Family Affair

Ein Rafa

The cast: Yasmin (32), Musa (30), Sara (1).

W The home: Renovated trailer, 40 square meters, white stucco exterior, perched amid concrete rubble, construction materials, barrels, cables and tools. By the door is a garden with cacti and vegetables; behind it are a living room, kitchen and bedroom. The lodgings are temporary.

W Temporary: Not more than two years, they hope. In the living room is a two-seater sofa with wood carvings, a matching armchair, a coffee table and a wicker stand that holds an old stereo set. On the gas burner is a frying pan containing a shakshuka (an egg-and-tomato dish), under the faucet are hard-boiled eggs in a stainless-steel pot, and a bundle of asparagus bound by an elastic band rests on the marble working space. We enter the hall that leads to the bedroom.

W The bedroom: Under a framed, ornate arabesque drawing (a verse from the Koran) are two beds, one double size with a checkered cover, the other a small one (Sara's) on which there are a stuffed animal and a tambourine. They moved in about a month ago, after spending NIS 50,000 to buy and renovate. They had no choice: The basement of Musa's parents' home, where they had lived, was flooded, and their own home was demolished.

W The demolition: At 5 A.M. last July 25, officials of the Interior Ministry arrived, accompanied by dozens of policemen and heavy equipment. Are you Musa, they asked. Yes, he said. Get dressed, they said. They gave him three minutes to remove "valuables," handcuffed him ("so I wouldn't run amok") and leveled the house. At 7:07 it was a heap of ruins. We go over to the window and look out.

W The view: Far off, on the slope of the hill, are the white village houses; nearby is a smashed concrete surface. Musa: "We didn't have a clue that this was going to happen."

W The clue that they did have: In 1999, Musa began the procedure to obtain a building permit. His family has two dunams (half an acre) of private land in the village, which lies within the jurisdiction of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council. At the request of the council official in charge of construction ("named Tzafrir"), Musa paid $4,000 for a permit and waited. The permit arrived in September 2007. Unfortunately, his home had been razed to the ground two months earlier. In between - during the eight years, in which he got tired of waiting - he built without a permit and a few things happened.

W A few things: In 2003 he was tried and in 2005 he paid a fine of NIS 20,000 for illegally building. In May of this year a policeman arrived, asked Yasmin if this was Musa Barhum's house, and left ("He did not give any warning"); two months later (in July) the police came with the bulldozers. Musa shows the building permit that arrived a bit late.

W The building permit: No. 22846, made out to Barhum, Moshe, allowing new residential construction, issued on Sept. 20, 2007. Musa does not deny that he broke the law; he just wants to understand why the authorities did to him what they never did to anyone else living in the same regional council. Since Israel's establishment, he says, no home built on private land and lacking only formal paperwork has been demolished. "Let's say this is the law - but where is the justice?" he asks. "It is not a house on public land, it is not on Israel Lands Administration property, it is not on a road. It is a house involved in a legal process, built as part of a master plan. Give a fine, but why demolish it? I put my whole life into it."

W Whole life: The structure and contents that were destroyed represent an investment of $200,000, including $50,000 in loans, not to mention the fear struck into people's hearts. The council says they had nothing to do with it, that it's all the Interior Ministry. Musa tends to agree.

W Livelihoods and occupations: Musa is a gardening contractor. He creates private gardens, builds pergolas and installs lawns, rock formations and irrigation systems. He has not worked in his profession since the house was demolished ("We had a project in Jerusalem and we lost a ton of money"). He now earns a living by being a mover, along with his brothers (Jallal and Mundar), who have a truck. "Without them I would not be able to survive," he says.

W Yasmin: Landscape architect, graduate of the University of Leeds, England, Musa's partner. She helps with administration and is responsible for planning and office work. These days, being pregnant (ninth month), she is mostly at home, getting ready to have their second daughter.

W Yasmin's bio: Born 1975 in New Market, North London, to a Swiss mother and an English father (now separated), granddaughter of a British officer who served in Palestine during the Mandate period and was later the British military attache in Tel Aviv. She spent her childhood and adolescence in England and Switzerland. After high school she took a trip to Zimbabwe and Australia, returned to England, studied landscape architecture in Leeds, interned in London, and in the wake of a notice on campus made contact with the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, located on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Givat Ram campus. She came to Israel for a three-month stint as a volunteer ("Because of Mom and Dad, who told me about the Dead Sea and Jerusalem"). She was not familiar with the Israeli-Arab conflict. She lived in the city's Nayot neighborhood, which abuts the garden ("We were four volunteer gardeners"), instructed four apprentices, felt great and didn't feel like going home. Half a year later, Musa appeared.

