Sun, May 29, 2011 - Page 11 News List

West Bank B&B offers slice of life on the frontline


A man walks down an alley covered by wire mesh in an Israeli enclave called H2 in Hebron, Palestinian Territories, on April 7.

Photo: AFP

Mohammed Saadeq has had rocks, bleach and even dead rats thrown at his home, but so far it hasn’t put off visitors from coming to stay at his small bed and breakfast (B&B) in Hebron’s Old City. It’s an adventurous move in an area that is hardly a tourist haven, located in the middle of a tightly controlled Israeli enclave called H2, where 400 hardline Jewish settlers live in the middle of a local population of 6,000.

However, since the tiny B&B opened its doors just two months ago, its two rooms have been fully booked, bringing the Saadeq family a welcome source of income in an area where 76 percent of the population live under the poverty line.

Like hundreds of Palestinians in H2, Saadeq’s closest neighbors are settlers who live in the Avraham Avinu settlement, which faces directly onto his one-story home and overlooks the narrow alleys where the souk, or marketplace, is located.

And for those not used to the bizarre reality of life in the shadow of a settlement, a walk through the market can prove enlightening.

“About a week ago, they threw down two dead rats and we had to contact the authorities to come and take them away,” shopkeeper Jamal Maraga said, pointing up at the houses above the market. “I’ve been working here since the 1980s and I’ve seen them throw dirty water, bleach and urine, but that was a first.”

Overhead, a grid-like mesh is strung across the narrow alley to catch the plastic bottles, dirty nappies and other detritus chucked down by the settlers — wryly described by the shopkeepers as “gifts from heaven.”

And the relationship between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbors living across the alleyway is no better.

“If they see us on the roof, they spray water out of the toilet window or throw stones,” says Saadeq’s 38-year-old wife Fatima Kneibi, stepping carefully to avoid the piles of dried-up dog mess littering the roof — left by dogs owned by the settlers, she said.

The dogs roam freely across the open-plan rooftops at night and their Jewish neighbors shout obscenities in Arabic, Kneibi said.

The walls around the rooftop are perilously low, but building work or renovations are political issues in H2, with Saadeq saying he could not make them any higher because of an Israeli military order banning such work on “security grounds.”

The military presence took on an even harsher twist inside the building three years ago, when troops sealed off four rooms, including one containing furniture and clothes, because they overlooked the settlement.

For three months, the family was unable to access any of the rooms and had to rely on furniture and clothes donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, until Saadeq decided enough was enough.

“Finally I opened the rooms, but the settlers complained and the army arrested me,” he said, adding that he spent four days in jail on charges of using the rooms without the army’s permission.

Finally, after a lengthy legal battle, the family were given permission to use the rooms they now live in, although the windows are boxed in with a closely knit criss-cross of metal.

Opening up the rooms for the family to live in freed up the remaining space, which was renovated by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and turned into two neatly turned out guest rooms.

“It’s a start for us, but we are optimistic,” Saadeq said, handing out business cards for his fledgling business, which still doesn’t have a name.

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