“I cannot sell my mother,” Omar tells us through our translator. “Home has a different meaning here in Palestine ~ Home is the tree, the land, the people ~ our ancestors, our history, our memories.”
Two weeks ago we visited a family whose home will soon be totally surrounded by a wall. The Israeli government has recently completed construction of a tunnel, costing 1.3 million USD, which will allow Omar Isar Hajajlah, his wife, and his 3 sons, ages 11, 9, and 2, access to their home. It will be their only lifeline to the world outside.
On this particular afternoon, as he graciously welcomed us to his home and his eldest son served us tea, Omar and his family unknowingly taught me something about what it means to be faithful. In Arabic, they use the word sumud ~ steadfast!
Omar is from the village of Al Walaja, a village about 4 km northwest of Bethlehem that was destroyed by Israel in 1948. Some residents fled to Jordan and Lebanon or moved to refugee camps in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. About 100 people relocated to village lands on the other side of the valley where the current or “new” Al Walaja is located. Now the proposed route of the separation barrier will totally encircle the village and leave the villagers with only a fraction of their historical land which they held prior to 1948.
The village filed an appeal with the Israeli High Court which delayed the barrier construction for nearly 4 years, but it was rejected in 2011. To further complicate things, part of the village is in the West Bank and part is within the municipal border of Jerusalem which Israel enlarged and illegally annexed after the 1967 war. However, the government of Israel has denied the villagers of Al Walaja Jerusalem IDs. Some have been fined for living “illegally” in Jerusalem with West Bank IDs, even though they have lived here for decades. If it sounds crazy, it is…
But what about Omar Isar Hajajlah? Omar’s home is on the outskirts of the village within the borders of Jerusalem, and the Israeli government wants his land. As Omar tells the story, the Israeli government gave him 4 options: 1) a blank cheque to sell his land; 2) a chance to trade his land for land elsewhere; 3) an opportunity to partner with the nearby settlement in building a hotel on his land in return for a 40% share of the profits; 4) an offer to rent his land from the government for 99 years. To each offer, his answer was a resounding, “No.”
So the government now plans to put a wall around Omar’s very modest home. The family will have their own “million dollar tunnel” by which they can access the village, which will also be encircled by the separation barrier. Their view of the beautiful valley and adjacent hills will disappear. Omar’s 18 dunums of land and 118 olive trees will be reduced to no land and only 8 trees. His children have been attacked, the oldest boy needing 13 stitches. The children’s friends no longer visit as parents deem it unsafe.
The Cremisan Convent School which is now 3 minutes away will take 45 minutes to reach. His family is not allowed overnight visitors (6AM-6PM only!). His permit to work in Israel has been revoked so he is currently without work. He and his family will be isolated. But then this is the point! ~ However, Omar says he will not leave as people did in 1948. He tells us through the translator: “The occupation will not last forever. All empires have ended. The people remain.”
Sumud ~ A strong determination to stand firm ~ Remaining on his land and in his home in spite of the obstacles ~ Refusing what might be an easier path ~ Keepinig his connection with land, as tenuous and fragile as it might be ~ This is what sumud requires of Omar ~ This is what it means for him to be faithful ~ to be steadfast. What does sumud require of us? ~ What does it mean for us to be faithful?