Mitri Ghounam's land can be accessed only via a metal gate and fenced off road. The house is surrounded on three sides by either a concrete wall or a metal fence. Beyond the fence there appears to be a construction site. Although the machinery is quiet today because works are stopped for the weekend, one can only imagine the noise that must come from it during the rest of the week.



***image2***Mitri sits under grapevines hosting us with lemonade and water, a relief from a very hot day. Behind him sits a statute of the Virgin Mary that over looks a fountain, St. George killing the serpent stands over his family home.



Mitri Ghounam, known fondly as Abu Michael (father of Michael), is 64 years old and is the father of two sons and two daughters. One of his sons and his family lives here with Mitri and his wife in this fenced in compound.



Mitri was born in Jaffa in 1946. Two years later, in the war of 1948 his family was expelled by Israeli forces and fled to Beit Jala, a neighboring village of Bethlehem. It was there that Mitri went to school and grew up. In the spring of 1967, Mitri was married in Beit Jala. It was while on their honeymoon in Jordan that the 1967 war broke out and Israel occupied the West Bank. During this war Israel closed most of the borders, not allowing Mitri and his wife to return. Although they sought help from the Red Cross in their several attempts to return home it was not until 1979 that the Beit Jala municipality helped them return through family reunification. At this point Mitri had already become a father.



Mitri, now unemployed, used to be a painter and a taxi driver. He raised his family on a meager income. What he did earn went into savings, savings that went into buying land and building this house on the outskirts of Beit Jala. Mitri worked hard to tend the land, planting olive trees, almond trees, and built a clay oven. There was once a playground for his children to play. Although Mitri's income was meager, he was determined to provide a haven for his family.



***image3***Where Mitri once walked out his front door to over look trees and a playground, he now comes face to face with a concrete barrier slowly being built next to his house and on his land. In 1992 the Israeli Military started confiscating his land to build a tunnel and road from Jerusalem to the illegal settlements in the West Bank (Route 60). Since 1992, more land has been confiscated to build a wall around the tunnel in order 'protect it'. In total 2200 dunams (one dunam equals 0.25 acres) of his land has been confiscated and destroyed. Mitri has watched the trees he planted and the haven he built be bulldozed and destroyed. A few of those trees still stand next to the wall hacked and destroyed, a reminder of dreams Mitri once planted.



When the wall is finally complete, a 20-foot concrete structure will overshadow Mitri's home. The wall, which now stands about 10 feet high, has metal rods haphazardly jutting out on top and on its sides. Next to the wall the land is broken with holes and pits causing worry for Mitri's small granddaughters who play outside.



His quiet home on the outskirts of Beit Jala is now not only drowned out with the noise of the not too distant highway, but the construction workers that are working to build a wall that is fencing his family in. The privacy which he once cherished has now been lost with workers and Israeli soldiers roaming his yard and land, sometimes until 9 in the evening. Mitri constantly worries of the environment his four granddaughters are being raised in.



Mitri has worked hard to provide for his family, only to see his hard work stolen from him. This has had not only financial consequences but psychological ones. The grave pressure he has to provide for his family, accompanied with the helplessness of watching his land be destroyed in front him, has resulted in Mitri having to regularly see a psychiatrist. He has even been hospitalized. The destruction of his land is destroying him. It is because of this that Mitri said to an Israeli soldier, 'When you have finished your wall, you will have finished me'.



Mitri still worries about the future for his family. It is for this reason that he has applied for residency in Australia. As the occupation tries to make the land 'without people', hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are forced into unbearable living conditions and pushed into 'voluntary displacement'. Frustrated and discouraged he looks at us, 'What other options do I have?'



Despite the hopeless situation, it seems that Mitri is still not ready to surrender to the designs of ethnic cleansing the Israeli occupation wants to impose on him a second time in his life. Mitri is still working on the small things. He is planting trees, hoping to get an asphalt road put in, still trying to make this home a haven for his family.



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