The following article is a true account of a Palestinian family struggling to keep its house and property. While this article is about one family, it is also the story of many other Palestinian families.

The following article is a true account of a Palestinian family struggling to keep its house and property. While this article is about one family, it is also the story of many other Palestinian families.

Faraj and Nahida Lati were very happy people on January 5, 1986. Married for three and one-half years, they had just become property owners in the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour, known for the Shepherds’ Field. The three-quarter acre, west-facing piece of land belonging to the Latis was on a hillside overlooking Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and a lovely hill covered with trees called Jabal (mountain) Abu Ghnem

“I had land! I was not a stranger anymore!” Faraj remembers. “We moved to Bethlehem from Nazareth when I was twelve years old. My parents did not have land; my mother is registered as a Palestinian refugee. So when Nahida and I bought our land the whole family rejoiced. My parents, brothers and sisters still do not own land to this day.”

Faraj lived in the Lutheran Home for Boys in Beit Jala until he graduated from the Bethlehem Lutheran School in 1974. Then he attended the Brotherhood Nazaret in Bethel, Germany, for six years of study in social education and deaconship.

Returning to the Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala area in 1980, Faraj worked two years in the Lutheran Home for Boys, first as an educator and then as the house father. Then he taught German and religion in several of the Lutheran Palestinian schools, including five years at the Bethlehem Lutheran School.

During this time Faraj was also serving as a deacon at the Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour, working particularly with the Sunday School and with youth. He had been consecrated as a deacon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem in a special service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the spring of 1982. On July 4 of the same year Faraj and Nahida were married. Now in 2002 they have a son and two daughters, from 18 to 8 years of age. Faraj and Nahida have lived in the same apartment in Bethlehem since their marriage.

1986 brought hope and dreams to the couple and their little son, Usama (which means “lion”). They had land! Over time they would save the money to begin building their house on the beautiful hillside with the spectacular view.

In 1995 the Oslo II agreement divided the Palestinian territories (excluding East Jerusalem) into three zones. Area A, which was comprised of disconnected districts centered in major cities and towns, was under the full security and civil control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), about 17.2 per cent of the territories. Area B, 23.8 per cent, was under Israeli security control while the PA was responsible for some social and civil services. Area C, comprising about 59 per cent of the territories, was under full Israeli occupation.

The municipality of Beit Sahour, in Area A, notified its residents that not all of Beit Sahour was included in Area A. That was how Faraj and Nahida learned that their land on the hillside was included in Area C. It was during this time that the beautiful hill, Abu Ghnem, was being denuded of its trees by bulldozers. Part of this hill had belonged to citizens of Beit Sahour, mostly Christians. An Israeli settlement named Har Homa (in Hebrew, Protected Mountain) was beginning to be built despite huge protests from around the world.

However, hopes were running high in Palestine at this time because the Oslo II accords and divisions of the land were theoretically the first step in Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank, as required under U.N. resolutions 242 and 338.

With great anticipation, Faraj and Nahida applied at last for a building permit from the Beit Sahour municipality. Faraj has papers dated June 19, 1996, to prove his right to build. Almost immediately the couple began work preparing the land and building a foundation but it was soon obvious that the salary Faraj received from teaching was not going to pay for a new house.

In 1997 Faraj made a major career change in order to earn more money. He attended a Bible College in Bethlehem, studying to become a tour guide. He graduated in 1998 and was certified by the P.A. to lead English and German tour groups. He was also approved to work inside Israel as a guide. Faraj began his new career, making friends in Israel in relation to his work, and was able to earn more money for the house.

Things were definitely looking up for the Lati family at this point. Faraj had been able to receive credit from Germany, opening up a money resource for him. Plus, his brother-in-law, a building contractor, was helping in many ways. The house was being built! It was rising from the ground and being enclosed. The rooms inside were defined, plastering was being done. The beautiful ceramic tiles for the floors were stacked up, ready to be laid over a bed of sand. Electrical wire sprouted through all the holes where light switches and plugs would eventually be located. Blue, decorative iron grills were placed on the windows to protect the contents of the house, even though no windows were yet installed. Already it was a great joy for the family to go out on the verandas of the house, enjoying the view and fresh air.

