Haj Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa is known to many as ‘the Peacemaker’ having spent 70 years of his life trying to embody a message of unity and neighbourliness among all people.
‘He is a walking symbol of hope, peace and generosity to those he meets’, one supporter commented.
Upon meeting Ibrahim, who comes from a Palestinian Bedouin family, I was welcomed into his home known as ‘The Peace House’ where he hosts peacemakers and visitors from around the world.
‘It’s a saying of ours that we keep the door open to everybody – unless we don’t have tea and food to give them! Then lock the door! Luckily it’s never come to that!’ says Ibrahim.
A wall in the kitchen is plastered with photos and letters, relics that bear testimony to the various adventures Ibrahim has had since dedicating himself to the sizeable task of bringing peace to Israel and Palestine. Whether speaking before audiences of 1.25 million in India to being invited to the House of Lords in England, to milking cows with local peace groups, Ibrahim is more bemused than anyone at the impressive experiences his journey has led him to, particularly the unexpected admiration he has gained from celebrities like Richard Gere and Alicia Keys.
‘I am just a tiny man. A nobody! Yet life has taken me to India on a stage with Ravi Shankan in front of 1.25million listening to what I say’
Commenting on the conflict, Ibrahim explains: ‘I have this house to invite people in and speak about non-violence, I am against all violence. People must build bridges to one another’.
‘We are so far apart from each other as people here. There is no speaking to each other. There is the highest degree of separation because the Israeli does not know me.’
In spite of his goodwill and intentions, grief has recently befallen Ibrahim, his family and The Peacehouse.
After building two floors above his family home to make space for their children and grandchildren, Ibrahim found himself in receipt of a house demolition order, prompting an expensive court trial that lasted for many months and a final court order to pay 288,000 NIS in instalments of 4,800 NIS every month.
Of course, a key detail which the court fails to address is that the law in East Jerusalem specifically prevents Palestinian residents from building or enlarging their homes. Permits cannot be obtained in all but the very rarest of cases. So Palestinians in over-crowded homes must take the risk of demolition and build ‘illegally’.
It is precisely through the use of dry, seemingly neutral town planning laws that the Israeli authorities so effectively make life for Palestinian residents intolerable.
The law carries with it a sense of legitimacy and impartiality; for an outside observer, it is very difficult to appreciate the discriminatory nature of Israel’s housing laws unless you see their direct effect on the daily lives of Palestinians. The law provides an effective smokescreen for what is at its heart a strategy of ethnic displacement.
The stress of the ongoing legal case against him has caused Ibrahim to suffer a stroke in court and a heart attack. He has been in and out of hospital ever since.
Ibrahim is now routinely threatened with 3 years of prison as well as the demolition of his house if he cannot meet the various fines he is being pursued for; most recently he was ordered to pay 30,000 New Israeli Shekel (appx. 7650 USD) by the end of December on top of the 4,800NIS every month. As a pensioner with very little income, Ibrahim simply has no means of paying these amounts on a regular basis. Various activists have appealed for donations to help him meet the payments, meanwhile Ibrahim’s health continues to deteriorate. He has recently been banned from any travel abroad.
Such is the difficulty in successfully challenging a house demolition order in court that a local activist has taken the last resort of sending a petition for mercy to Prime Minister Netanyahu signed by various members of the local and international community. The conclusion is virtually foregone.
Unfortunately, Ibrahim’s story is not unique. Rather it is a drop in a vast ocean of procedural injustices that Palestinians must attempt to navigate.
The manipulation of the law by the State of Israel raises an important question; how far can people be expected to play by the rules of a system that is weighted against them from the start?
Article by Chris M, British barrister, and ICAHD volunteer.