Mohammed Abu al-Hija is not the kind of man who gives up easily. His parents were evicted from the village of Ein Hawd near Haifa during the War of Independence in 1948. After the war they resettled nearby while their former homes were transformed into the famous artist village of Ein Hod.
Abu al-Hija’s family lived in squalor in an unrecognized village, which was not connected to the electrical grid or to running water, and as a young man he launched a campaign to have his village recognized by the government. “I was confident it would happen,” he recalls. “I said all I want is water, electricity and an access road. I’ve said my whole life that I believe that if you persevere you’ll get there.”
This week, Abu al-Hija appears in the fifth installation of Trailblazers, a series of video shorts produced by NIF in partnership with Yediot Achronot to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary. For nearly 40 years, NIF has teamed up with trailblazers from communities including Mizrahi Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Ethiopians, Russian-speaking immigrants, women, and LGBTQ people to create change. These are communities who blazed trails for inclusion, for equality, and for social change. NIF is telling the stories of those trailblazers who have acted on their values and have come together to fight for their rights and positively impact the lives of all Israelis.
Abu al-Hija formed the Council of Forty, an NIF supported civil society group, and became a leader of the struggle for the unrecognized northern Arab villages. Over many years, plans were made and suspended as new governments came and went. But finally, in 2007, Ein Hawd, soon after followed by other unrecognized northern villages, did gain recognition and most importantly water, electricity, and access roads.
Over the years, Abu al-Hija said he felt pain, disappointment, and triumph but also regret because he was so busy with the campaign that he missed out on seeing his children grow up. He says, “They say one man can’t change a country. But I changed a country.”
Despite Abu al-Hija’s tireless work, there remain 90,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel living in 36 unrecognized villages in the Negev. NIF organizations and activists are not giving up and remain at the forefront of the struggle to ensure that, like Ein Hawd, they too will be recognized and given water, electricity, and an access road.