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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Palestinians raise over Dh600,000 to rebuild family’s home demolished by Israel

“We are telling the occupation, you can destroy but we will continue to build,” said Ahmad Al Ouri, a former prisoner of an Israeli jail who is on the organising committee of the fundraising drive.
Muhanad Halabi's father, Shafiq, stands by the rubble of his family home that was destroyed by Israel, as his two sons Mustafa, 10, (L) and Mohammed, 21, secure a giant poster to the twisted metal showing a portrait of his late son in the Palestinian village of Surda on January 14, 2016. Photo by Heidi Levine For The National.
Muhanad Halabi's father, Shafiq, stands by the rubble of his family home that was destroyed by Israel, as his two sons Mustafa, 10, (L) and Mohammed, 21, secure a giant poster to the twisted metal showing a portrait of his late son in the Palestinian village of Surda on January 14, 2016. Photo by Heidi Levine For The National.

Ramallah // A student from Bethlehem removed her gold crucifix necklace and donated it to the cause. A man of modest means with cancer who needed every penny for treatment came up with 50 shekels. Day labourers hard pressed to feed their families dug into their pockets.

These are just a small part of the enthusiastic responses of the public in Ramallah to a new kind of charity drive, its organisers said. It aimed to collect funds to sponsor the rebuilding of the family home of Muhanad Halabi, a 19-year old who was shot dead on October 3 after he stabbed to death two Israeli men in the Muslim quarter of occupied East Jerusalem at the start of the current wave of unrest.

Halabi also stabbed and wounded an Israeli woman and injured her two year old son in the attack.

The collection effort was launched on January 10, a day after Israeli army bulldozers demolished the Halabi family home in a collective punishment that Israel said was a measure to deter further attacks. By the time the drive ended on Saturday (January 16) it had raised 648,987 shekels (Dh601,459) from passers-by in central Ramallah and on the campus of nearby Birzeit University.

A parallel drive to rebuild four family destroyed homes of dead assailants – regarded as martyrs to Palestinians – is under way in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

“We are telling the occupation, you can destroy but we will continue to build,” said Ahmad Al Ouri, a former prisoner in an Israeli jail who is on the organising committee of the drive, which is an independent initiative led in part by employees of the Palestinian Authority though not formally linked to it.

In Ramallah’s main square, Manara Square, yesterday, people alighted from cars and pedestrians stopped to slip coins and bills into a box decorated with a poster of Halabi and a picture of his parents standing in the rubble of their home in Surda village, just outside Ramallah. Writing on the box described Halabi as “the detonator of the Jerusalem uprising”.

More than 150 Palestinians have been killed in the current wave of violence, most shot dead by Israeli security forces who say they carried out or attempted to carry out knife attacks. Twenty-five Israelis have been killed.

While Halabi is seen in Israel as a terrorist, those contributing money view him as a hero who died defending Islam’s third holiest site, the Al Aqsa mosque, which Palestinians say is under threat from Israel – something Israel denies. And they feel that his parents and siblings are innocent victims of Israel’s home demolitions policy.

“We feel for the family and thank God we have enough so that we can give,” said Maria Mohammed, from the nearby town of Turmus Aya, after her three-year old daughter Rasan dropped a coin in the box.

“It’s so sad to see them with their home destroyed while we have a home and our kids can live in comfort.”

“We are one people and we help each other in times of stress,” said Thaer Abu Baker, an employee at the Jawal telecommunications company after passing on a donation of 12,500 shekels collected from 50 employees.

While the wave of violence against security forces and civilians known in Arabic as the haba shaabiya, or popular rising, has been the work of individuals and has thus far not drawn wide participation, a poll last month by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that two thirds of the public in the West Bank and Gaza support knife attacks.

Mr Al Ouri said the donations reflected support for the rising and are “a crucial part of participation in the haba shaabiya”.

Jamal Zakout, head of Al Ard think tank in Ramallah and a member of the Palestine National Council, said one of the reasons the fund-raising campaign has struck such a chord is because the authority is seen as not acting to alleviate the plight of people whose homes are demolished.

“If people would see the government declare a solution or provide an alternative home and make a political campaign internationally maybe they wouldn’t feel as strongly that they have to do this,” he said.

Bassem Zakarneh, head of the 30,000 strong union of PA civil servants, proposed the government deduct one per cent from their monthly salaries to go to families whose homes were demolished.

The office of the spokesman of the PA cabinet did not respond to a request for comment.

In Surda, Mohanad Halabi’s father, Shafiq, a plumber, said his son was “martyred for the sake of Al Aqsa”.

Standing near the rubble from his two-storey villa, Mr Halabi noted that Israel had also confiscated the land on which the house was built and that he would need a large amount of money to buy alternative land.

He said the demolition would only increase hatred of Israel among Palestinians. “All my life I worked to build this house for me and the children. How do you expect me to feel? They do not scare us or deter us.”

Of the campaign, he said: “I feel the people are behind me and that Mohanad will be in the mind, hearts and memories of the Palestinians forever.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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