We were saddened to hear news of the death of Hani Amer in May, a man we met many times in the early days of our harvest tours. Hani’s story was one of the most extraordinary tales of Palestinian steadfastness, as he and his family insisted on remaining in their home even as it was surrounded by Israel’s Separation Wall.
A lost farm and flower shop
Starting in 2004, we took tour participants to meet Hani and his family. Arriving at the tall metal gate in the Wall, we would see him coming to unlock the only way into a compound surrounded on three sides by the towering concrete blocks of the Wall and the encroaching illegal settlement of Elkana. Coming through the gate, Hani’s family would warmly welcome us into their small house to share tea and pastries, and hear their story.
Once, Hani tended 11 hectares of land and ran a flower shop in the village of Mas’ha. These provided a livelihood for his family until the shop was demolished to make way for the Wall. He lost his farm when 80% of Mas’ha land was taken for the growing illegal settlement.
Hani’s family held out against the route of the Wall – whose construction was to take their land and livelihood – and were supported by local and international activists who camped outside their home. Although they lost the battle, they continued to embody the iconic Palestinian quality of steadfastness. Refusing to sell their home and move away, they stayed in their house even as the route of the Wall encircled it and cut them off from their lands. They ended up living on the Israeli side of the Wall.
A 3 hour trip to visit his own land
For seven years the family negotiated to have the keys to the gate and be allowed the simple freedom for guests to come and go as they please. They won this battle, yet their home is now surrounded by cameras and constant surveillance.
The family face frequent harassment from settlers throwing stones, and military night-raids into their home. Every time Hani wanted to visit what remained of his land, he would have to unlock the gate to leave his home and make a three-hour trip to travel around the settlement and the wall to enter what remained of his land from the opposite side. Before the Wall, that trip would take just fifteen minutes.
Memories of the family’s warmth and hospitality remain with us, along with their extraordinary steadfastness. It bought tears of sadness and anger from first-time tour participants, as well as sheer astonishment that this situation could have happened at all. The family’s generosity towards us stood in stark contrast to the ugly reality of a military occupation and the aggressive hostility from the illegal settlers outside their gate.
A symbol of defiance
Tour participant and previous Zaytoun board member, Martin Meteyard, remembers his visit. “It was quite extraordinary to visit this isolated house, acting as a symbol of defiance against the Wall almost surrounding it, and to marvel at the resilience of Hani and his family in refusing to give up – a resilience which I was to find mirrored in so many of the visits we made during that trip.”
In honour of that resilience, we’ll leave the last word with Hani…
“I have faith that maybe after two days, 10 days or 100 years, this will all go away,because no injustice can last forever.”Hani Amer
Written by Cathi Pawson, co-founder of Zaytoun who visited Hani’s home in 2004 and 2005.