At the end of September 2000 a major event occurred which would cut off almost all tourism to both Palestine and Israel. The Second Intifada began, a “shaking off” or uprising against the Israeli occupation, a situation which is continuing. Work for Faraj as a tour guide simply evaporated, as it did for anyone in a tourist-related business.

Faraj was able to find part time work as a German teacher at Dar al-Kalima Lutheran School in Bethlehem. Nahida teaches Arabic fulltime in the same school.

“For a year and a half we have had to let the new house just sit,” Faraj said recently. “There has been absolutely no extra money to put into it so we had to wait.” During this time Faraj looked for work in many places, including Germany, but was unable to find it.

A worse situation was yet to come. An official Israeli military government notice arrived on May 9, 2002, at 12:30 p.m., delivered to neighbors near the Latis’ new house. The notice was a “Stop Work Order” until Israeli officials and Faraj could meet on the scheduled date, June 6. The meeting was to take place in Bet El, near Ramallah. At that time Faraj would be told what to do, but in the meantime he was to do no more work on the house. Photographs of the outside of the house were taken to insure compliance. The reason given for the work stoppage was that the house was very near a new Israeli by-pass road that had just been started on May 5. The new road would make a connection to the Israeli settlement of Tekoa from another by-pass road that had been built earlier to serve the huge settlement of Har Homa. Such roads are frequently built to connect and protect Jewish Israeli settlements and continue to take more and more Palestinian land, squeezing and crunching the Palestinian people and houses into smaller and smaller areas. If the activity continues, the whole area will be taken over exclusively for Israeli security and Jewish settlements.

Faraj was unable to attend any meeting in Bet El because he is not permitted by the Israeli military to leave the Bethlehem/Beit Sahour/Beit Jala area. An Arab Israeli attorney was secured by the municipality of Beit Sahour to represent Faraj on June 6, and that attorney was able to get a two-week continuance.

Faraj notes that people who are inhabiting their houses in this area did not receive the notice he received. Some of those homes are actually closer to the new Israeli by-pass road than his own house. Faraj believes the only explanation is that his house is unfinished, but he also believes that the position of the house on the side of the hill with wide views may be another reason he has received the “stop work” order. The house could be seen either as a danger to the security of Israel, or as a help for Israel in gaining a high security point in the area. Faraj fears the house and land may be confiscated altogether for an Israeli watchtower, designated for Israel’s security.

“The only way out of my bad situation,” Faraj says, “is to be able to finish the main floor of the house as soon as possible. Then I can move my family into the house and our chances of keeping the property and our house are much greater.” The attorney is going to ask the Israeli officials for time to allow Faraj to finish the house and move in. Faraj believes that a loan of $20,000 US would enable him to finish the main floor.

Many Palestinian people have faced this same problem; many others are facing it right now, just like Faraj and Nahida. Faraj states, “This injustice forbids us to live in freedom and dignity in our own land. Just think about it – Israel could make something good for its neighbors, allowing the Palestinians to earn their living from the olive trees, instead of uprooting them, for instance. If the Israelis want peace, they must understand and respect us. There can be no hatred, no oppression. We are a nation, two people under God.

“This is not a fantasy, although it really feels like a nightmare. I feel frustrated and I feel so sad now, coming to my house. My God! I put all my efforts and resources into this house to settle down freely. I can have my own garden. I can stand on the veranda seeing the sun, feeling the fresh air. I thank God for this house. But am I going to be able to keep it? Will my family and I ever live here?”

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, will create a special fund to help people like Faraj and Nahida, and to help solve this human rights problem. Please contact Bishop Younan directly if you wish to contribute to this fund.

Phone: +972-2-627-6111 E-mail: FAX: +972-2-628-5764


Photos by Mary E. Jensen included in this article, taken on June 9, 2002:

1) The unfinished house belonging to Faraj and Nahida Lati.

2) Faraj Lati points at the new Israeli by-pass road while sitting on the edge of the veranda on the top floor of his unfinished house.

3) Faraj Lati, with a view of the Jewish Israeli settlement, Har Homa, and the Israeli by-pass road in the distance.

Researched and written by Rev. Dr. Mary E. Jensen
Communications Assistant to Bishop Younan
and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem (ELCJ)

Evang. Luth. Church
P.O.Box 14076
Tel: +972 – 2 – 627611; Fax: 6285764