Arab Unrecognized Villages: Ain Hood
Heba Zoabi - 31/01/2008
Ain Hod is a Palestinian village that was deserted in 1948 when the ‘Present-Absent’ law was imposed on its inhabitants. The law obliged the villagers to move one mile away from their village, before the war forced them to leave it for good. In 1954, it became Ain Hood, a Jewish artists’ town, where its new inhabitants preserved the buildings deserted by the Arabs.
The twelve original inhabitants of Ain Hod, the Abu Al-Hayja family, struggled for survival and succeeded thanks to their father's wisdom and perseverance. They settled in a nearby wood, founding the new Ain Hod as a continuation of the old one. The new village became the center of a struggle for recognition by the authorities, of twenty seven long unrecognized Arab villages.
The new village lies near the old one, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Its population that has now become three hundred and fifty, lived for forty years in an unrecognized new village on land owned by the villagers. Despite winning recognition in 1998, the villagers were deprived of electricity for over ten years, until 2007, when just two houses became connected to the electricity grid.
It is important to mention that all the institutions of new Ain Hod are the result of the locals’ private initiative, for example, the mosque and the school. The school was founded in 1976, thanks to the initiative and perseverance of Mohammad Abu Al-Hayja, the village father. He insisted on having an elementary school in his village, affiliated with the Ministry of Education.
How did Ain Hod's people live during this period? How did they deal with their new reality? How did they get recognition for their new village? And how did their old village become an artists town?
Ain Hod became Ain Hood, an artists’ town
In 1954, Marcel Yanko, an artist and interior designer, requested permission, from the Israeli authorities, to transform the village that was emptied of its Arab population, into a town exclusively for Jewish artists. He also asked to keep its preserved and recently restored houses intact. This formed the basis for the new town that became, after transliteration of its name, Ain Hood, a Jewish artists’ town. Nowadays, it houses many artists from different fields, including sculpture and graphic art.
The town is governed by a general committee whose members are inhabitants, elected every two years. Whoever wants to move there has to be approved by this committee. Many institutions were founded in Ain Hood including a museum and a central exhibition hall. It puts on regular and varied cultural activities, such as concerts and exhibitions by local artists.
The beautiful scenery filled with a fine collection of artworks, adds depth to the artistic ambiance of the town. For as mentioned, the town lies on the slopes of Mount Carmel, an area rich with orange, pomegranate and fig trees.
My visit to the town began at the artist Mara Bin Dov's residence, who lives on the main street leading to the town's entrance. Mara is an artist who worked formally in light sculpting. She is now a left wing activist, member of a political humanitarian association called "Machsomwath", or “no to military blocks”. This association holds demonstrations at Israeli military blocks, against the mistreatment of Palestinian citizens. Mara refuses to be bound to any party, for she has her own beliefs that she defends in her own way.
We sat in her kitchen, overlooking her garden, facing the window that framed a magnificent view of the sea, olive trees and a crusaders castle which is constantly present in her paintings. Our conversation revolved around her town and the special conditions it offers to artists, allowing them to live in an exclusively artistic environment, for only artists are permitted to live there.
Tell us about Ain Hood.
«Ain Hood is considered one of the few places in the world where a great number of artists of different fields live together in one place, reserved exclusively for them. There are two hundred and twenty houses in our town. Ninety per cent of its habitants are artists living with their families. There is an mandatory article in the ownership contract which specifies that whoever wishes to live here, has to be an artist.
“Around twenty years ago, when we first moved here, the town was offering us all the equipment we needed from a centralized common workshop, for tools were expensive at the time. But nowadays, each artist has his own workshop and therefore the central one was closed down.
Most of Ain Hood’s inhabitants own their houses, but we also have some tenants. There is a great demand for living here, which makes the rent very expensive.»
How do you deal with the fact that your neighbors are originally from of Ain Hod and used to inhabit this town before 1948?
«I believe that every person deserves the right to equality. My husband and I had contact with them and we tried to offer them help by demanding that they get some basic living standards, such as power, which they didn't have. That was before their village got recognition. But we pulled out when we noticed political parties intervening in the struggle, for I don't like to take sides in any party work. I have my clear political opinions, and defend them in my own way.»
Mara's husband, Giora Bar Dov made a contribution to the discussion: «We cannot turn our eyes from the truth; they feel hurt. Their wound is still open; they left their town after having inhabited it, and they still find it difficult to deal with this reality. But in my opinion, the world changes, and we have to start again from after 1948, and every person has to start by reconsidering himself. I also reckon that the neighborly relations have to follow their natural paths and without any political factors influencing them. Yes, there is an open wound that remains, for it has been inherited by grandchildren and sons, and everyone keeps it bleeding.»
A point of view.