Awdah Hathaleen is 24 years old and a collective member from Um al-Khair. He is an English teacher in his village, having studied English teaching methods at Hebron University. Awdah and his mother currently live in a house with a pending demolition order. Already, their house has been demolished twice before. Awdah has been a peace activist for three years, and is part of the Good Shepherd Collective because he believes that the principles of the organization will help improve the situation of the village and its people by uplifting their voices, concerns, and needs.
'Demolishing Our Dreams' - an article by Awdah Hathaleen
Reproduced, with permission, from the Good Shepherd Collective
For the Bedouin people, community is everything. Our families are big and relying on each other is what allows to maintain our lives under such harsh conditions under the Israeli military occupation. Even before we all become refugees and our lives became much more difficult, operating as a collective is was an important part of our culture. Part of maintaining this culture and tradition for us was the establishment of our community center. We wanted to create a common space for all the children and adults to be together. It took a lot of hard work and support from the international community, and finally, our dreams were realized.
After the demolition of the community center and two houses in the summer of 2016, the residents built a new community center, a small tent, and also rebuilt the houses that were demolished. One of the ways that we resist, is by working together and pooling our resources, both financially, physically, and spiritually so we can reconstruct our lives after the Israelis demolish our homes. Sometimes we think that the Israelis want to demolish more after we rebuild than when we originally built a way to try to crush our souls.
So when we built the community center, it was more than just a building or a shelter. It symbolized our way of life. It wasn’t long before this symbol was demolished. On November 15, 2016, rolled in columns to demolish one of the few places our children could play. We had big plans for this community center and the way it could improve the quality of life. We had designs not only for a center for gathering but for a library as well. We were all so invested in the center, and still are moving forward. For us, it is something very special.
When I got the call that the Israelis were moving in, I was in my university preparing to enter the exam. My phone rang and I saw it was my brother. I knew it was important because he knew I was in my exams that day, because the night before I stayed up late studying and for our community, getting a college education is almost sacred. So I knew it was important. I answered the call and in a frantic, urgent voice he simply said, “There is a demolition in the village” and immediately closed the call.
My mind stopped thinking about that moment. Will my mother’s house be demolished as it was three months ago? Will the community center be demolished? Will young people be arrested? All the questions surrounding a home demolition entered my mind and none of the questions of the exam. I sat thinking about what would happen and I couldn’t focus how important the work was in front of me.
About 15 minutes later the phone rang. I was literally trembling with fear, stuck in my own powerlessness of the situation, being so far from home and not being able to support my people. I saw the caller’s name. It was my brother again. I grabbed the phone and my hand shook. I did not say anything. My brother told me they had demolished the new community center and now they would destroy your mother’s house. I cried out loud, my God! Why? Are they crazy?
I could not believe all this and I could not bear it all. I began to cry bitterly, not knowing what to do. Having experienced so many home demolitions before, the images of armed Israeli soldiers pushing and hitting my people filled my mind. It was as if I could hear in my head the rumbling of the steel tracks on the bulldozer and the cracking of concrete, the twisting of metal. But most of all, I could hear the cries of the women, the weeping of children. My mind was filled with nothing else but the trauma of the previous demolitions. All of the hours of studying I did to prepare for the exam were pushed out by a tidal wave of painful emotions and memories. But then those memories became to reality when my brother called because now my mother and sisters would become homeless again.
All of went through my head, the time passed because I was so consumed with what was happening in my home, to my loved ones. I looked up and saw that I only had five minutes before the exam period was over and I was looking at almost an entirely blank page. I sat in that wooden chair unable to do anything because to be able to work in those times, it is almost as if you have to push out of your mind your community, your dreams, your siblings, and most importantly your mother and the pain and violence they are facing. Who can do that? Who can say I can’t care about these things in their head and only focus on an exam? But when you live in Um al-Khair, this is something you have to practice if you want to succeed in life.
As I was trying to finish the exam with a sense of resistance to the Israelis, telling myself they will not take my away my education as well, the phone rang again. He told me they had left the village after they demolished the community center and your mother’s house or our house. It was all over, for the moment.
I finished the exam, holding it all in my head, trying to stay focused knowing what awaited me when I returned home to Um al-Khair. As I returned, everything devastating, even though emotionally I was preparing myself to be strong when I came home. But nothing can really prepare you when you arrive at your village and see the dreams of a community center and a library destroyed and a whole family left to put their lives back together – only to know that whatever they put back up to live in – will be destroyed again.
What we learn from these exams, isn’t the content what the teacher is giving us in class. What we are learning is resolve, how to keep hope in the darkness of the Israeli occupation, how to hold love for those you care about in a distance be in be patience in the opportunities when we can show them love and support. School here isn’t about education, it’s about life.