bomb. There’s a whole philosophy behind Israel’s architecture and why settlements are built on hillsides in semi-circular patterns. It’s all explained by a good-guy Israeli architect Eyal Weizman that also details how the refugee camp at Jenin and the town of Nablus were wickedly used by Israel and the US as mock-ups for training purposes on how to go about penetrating densely populated towns in Iraq. D9 destruction bulldozers that have become an integral part of the Israeli armed forces cut wide alleys through Jenin to make roadways for incoming tanks. In Nablus, Israeli soldiers trained American soldiers at punching holes through sides of house walls to enter them.

        Weizman’s video is about the architecture of violence and the architecture of occupation and how Israel goes about creating an apartheid situation with the use of walls, fences, tight turnstiles and checkpoints to keep the Palestinians in a constant state of lock-down:

        Jazeera video- The Architecture of Violence:

      • talknic
        January 9, 2015, 12:20 pm

        @ DaBakr ” i’ve been to southern calif and seen the proliferation of the same “shitty” red terra cotta tile roofs from $6m palazzos to 3-room bungalows in torrance. i understand that they represent something objectionable and even illegal to you “

        Illegal how buster? Southern California is in the US. Israel’s illegal settlements are not in Israel.

        ” I expect had I built the same with no permit i would have been slapped with fines. “

        By a state that actually has no civil jurisdiction over your land? WOW! Stupidity seems to be your forte

    • talknic
      January 7, 2015, 7:04 am

      @ DaBakr ” imagine if israel allowed unfettered new construction without adherence to style, aesthetics and topography constraints”

      Problem. Jerusalem isn’t in Israel. The territory has never been legally acquired or by any other legal mechanism or means transferred to the State of Israel. Jerusalem is Arab territory. UNSC res 476 sums it up rather well. You do know how to read UNSC resolutions, yes? Start at the top read left to right through to the end… here try it http://wp.me/pDB7k-W8

      ” israel most definitely has a bureaucracy with layers of red tape, corruption and a system of fines and punishments for violations not always meted out with blind justice. jail is obviously a threat but no more then jail is also the ultimate threat if one were not to pay a NYC traffic violation”

      Uh huh and unlike Jerusalem illegally under Israeli civil law, NYC traffic violations are dealt with under US law because NYC is in the USA

      “it would be interesting-and totally out of character-for mw to feature an article on the rampant and wild construction of new villas, pats and so forth by cronies of abbas and the PA in ramallah and other areas”

      Seeing as how you’re suddenly so interested, why don’t you? You seem to know a lot already, not that you’ve actually shown any evidence. You do know that accusations, no matter how many times repeated, are not evidence.

      “surely there must be some way to write an article like this and still adhere to the mw standard of showing israel as evil and bad “

      Israel is an independent state. It sets its own evil and bad standards by its illegal actions in non-Israeli territory such as Jerusalem, ignoring hundreds of UNSC resolutions affording the opportunity to abide by the binding Laws they re-affirm and emphasize puts Israel in the category of a rogue state.

      • DaBakr
        January 7, 2015, 2:01 pm

        people, scholars, diplomats warriors and fools all interpret U[seless]N[othing] resolutions however they have seen fit. They parse the absence of words such as “the” and read in elements never intended to be or published. intentional language is said to be unintentional while unintentional phrasing is read in to be detailed intstruction. so you can “start at the top…read from left to right” or right to left if your able. it matters only as much as your willing to believe it matters. while your at it you probably would get a big kick out of viewing Fatahs main Facebook page which has a celebratory image of netanyahu in prison togs next to a noose and the words ICC. There were some other racist images with magen david printed skulls but they may have been taken down by now.

      • talknic
        January 7, 2015, 10:11 pm

        @ DaBakr “people, scholars, diplomats warriors and fools all interpret U[seless]N[othing] resolutions however they have seen fit.”

        So tell me, why the Jewish Agency considered UNGA res 181 as binding?
        Why does the declaration of Israeli statehood reference UNGA res 181? http://www.knesset.gov.il/docs/eng/megilat_eng.htm
        Why did the Israeli Government proclaim Israel as an “independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947″?

        No hurry, I’ll wait for your honest answers

        ” They parse the absence of words such as “the” and read in elements never intended to be or published. intentional language is said to be unintentional while unintentional phrasing is read in to be detailed intstruction”

        I see what you mean. Like UNSC res 242 called for negotiations. Problem is the word negotiations does not appear in UNSC res 242.

        BTW subsequent resolutions to UNSC res 242 re-affirming UNSC res 242 make it very clear that the omission of the words “the” and “all” is more meaningless bullsh*t! UNSC res 476 for example

        ” while your at it you probably would get a big kick out of viewing Fatahs main Facebook page which has a celebratory image of netanyahu in prison togs next to a noose and the words ICC. .”

        Your speculation on what I would get a big kick out of is completely baseless and irrelevant to the point

  3. just
    January 6, 2015, 3:23 pm

    “The rooms used to be free of charge as part of his grandfather’s altruistic vision of bringing together followers of different faiths. “I believe in a way we are all the children of Adam and Eve and we are all one and we have to love one and another. But the leaders don’t want us to live together,” said Abu el-Hawa.”

    He’s correct, of course. But, really, the GoI wants him and his family gone~ forever.

    And DaBakr~ Israel has despoiled the character of Palestine, and continues to do so with it’s ugly “architecture” and more.

    Bless him and his family, and those who are trying to avert this crime.

  4. Daniel Rich
    January 6, 2015, 3:27 pm

    I’m sure David Siegel is more than willing to share his dwelling with these unfortunate folks…

  5. Daniel Rich
    January 6, 2015, 3:45 pm

    @ DEBKA, DaArab, DaBakr,

    Q: also-with sites like MW growing in readership-I would’t be surprised if abu el-hawa would benefit greatly from a crowd sourced campaign-either a spontaneous one born of sympathy-or an organized one.

    R: Dude, is that an unoccupied hilltop I see there right behind you?

    Shoo, get busy!

    • DaBakr
      January 7, 2015, 3:28 am

      @dr

      you do realize-and this is not a joke-that debka is run pretty much entirely by a little old lady in northern israel?

  6. RoHa
    January 6, 2015, 8:49 pm

    “Peace”?
    “Interfaith”?

    Sooner we put a stop to that sort of thing, the better.

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