This is my friend Mohammed. He has half an eye, one wife, two houses and three children.
Mohammed is a Palestinian man, 38 years old. He makes his living from a garbage dump on the outskirts of the Palestinian town ‘Anata, located in the West Bank, northeast of Jerusalem, in administrative Area C (full Israeli civil and security control). His work consists in the first place of collecting money from the trucks that come and dump Israeli trash, mostly from renovations. Next, he searches in the trash for valuables. He assembles wood, various metals, and tiles. He also repairs old furniture and electric appliances he finds. All these he then sells. He makes just enough money to finish the month.
Half an eye
Mohammed used to work in Israel. He actually was the bartender of a pub in the center of Jerusalem and liked his work tremendously. Later he worked in renovations and as a guard. At some point, he did not succeed anymore in obtaining an entrance permit to Israel. He tried to continue his work anyway, but was arrested time and again for illegal entrance into Israel, and about six years ago he was imprisoned in Shata prison. In those days, he still had two eyes, and no problem with his eyesight.
One day, there was some unrest in the prison (which did not have to do with him). Jailers stormed in and started hitting everyone. He was harshly knocked on his head, and afterwards taken to the Israeli Rambam hospital in Haifa. As a result of the beatings, he lost the sight in one of his eyes altogether, and part of the sight in his other eye. When evaluated later in a Palestinian hospital in Ramallah, he was declared 100% handicapped. Albeit, as a Palestinian this doesn’t provide him with any financial or other social benefits.
He got himself a job in Ramallah, as a worker in a shoe shop. He made NIS 50 (ca. $14) for a full days work, which was far from enough, until he found the garbage dump.
Mohammed’s wife is a permanent resident of Jerusalem. She used to work as a teacher’s assistant in a school in the Shuafat refugee camp, but she left her job, because each summer she was put on unpaid leave. Lately, she began working as a cleaning lady in one of the Jerusalem hotels. The job isn’t paid well, but at least it provides a stable income.
In order to keep her Israeli residence permit, she has to live in Israel. Since Mohammed has no entry permit, she chose to rent a flat, a tiny one, in the Shuafat refugee camp, about which I wrote previously. The camp is officially situated within the expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but is on the Palestinian side of the separation wall, which Mohammed can reach easily. The downside of living in the camp is that because of the Israeli checkpoint that she has to pass on her way to work, it takes her an hour to get there, although it is less than 4 km (ca. 2 miles) away. However, this arrangement could solve the problem as regarding housing.
Not exactly. Even though she now lives in a Palestinian neighborhood, on the Palestinian side of the wall, Mohammed is all the same not allowed to join her, for precisely the same reason, that the camp belongs to Jerusalem. Technically, it’s no problem for Mohammed to get to the apartment, but at any point he could be arrested by soldiers who frequent the camp.
Mohammed is a creative and handy guy, and decided to build a second house, on the garbage dump. So, he bare handedly constructed a home from garbage alone, and it became beautiful! He decorated it with pictures he found and wooden carvings he created. He put plants and flowers around it. Dirt is all around and the smell may be horrific, but finally, the whole family could be happily together, every so often.
And then, he received a demolition order… It is true, he did not apply for a permit to build the house, and he does not have the right papers. Nevertheless, despite the fact that officially there is an authority to which it should be possible to apply, in practice it is virtually impossible to get a building permit.
Mohammed is just one of several of my friends in this locality, who lately received demolition orders from the Israeli authorities. Probably, this has to do with ethnic cleansing E1, the area between Jerusalem and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, of Arab population outside designated areas. Furthermore, the house is adjacent to two roads that are about to open in the near future. The ‘Israeli settler’ road, or in its official name the ‘East Ring’ Road, leads from the Anatot army base to Road 1, and is meant to connect the northern Jewish settlements with Jerusalem, without having to drive through Pisgat Ze’ev. The ‘Palestinian’ road, which lies parallel, is meant to connect ‘Anata with the Palestinian village Al-Za’im. The opening of the roads is expected to be accompanied by the building of an additional checkpoint. Perhaps, the pending demolition has to do with this development too, which could explain why this month tens of demolition orders were issued in Al-Za’im as well.
Mohammed doesn’t know what to do. His wife cannot give up her flat in Shuafat, without losing her residence permit, and he cannot afford renting a second flat in ‘Anata.
Little story: Mohammed is a great cook as well. On Friday afternoons, I tend to join him for lunch. Although sometimes we eat something simple, like hummus or pizza from the local bakery, commonly he prepares a barbecue. Everyone around will be invited: family, friends, and truck drivers.
Once, he made something special, called ‘zarb’. It is a meat and vegetable dish of Bedouin origin, cooked in an underground pit, but this time he did it on a fire. He used veal, potatoes, carrots, onion, hot peppers, lots of garlic, and olive oil. It looked to me somewhat frightening, but it tasted delicious.
The couple has three children under 10, two adorable boys and a girl. The oldest is the serious one. He is always ready to assist; in the weekends and sometimes after school, he helps his father with the garbage. The youngest is wild and reckless and drives everyone nuts. The girl is more silent, and since she is mostly with her mother, I am less acquainted with her.
This week, in which Israel celebrated Independence Day and Mohammed was informed that he has 7 days left to empty his home before destruction, his oldest has a school trip to Haifa. The child asked his father to come along, like the other fathers. Mohammed had to explain that this is impossible, which for the boy was hard to grasp. When speaking to me, Mohammed says: “This is how the Israelis grow hate in the hearts of our children. We didn’t have anything against Jews or Israelis, and would love to live in peace, but it is extremely difficult not to feel frustration and anger with the occupation, when there are so many restrictions. Where am I supposed to go?”