Ein Hod holds fond memories for me, for it is where I found peace, surprisingly in the shape of pottery lessons. The monotonous whine of the wheel as it circled, splattering clay everywhere, and the childish act of digging my fingers into the clay, and later seeing my face and clothing smeared with the gooey stuff, was almost magical.
I looked forward to the lessons, not just because of the joy of creating pottery, but also because of the village's serenity.
Curiosity made me want to know more about this place that had entered my heart so deeply, always calling me back. However, a quick search on the Internet proved that this was not always the quiet, peaceful place that I thought it was.
Ein Hod is an artists' village at the foot of the Carmel Mountains, a few kilometers south of Haifa. With the mountains towering behind it and the sea below, it is a picturesque, quaint village, perfect for artists who want to throw themselves into their work without distraction.
A walk around the village takes one down narrow lanes lined with bright pink and purple bougainvillea, which seems to hug the old stone houses. Many of the houses, although renovated, bear the telltale signs of Arab homes; however, the nameplates in front of them confirm that they are the homes of Jewish artists.
Don't let the names confuse you, but Ein Hod (spring of glory) was once an Arab village called Ein Hawd (spring of the trough). Its history can be traced back to the time of Saladin and the Crusaders. Emir Hussam al-Din was an Iraqi commander of the Kurdish forces that took part in the sultan's conquest of the Crusader kingdom from 1187 to 1193. Known for his bravery, he was given the nickname Abu al-Haija (the daring). He returned to Iraq, but at the orders of the sultan, some of Abu al-Haija's family members stayed behind and were given land grants. They settled in the Carmel region, in Lower, Eastern and Western Galilee and in the Hebron Hills on the land that was then called Palestine. Ein Hawd was one of their villages.
Over the years, the village increased in size, and by 1948 between 700 and 900 Arabs resided there. In 1931 there were 81 homes, and by 1948 that number had risen to 133. The mosque (now a restaurant/bar modeled after CafÃ© Voltaire in Switzerland), close to the entrance of the village, proved this was home to a Muslim community.
However, life for the inhabitants of Ein Hawd changed dramatically during the War of Independence. According to Shuli Yarkony, a specialist on the Carmel area and Ein Hod resident, "Arab Ein Hawd was occupied in the summer of 1948, and the refugees who were still in the country were not allowed to return for political reasons. The policy of the government was not to settle people in the Arab villages but instead on the agricultural lands."
So in July 1949, the moshav movement settled immigrants from Tunisia and Algeria in the village. Hopes that it would serve as an agricultural community were short-lived, and the village remained deserted for a year and a half. However although attempts to build a settlement in the Arab village failed between 1949 and 1953, Kibbutz Nir Etzion, a stone's throw from Ein Hod, was created on the agricultural lands of the old Arab village in 1949.
The story of the village continues with Romanian Jewish painter and architect Marcel Janco, one of the founders of the Dada Movement, which according to Wikipedia is an international cultural movement that began in Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich during World War I, and "concentrated its anti-war politic through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works." Janco recognized the charm of the village, and persuaded the government not to demolish it, but instead to allow him to establish an artists colony on the site. So, in 1953, Ein Hawd became Ein Hod.
At that time, many of the houses that were standing were in various stages of collapse. They were rebuilt or destroyed, and the village was repopulated with a few dozen artists. In the 1970s it expanded its land to the east, and its population has now reached approximately 150 artists and their families.
Ein Hod is designated exclusively for artists. Because of this, potential residents must be approved by a committee which judges the quality of the artists' work. In addition, personality tests must be taken. Those born into the village must stand before a committee and are not guaranteed residence.
The village has also become a tourist attraction. Creativity seems to ooze from every corner, and one can walk along the narrow streets and stumble upon unique pieces of art in unexpected places.
Visitors can view Janco's art and learn about the history of Dadaism in the Janco Dada Museum, established before his death at 89 in 1984. Music lovers may be interested in the Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music. It contains a collection of various instruments, and is the first museum in the country dedicated to antique mechanical instruments. The village houses an art gallery where artists can exhibit their work. Many of the artists welcome guests into their studios to view their work or to take lessons. The village also has various art events, holiday celebrations and music festivals which display the variety of talent in the community.
According to Margol Guttman, director of the Ein Hod Web site and international contacts, the future seems to be in the hands of the many different artists residing there. "Even though much has changed everywhere, naturally influencing the atmosphere here too, it seems that most would like to keep this spirit, and the way things are right now, it looks like we shall manage," she says.