W Musa: Born 1977 ("in Shaare Zedek" - a Jerusalem hospital) to a Muslim family. He has three brothers and a sister. His father, now retired, worked 23 years in a stone quarry at the village of Al-Qastal (Kastel); his mother is a housewife. In 1948 the residents of Ein Rafa were fortunate not to become refugees. Musa tells the story of that period to groups of young people from the Taglit-birthright project, which brings Jewish students to Israel for short visits ("We had about 30 groups during the summer"). He says it's a business.

W Bio (cont.): He attended elementary school in the village and high school in Abu Ghosh, a much larger village across the way, but began working at an early age, obtaining a license for driving tractors and operating heavy equipment (for the Jewish National Fund), engaging in logging and also driving for shipping companies. He then decided to learn gardening.

W Gardening: The studies (10 months) were held in the botanical gardens ("The most fun year of my life"). More than once, he found himself teaching his instructors a thing or two about gardening ("irrigation, for example"). Pruning was taught by a blue-eyed English girl named Jessica Thelwall, who later became Yasmin.

W The meeting: January 2000. She was an instructor, he was a pupil, she knew pruning, he knew bike repairing. A week after he fixed her flat tire they realized that their relationship was serious, but far from final. Musa was quick to declare that no wedding would ever come of it, because of the anticipated opposition from his family. She returned to England, sad, but knowing in her heart that she would be back. At the end of 2001, after he visited her in London, Jessica decided to learn Arabic. The language brought her to the mosque ("even though Musa is not religious"), and in 2003, at 28, she converted to Islam ("There is actually no ceremony").

W The motive: "In one sentence: All is from Allah" - Yasmin.

W Reactions: "There were some bad things from the family," she relates, "but with friends there were no problems." Musa understood that he had to make a decision. His parents were furious when he brought up the subject of a wedding. He tried going out with other girls, but knew there would not be another. In the end he plucked up his courage and announced that he had made his decision. To his surprise, the family took it more or less in stride ("Do we want to lose our son, they asked"). Yasmin returned to Israel in 2003 and lived in Jerusalem's Nahlaot neighborhood alone, at the beginning. A month later she went to the village and met the family.

W The wedding: April 2004, at the Ein Rafa school. Yasmin wore a wedding dress from East Jerusalem. Her mother and sister came for the wedding (her father could not make the trip due to medical reasons). The whole village was there. Musa: "At first people said: England? And weren't enthusiastic. After they saw her, they said, wallah, I'm envious." Today, he says, everyone who had reservations is respectful to her, "even the 'antiquities' from the territories."

W Household chores: Yasmin cleans and cooks. Musa's mother ("We are friends") taught her how to prepare stuffed vine leaves and makluba (a meat-and-rice dish). Musa says he does whatever she asks (in fluent Arabic).

W Feminism: "For me, to wear a hijab [head covering] is feminism," Yasmin says. Islam as a religion does not discriminate against women, she adds; it is only the customs that have taken root among the people. Musa: "As long as the house is in order, she can do whatever she wants." Yasmin, he says, made her choice of her own free will and "there is no such thing as being half-pregnant."

W Sara's education: Yasmin speaks to her daughter in English, Musa in Arabic. When she is a little older, they will send her to the anthroposophic kindergarten in Nataf (a nearby Jewish community).

W Memories of England: BBC Radio 4 ("I listen to it on the Internet") and English tea (PG Tips).

W Fears: "That someone will suddenly come and kick me out" (Yasmin). She is waiting to obtain Israeli citizenship.

W Dreams: "To start building the house" (Musa); "I am living the dream" (Yasmin).

W Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Musa - 8 ("If not for the house being demolished, it would be 10"); Yasmin - 8 ("We lack for nothing").

The place

Ein Rafa - Arab village located west of Jerusalem, opposite Abu Ghosh, with about 700 inhabitants, almost all of them with the family name of Barhum. Established in the 1930s by villagers from Suba (now Kibbutz Tsuba). The film "The Syrian Bride" (2004, directed by Eran Riklis) was shot in the village.