"When you pass your family’s olive trees, and you see that others are harvesting... that’s hard to forgive!"

Zacharia Abu al-Hija

Location: Ein Hawd

Residence: Ein Hawd

Age: 40

The encounter: I met Zacharia when I hiked from Ein Hod, where I was visiting my family, to the neighboring village of Ein Hawd, which is located on a hilltop just a short distance up the valley. Ein Hod and Ein Hawd have an awkward connection: the people of Ein Hawd are refugees from Ein Hod who squatted a few kilometers away when they fled their village during war in 1948. In 1953, their empty village was turned into an Israeli artist colony. The village of Ein Hawd was not officially recognized and not connected to the grid until 2005.*

What are you doing here right now?
I’m just relaxing and enjoying the weekend with my family.

What is your occupation?
Two years ago, when we finally had electricity here, I opened a little grocery store. But it isn’t going well. I’m losing money. Whenever I have a chance, I try to find additional jobs: gardening, house-painting... But there hasn’t been much work lately. We barely get by. Life is very difficult.

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I’m a Muslim and an Arab, and I live in this country. That’s what I say.

Can you tell me a bit about your family?
My wife is one year older than me. She’s from this village as well. We have two sons, ages twelve and fifteen. My oldest son is called Salam [peace]. When he was born, we still thought there would soon be peace.

Where is your family from?
My father came from Ein Hod. He used to have a grocery store there. In the war of 1948, others from the village fled to Jenin and Jordan – they are now spread out all over the world. But my father and his cousin did not want to give up their land and their orchards, so they hid with their families in the mountains. My father is the father of this whole village. He had fifteen children. He remarried after his first wife died. I was a child from his second marriage, when he was almost seventy years old. We are now about four hundred people in the village. During the first fifty years that we lived here, we used generators for electricity and we got our water from Nir Etzion [the neighboring community]. Our neighbors helped us, and we’d help them. Anyone who promised us things, we’d promise to vote for them, no matter which party they belonged to: Likud, Meretz, the National Religious Party – we’d all vote for them.  That’s how we got what we needed. Abraham Melamed [a politician from Nir Etzion who served in the Knesset for the National Religious party between 1969-1984] and my father were good friends. They... they helped each other.
In 2005, we were officially recognized, and three years ago we finally got a paved road. 
Our relationship with the neighboring communities is fine: they visit here, we visit there, they help us, we work there...  But nobody forgets.
I don’t expect to return to my father’s village; I’m happy here. We just want to have our rights, like everyone else. But when you pass your family’s olive trees, and you see that others are harvesting and you can’t even take half a kilo of your own olives – I’m sorry to say it – but that’s hard to forgive! Especially those people who claim to be peace proponents and then are the first to pick the olives that aren’t theirs... how can they claim to support peace and then take olives that don’t belong to them? That’s difficult: passing by and seeing that every day!

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
Most importantly, we need peace. There have been enough wars, enough problems, enough bloodshed...
In a war, we all lose. Many die on one side, and many die on the other side, and everybody suffers. Why can’t we just all live together in an equal society?
If we didn’t have all these wars, we would have a better economy and life would be easier. I’m forty, and during my lifetime there has always been war. People are fed up!