During my time in Palestine, I continually came across people whose stories deserved to be told. The Abu Haikal family was one in particular that stood out. With the intimacy of hearing people’s stories, comes the responsibility to share them over again to create awareness. I am open to the re-publishing of these stories, please contact me for more information.
Written by: Katy Carlson and Pernille Sørenson
Photographs by: Katy Carlson
Over the last few decades, the use of archeological excavations has emerged as growing tool for Zionists to expel local Palestinians from the Holy Lands. In 1967, Israel was tasked with overseeing archaeological digs in the West Bank. As seen in the previous examples of Silwan and Khirbet Susiya, this archaeological excavation shows many signs of being politically motivated. What first appears to be an innocent archaeological dig has been revealed to hide well-scheduled political tactics and resulted in the abuse of Palestinian heritage. Tel Rumeida is an example where the fight is still being waged against this archeological imperialism.
Tel Rumeida’s elevation allows for a spectacular view of the city of Hebron. Although Hebron is in the West Bank, the city is populated by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Located in the West Bank city of Hebron, Tel Rumeida is classified as an H2 area, meaning that it is under Israeli control. For this reason, Tel Rumeida is a brazen example of the Israeli occupation. Multiple families live there as legal residents on the land with protected tenancy. The Abu Haikal family is one of the families that has been leading the fight for their land in the face of a growing settler population.
Many Jews believe that Tel Rumeida is home to the tombs of Jesse and Ruth. Because of this belief, settlers have been attempting to take hold of the land since their arrival in 1982. As one of the earliest steps in the process, a settlement was constructed on the hilltop in 1984. In the beginning, seven Israeli families lived in caravans there. However, the Israeli government approved the construction of permanent buildings in 1988. In 1991, just three years later, the Israeli army established a military base on plot 54, the Abu Haikal family’s backyard. This transformed the family’s land into a military dwelling-place for Israeli soldiers who have unashamedly declared that their presence is for the protection of the settlers and not the Palestinians.
Signs saying “Danger” and “Keep Out” have been posted, blocking the Abu Haikal family from their own property.
Israeli soldiers regularly cross the property to access the military base they built on the Abu Haikal’s land.
Blue on white and green on white markings indicate paths that the settlers use to access their settlement. This path runs across the east side of Tel Rumeida.
Each time the settlers attack and occupy the family’s land the family has objected to the police, but no long-term solution has been arranged due to the impunity the settlers live under. The assaults have merely continued as settlers attack the family on their land, cut their olive trees down and set fire to their field which has now dried up.
In the settlers’ most recent attempt to seize the land of Tel Rumeida, Emmanuel Eisenberg, an archaeologist and project coordinator from the Israeli Antiquity Authority, began what they are calling an ‘archaeological excavation’. Here, he hopes to find remnants of King David’s palace. The excavation began in January 2014 following Netanyahu’s declaration that he would not evacuate the settlements of Hebron in the occasion of a peace deal. The excavation is not just a project of the nearby settlers though, it has been funded 7 million shekels by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Multiple tents have been erected in front of the Abu Haikal’s home where they once had many trees for farming.
Emmanuel Eisenberg gets a ride up the hill on a bulldozer that is used to move large amounts of dirt on the Abu Haikal’s property.
This olive tree and the wall running alongside it are hundreds of years old. The wall to the right of the tree has already been destroyed, but the family is hoping the it will be kept intact to the left.
Emmanuel Eisenberg’s name is not unfamiliar to those who are aware of archeological imperialism in occupied Palestine. It is interesting to learn that, when the settlers planned the archaeological dig, all of the archeologists whom they contacted rejected their offer except for Eisenberg. In the late 1990′s, he was previously responsible for an archaeological dig that lead to the construction of an illegal Israeli settlement in Ramat Yishai. He has already announced his future plan for Tel Rumeida, which is to establish a Bible Park for tourists. Unsurprisingly, the archaeological site has not revealed any evidence of Jewish history, but instead, mainly evidence of old farming and Muslim graves which were then removed.
Beyond the deceitful intentions behind the excavation, one can also question the presence of the Israeli Antiquity Authority, as they are only authorized to work within the 67-borders. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel set up the Civil Administration, which works under Jordanian law, and assigned it to attend to any archaeological work in the West Bank. However, the Civil Administration is part of the Israeli governing body, so the I.A.A and the Civil Administration work closely together. Thus, it should be illegal for the I.A.A to work outside the 67-borders, and excavations within the Hebron area should demand coordination with Palestinian Authorities, according to Oslo agreements. It seems that these facts are being ignored by those responsible for the archaeological site. Even though the family has the law on their side, and are the legal residents of the land where they have paid their rent until 2015, their rights have been ignored.
Dawud and Arwa Abu Haikal walk around the dig-site on their property which now has a tall fence to keep them out.
Arwa and Dawud walk along the only remaining path that links the Abu Haikal’s property with that of their neighbors at Tel Rumeida. The path is very narrow and is also very steep in places where it has begun to erode.
Dawud tries to take photos of the excavation process every day so that they will have evidence for their court case.
All of these facts are merely laws and numbers. They provide us with a theoretical overview of the situation, but they can never explain the emotional violence that the family faces on a daily basis. As almost any other Palestinian resident in Hebron, the family members are victims of violence and harassment from the settlers. They have been forced to put bars on their windows and bullet holes in their walls and furniture are confirming of invasions by Israeli soldiers. This story is the living nightmare of a family protecting their land, as nearly any family would do regardless of the context. In this case, the context is also extremely political. Not only is the Abu Haikal family resisting the unjust seizure of their homes, but the act of staying on their land is in direct resistance to the occupation. There is a well-known among Palestinians, that “existence is resistance”. At Tel Rumeida, the Abu Haikal family is a prime example of this saying being carried out.
Left: Barbed wire and fences now cover the property where Arwa and many others spent their childhoods playing. || Right: Despite the loss of their farmland, the Abu Haikal family still grows walnuts and numerous other nut and fruit trees on a small plot beside their home.