Saturday, August 18 2001 Voluntary Work Camp in the Unrecognized Village of Dar el-Hanun

On Saturday evening, 18/8/2001, a Ta’ayush summer work camp at the unrecognized village of Dar el-Hanun in Wadi ‘Ara was completed. For three incredible days (16-18.8.2001) we worked together, Arabs and Jews, to pave some 100 meters of the access route to the village, previously a dirt track, as well as the village square. We cleared the remains of three houses demolished since 1997 and constructed a children’s playground. We were all extremely excited to see the road and the playground, shortly after their construction was completed, filled with children on their bicycles and skateboards, climbing the colorful installations in the playground and playing in the sand pit.

The camp was organized by “Ta’ayush – an Arab-Jewish partnership” and the people of Dar el-Hanun. It was made possible through the many contributions we received, both financial and in the form of machines, appliances, working-tools, materials, food, and of course — labor. Contributors included local councils, private businesses and individuals, both Arab and Jewish, from various regions. It felt wonderful to be there and see it happening: some 500 volunteers, Jews and Arabs, locals and guests, women and men, old and young — all working together, in great spirit, to make what seemed like a rather ambitious plan come true. It is our belief, that only by working together can we break down the barriers separating Jews and Arabs in this country, for a future of partnerhood and equality.

The purpose of the camp was to support the people of Dar el-Hanun and to express solidarity with their struggle to live on their land as equal citizens. There are close to 100 Arab communities in Israel that are not recognized by State authorities; Dar el-Hanun is the only such “unrecognized village” in the “triangle” (Hebrew “meshulash”) region, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, where Ta’ayush has focused its activities since October 2000. The camp was our way to support the cause of the unrecognized villages — one grave instance among many of the discrimination suffered by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Established in 1925, Dar el-Hanun is a small village close to Ar’ara, Kafr Qara’ and Barta’a, in the ‘Ara valley. After a long campaign by State authorities to curb the development of the village, only 12 families remain today. The beauty of the scenery stands in sharp contrast to the living conditions its inhabitants have to endure: in 1965, when land use was first regulated by State legislation, Dar el-Hanun and its lands were designated as “agricultural lands” and thus became an “unrecognized village”, that is, ineligible for construction and planning; all built structures became retroactively illegal. This means that the people of Dar el-Hanun are not only prevented from any expansion of their homes or of the village, but are also deprived of elementary services such as roads, electricity, water and sewage, as well as health and education facilities. They are obliged to use either expensive alternatives (e.g., solar generators for electricity, which are not even sufficient for domestic refrigerators), or the services of nearby villages (water and schooling from Ar’ara, medical services from Kafr Qara’).

By denying the people of Dar el-Hanun and other unrecognized villages the most elementary services they are entitled to, the authorities wish to pressure the inhabitants into abandoning their homes and lands or selling them to the State. Another Arab community would thus disappear, making the region “more Jewish”. In such circumstances, private investors in the area would also not miss the occasion to make a profit. Over the years, many of the inhabitants have indeed left their homes out of despair. The majority live in neighboring villages and intend to return to Dar el-Hanun. Once a home is deserted, it is immediately demolished. The remains of several such demolished houses can still be seen in Dar el-Hanun as marks of an impending future that we hope to prevent. The remaining families are determined to struggle for their right to live on their lands and receive the basic services granted to every citizen in a democratic society.

Work began on Thursday morning. The leveling and groundwork for the road were conducted in advance. The police arrived early in the morning, and shortly after came representatives of the regional construction and planning authority with a warrant ordering to stop the works. We made it clear that we were determined to continue our work, since such warrants are issued almost automatically in order to prevent community development projects in Arab villages. As it turned out, the warrant was neither accurate nor binding. After protracted negotiations, the police left the area and the work went on. It was clear that without the presence of an Arab-Jewish group determined to stand by the local inhabitants, things could have turned out differently. Still, volunteers were harassed by police patrols on their way to Dar el-Hanun and improvised signposts pointing to the village were removed.

During the work on the road, other volunteers worked to clear the areas on either side and prepare a space for the playground, while a bulldozer cleared the remains of a demolished house right next to it. On Friday and Saturday work on the playground continued, and by Saturday afternoon it, too, became a reality: Two swings, a sand pit and three other iron climbing installations, surrounded by colorful car-tires.

Besides work there was also a varied cultural program: musicians and singers (Amal Murkus, Muhammad Kabha, Amir Zuscovich), actors (Salwa Nakara, Ihab Zakhalqa), poets (Husni Shehada, Muslih Tab’uni, Adi Sorek), rappers (Tamer and Suheil Nafar) and the Left Bank Jazz Ensemble (who also led a musical event with the children) — all volunteered to come and turn this project into a small festival. Most of the shows took place in the evenings, after the days work, and attracted a large audience from the surrounding towns and villages.

We can now look back at our most ambitious project this year. Not as risky perhaps as the solidarity convoys to encircled Palestinian villages in the Occupied Territories, but no less important in terms of our long-term project of forging a real grassroots alliance of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel for full and equal rights. However, the struggle of the people of Dar el-Hanun is not over; neither the road nor the playground is safe as long as the village remains unrecognized. We hope we won’t have to go back to the village in order to defend what we have built together with the people of Dar el-Hanun; but clearly we remain committed to their struggle. We hope this cause can become that of many in this country who believe in the principles of Ta’ayush, of a common future as equals.