Why Hind Abu Khatum Will Not Sell Her Land

The village of Yafia borders the western side of Nazareth, and since the town has expanded the two are now geographically linked though Yafia retains its own municipal council. Ghssan Abu Hatum, the oldest of the sons of Sa’ada Abu Hatum, recounts the history of the village. Some 18,000 people live in Yafia but only about a third of them are original inhabitants. After 1948, refugees came from surrounding villages which had been destroyed: all the residents of Ma’alul and Majdal (today’s Migdal Ha’emeq), some of the residents of Tiberias, Saffuria (today’s Tzipori) and Nazareth, and other refugees who found a welcoming home at Yafia. The old part of the village contains some churches of the various Christian groups, including a church about 1,000 years old, dedicated to Saint George. There are also a number of mosques.

During the fighting of 1948, the residents of Yafia surrendered without a struggle and the Israeli army did not expel them. However, despite this, the village land in the Jezreel Valley was requisitioned and handed over to moshavim (Jewish villages) and kibbutzim in the area. Some three or four years later, some of the land was returned to the village, but only the land north of the railway which crossed the valley west to east (the Hijazi railway, built at the beginning of the 20th century, connecting Haifa to Samah – today’s Tzemah – and on to the Syrian capital of Damascus). Among the lands returned were a few hundred acres belonging to the Abu Hatum family.

Hind Abu Hatum (Um Ghassan) raised four sons and four daughters in Yafia, where she was born. Despite her age, 84, she is still full of energy and joie de vivre. From her house in the eastern neighborhood one can see the lands of Marj Ibn Amer (the Jezreel Valley) all around. Below, one can see the land that Hind and her husband Sa’ada Abu Hatum received from Sa’ada’s father. Some 250 acres of agricultural land was divided among his five sons, each receiving some 50 acres.

Hind is very proud of her land and of the struggle she waged to ensure it would stay as the family’s property. “When the children were small, I couldn’t go down into the valley with my husband to see the land,” she says. “One day, he said I had to go with him. I didn’t ask any questions, and went down. There was a large tent down there erected by Bedouin who were herders. The women sat on one side of the tent, and the men on the other. I went to the side for women, and heard their talk, and understood that my husband was planning on finalizing a deal that day to sell our land to the Bedouin. Without thinking twice, I went to the side for men and stood before them, and said to the trader who spoke with my husband, ‘Even if you give me all the gold in the world, I won’t give you a single handful of earth’. The men were stunned, and left, and the land stayed with us.”

“When I was young,” she continues, “it was not common to send the girls to school outside the village. I studied three years in the nuns’ school in the village, and then when I had to go to the school in Nazareth, my grandfather wouldn’t allow it. Only my little sister was able to finish elementary school, because when her turn came, grandfather had already died. Everything I know today, I learned from my children when I helped them with their homework.”

Until 1948, the land in the valley was cultivated without the use of irrigation, for watermelon, vegetables, beans, wheat and barley. After the land was returned, the family allowed another farmer to cultivate it, until he died. Since then, the land has been neglected. Hind’s children have all grown up and found work in other branches, and the young generation no longer has any connection to farming. However, the land was retained, and Hind’s sons sought a way to fulfill their mother’s dream to see the land flourish once again. Fifteen years ago they planted olive trees, but the trees were not sufficiently cared for, and failed to bear fruit.

Ghassan explains why he turned to Sindyanna of Galilee. “First I approached private individuals to take the land and work it,” he says. “But this arrangement didn’t work, because everyone wants to own the land, and I will never agree to this. I can’t sell the land, because this would be a mortal blow to my mother. However, leasing the land to Sindyanna would be something different. This organization has principles and ideology. I know that profits will be reinvested in society, so that young women of our generation will be able to achieve the education and independence that was withheld from my mother. I am sure that cooperation between us will be marked by mutual consideration and respect.”

Written by Hadas Lahav, May 2011