The artists live for their art and make a living from it, and, she explains, "with the ups and downs, Ein Hod manages to keep the spirit of its founders even today."
The story, however, can not possibly be complete without relating what happened to the original inhabitants of Ein Hod. My search for answers led me a few kilometers up the mountain road, past Ein Hod and Nir Etzion, to what is now a very small village called Ein Hawd al-Jadida (New Ein Hawd). I held my breath both in fear and in awe of the beauty before me as the narrow, roughly paved road dangerously twisted and turned up the mountain. Through the greenery of the dense Carmel Forest, I saw houses and a minaret in the distance. An arrow on a yellow sign at a deep dip in the road pointed in the direction of the village. After the car very slowly climbed a steep hill (making me wonder how the residents manage during the winter rains), with a sigh of relief I entered the village.
My visit to Ein Hawd al-Jadida began at el-Bayt restaurant where I and, by coincidence, a group of American tourists were treated to a film entitled Not on the Map. It describes the plight of more than 100 unrecognized Arab villages and their approximately 250,000 internally displaced residents (exact numbers are not known). The end of the film portrayed the sheer joy of people who had just received something so basic - water - in their village. Sounds of laughter coming from the film deeply contrasted with the viewers' complete silence following the emotional ending.
Muhammad Abu al-Haija, owner of the restaurant and councilman for Ein Hawd al-Jadida, invited me to a delicious meal of lentil soup and several salads. With a view of Ein Hod in the distance, he traveled back in time, explaining his ancestors' history.
Whether the residents were expelled from or abandoned the village that had been their home for 700 years depends on whom one asks. But the fact remains that the original residents of what is now Ein Hod became refugees in July 1948. Most of them settled in Jenin, Jordan and Lebanon.
Abu al-Haija's grandfather, Abu Hilmi, owned farmland and an orchard outside the village, and took approximately 35 members of his family to live in a barn until they could return home. Little did he know that due to the 1950 Law of Absentee Property, which denied Arabs the right to return to their homes if they had been away from them for a certain period of time, they would be considered "present absentees" and would lose the right to return. The government had already possessed their land, and they became refugees in their own country, he explained.
How could he know then that the makeshift home on his farmland would be the beginning of a new village for his descendants? In spite of the fact that for most of its existence Ein Hawd al-Jadida was not legally recognized, what was once a piece of land with one barn has now become a village with 50 houses and 250 residents. But life has not been easy for them.
According to Abu al-Haija, because of their status as an unrecognized village, past years had been filled with uncertainty. The government tried to impose law after law on them in an attempt to remove them from their land, he says.
Despite the 1959 confiscation of 83 dunams, and governmental claims that they illegally reside on Carmel Park land, or on an archeological site or agricultural land, they refused to be dislodged. Other measures were taken by imposition of laws banning black goats and other livestock (Black Goat Law, 1970), and reforestation with cypress trees, therefore killing the olive and fruit trees and destroying their livelihood. As a result, many were forced to work in Ein Hod as handymen, gardeners or builders, he says.
In 1988, Abu al-Haija founded an organization called the Association of Forty. It strives for equality for Arabs, and recognition of their unrecognized villages. After years of pressuring the government, the village finally received official recognition in 1994, he explained.
But this has not been the end of its worries. Although Ein Hawd al-Jadida is a legally recognized village, municipal services are still practically nonexistent, says al-Haija. It is just recently that the school (which goes up to sixth grade), and two of the 50 houses have been hooked up to the electric grid, he says, though others dispute this claim. There is no infrastructure - no sewers, no water - and the roads are in poor condition. Residents are not granted building permits, therefore the houses that do exist may be demolished anytime, according to al-Haija.
One solution to the problem is the el-Bayt restaurant. Open only three and a half years, it is the first business in the village, and employs members of the family.
Faded photographs of three generations hang on the wall of the restaurant - one of Abu Hilmi, and underneath it a picture of Muhammad Abu al-Haija as a child with his father. The pictures do not face Ein Hod. Abu Hilmi told the young Muhammad to never go to Ein Hod. He broke that promise and went one time.
He doesn't like to share his personal feelings about the situation, preferring to devote his energy to attaining a better life for his fellow residents, dealing with what he called "the new reality" - the problem of the basic rights of the inhabitants of Ein Hawd al-Jadida. "When you struggle all your life for your rights, another five years is not such a long time," he says. "It is better to be quiet with the struggle, not to give up."