My Family

Interview with Na’ama Hathelin

Na’ama Hathelin is a school teacher from the Bedouin community in Umm Al Kheir in the occupied West Bank. She is married to the artist Eid Hathelin, with whom she has two children, Sadin (3) and Lin (6 months). On Thursday 8th September 2011, Na’ma witnessed the demolition of two of the houses in her village. The government-sanctioned demolition team announced that it would soon be back to destroy twelve further houses, one of which is Na’ama’s home.

Na’ama, describe the day the demolition team came. What happened?

I started my day normally. I got the family breakfast. I got ready to go to school. I put my headscarf on, got my phone and my bag. When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the military vehicles and realized that they had closed off the area. I couldn’t go to school because of the barriers. When I saw the bulldozers, I ran back to the house. I wasn’t aware of time passing. It was as though time stood still. I imagined seeing our house demolished, seeing the rooms fall in. Then my three year old daughter started asking questions: “Why are the army here?” “Why do they have to destroy those houses?” “Why do those people have to move?” I couldn’t answer her. The questions were just too big. So I started to lie to her. I told her the army had made a mistake. I told her, “they don’t hate us, they’re just pretending.” I don’t know whether Sadin believed me, but at least she calmed down. One of the other children in the village was so traumatised that he didn’t speak for days after the bulldozers came, so I think that I was probably right to try and protect Sadin.

Of the fourteen houses under demolition order, the army destroyed only two. Your house was amongst the twelve which has been spared, for the time being. What was it like to watch your neighbours’ homes being destroyed, knowing that yours could be next?

I couldn’t watch. All I could do was cry. And at that moment, I hated. I hated everyone there. The soldiers, the civil administration, the bulldozer drivers… I wanted them to die.

Haaretz Newspaper has been reporting that the Israeli government is planning to forcibly relocate all Bedouin living in Area C (areas of the West Bank under Israeli civil and military control). How do you feel about the prospect of relocation?

I am afraid. This threat from the government and the civil administration to move us to other places is very dangerous. I’m also afraid of the Palestinian community. If we find ourselves annexed onto an existing Palestinian village or town, we will pay dearly for it. The people there will have jobs, but we will have nothing. Bedouin are farming people, and if you move us, we lose our land, our animals and our grazing areas. We will lose everything and be thrown into a place where nothing belongs to us. We are already poor, but this will make our suffering much worse than before. I will be catastrophic for the community. I don’t even want to think about it. I want to stay here.

You recently participated in a short documentary film about your husband, Eid. He is an artist who uses scrap materials to make replica models of what the film-makers describe as “the machinery of occupation.” He has made several replica bulldozers in the past, and says that he intends to continue to do so. How do you feel about your husband’s work now that your home is facing demolition?

My husband is always saying that it is important to distinguish between the man and the machine. He says that he wants to use his art to make people see that we have to hold people to account, not machines. He says that it’s important to realize that machines can be used for good, that they can build as well as destroy. I wish I could see things his way, but I can’t. To me, the bulldozers look like scorpions – they are yellow and they have a giant arm which is made to hurt and destroy.

You have seen your neighbours’ houses destroyed and you have been told that the demolishion of your own house is immanent. What would you do if your husband made another model bulldozer?

I would break it.


Na’ama was interviewed in Umm Al Kheir (South Mountain Hebron) by the Saaheb Collective, a loose affiliation of friends working  for social change through creativity and art.