Ayn Hawd and the "Unrecognized Villages"

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VOL. 31


No. 1
P. 39
Ayn Hawd and the "Unrecognized Villages"

In 1948, Israeli forces expelled more than 650 Palestinians from `Ayn Hawd, a 700-year-old Muslim village in the southern Carmel hills. Most of `Ayn Hawd's inhabitants ended up in refugee camps in Jinin and Irbid, while some 150 of the villagers managed to remain inside the borders of what became Israel.
In 1953, after most of the Palestinian villages depopulated by Israeli forces during the war had been razed, the village of `Ayn Hawd was designated for preservation as an artists' colony. Under the vision of Marcel Janco, a Rumanian Jewish refugee who, along with Marcel Duchamps, had been one of the founders of the Dada movement in the early 1920s, `Ayn Hawd was repopulated with Israel's finest painters, sculptors, and potters--pioneers entrusted with the elaboration of a Hebrew "nativism." The name of the village was officially changed in 1954 to "Ein Hod. Today, Ein Hod's olive groves serve as the site of the renowned Sculpture Biennial, and its structures house numerous galleries, exhibits, festivals, and concerts. The village has become a center for Israeli cultural production, and its mosque has been transformed into a restaurant/bar modeled after the Café Voltaire in Zurich, where Dada was first conceived.
Meanwhile, in the hills above Ein Hod, some of `Ayn Hawd's original inhabitants, led by Muhammad Mahmud `Abd al-Ghani Abu al-Hayja' (also known as Abu Hilmi), built a hamlet on what had been his pastures and orchards. Today, a Jewish National Fund forest (planted in 1964) administered by the Carmel National Park Authority (established in 1973). Until recently an "unrecognized village" under Israeli law, `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida--"the New `Ayn Hawd"--consists of more than thee dozen houses under demolition order. Though officially recognized by Israel's Interior Ministry in 1992 and again by the Rabin government in 1994, little has changed in the makeshift village over the past nine years, and it still receives no governmental services, such as water, electricity, sewage, a health clinic, an access road, or building permits. The residents measure the passing of time according to the various landmark events that have shaped their collective consciousness: "the first demolition order," "the second demolition order," "the first recognition," "the second recognition," and so on.
Unlike most Palestinian refugees, the residents of `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida know the people who now occupy their homes, the art they produce, and the variegated ways they try to obscure the fact that their society was created upon the ruins of another. And unlike most Israelis, the residents of Ein Hod know the Palestinians who owned the houses in which they live, since the latter have worked for years as their gardeners, construction workers, and handymen.
The Dada movement, a guiding force for Ein Hod's artists, called for the negation of bourgeois linguistic and pictorial conventions and for a return to a generalized, indigenous, primitive art, with an emphasis on paradox and nihilistic satire. To these artists, `Ayn Hawd is a "found object." Its glory is the "ruins aesthetic" that stands in stark contrast to the perceived artificiality of modern Israeli architecture. The Israeli inhabitants have gone to great lengths to preserve this "distressed" look, thanks, in part, to the services and know-how of the village's original owners. As for the new `Ayn Hawd, the artists either bemoan what they see as its "aesthetic shortcomings" or extol the perceived "philosophical" advantages of "simple living" without electricity.
In October 1998, a forest fire raged through the Carmel hills, damaging several Jewish settlements, including Ein Hod and the neighboring kibbutz of Nir Etzion. The fire also licked at the houses of `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida, which would have burned to the ground had it not been for the residents' efforts to stave off the fire with whatever came to hand; since the provisional water supply piped in to the village from Nir Etzion had been cut off in order to serve the fire-fighting efforts in the settlements. Israeli TV was flooded with human interest stories showing Ein Hod's artists lamenting "you don't know what it's like to lose your home, to have everything destroyed overnight." `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida, for its part, was forgotten until the Israeli news media incited public hysteria by insinuating that the fire had been set by arsonists with "nationalist motives." Subsequently, and despite a lack of evidence, a resident of `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida was arrested for setting the forest ablaze.
While the residents of `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida have always resented the forest that was planted around them, some felt uncomfortably exposed after the devastation wrought by the fire. While the forest had kept them isolated, it also had kept them hidden, enabling them to develop their village by building "illegally," undercover (save for the routine aerial surveillance conducted by the Interior Ministry). Today, without the trees to block `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida from view, residents of the nearby Ein Hod and Nir Etzion complain about the former's expansion. Given the government's refusal to provide garbage and sewage services, the village is considered an "environmental problem" by its Jewish neighbors, who, instead of helping `Ayn Hawd al-Jadida obtain the services it needs, are focusing their efforts on obstructing zoning plans that would route 'Ayn Hawd al-Jadida's future access road alongside their settlements.
"[A]n invisible reality moving phantomwise beneath a visible fiction," 'Ayn Hawd al-Jadida is unique because it remains unrecognized for all practical purposes, its residents are present absentees, and their original village was not destroyed but was settled by Jews. As the only Palestinian village that combines all these elements, it encapsulates the situation of Palestinians in Israel.

MuhammadAbu Al-Hayja, a civil engineer, is the founder and director of the Association of Forty, an organization devoted to achieving government recognition for the "unrecognized villages" of Israel. He was interviewed in Haifa by Riad Beidas, a Palestinian researcher and journalist currently based in Vienna, for our sister publication, Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyyah, at the end of July 2000, with follow-up interviews on 21 and 22 April 2001.
Rachel Leah Jones, a filmmaker based in New York, is currently completing a documentary on `Ayn Hawd entitled "500 Dunam on the Moon" (www.500dunam.com).