Arab Couple to Lose Land, Home to New Haifa Road

A guard raises the barrier at the entrance to the wadi every time a car moves to enter the new asphalt road. Had it not been for the huge piles of trash and limestone, one might have thought that this was the isolated rural estate of some tycoon. But only one miserable hut lies along the edge of Wadi Rushmiya, east of Haifa.

Since 1956, it has been inhabited by Yusuf Hassan, 87, and his wife Amana, 75. It is made of tin and wooden slats, which do not protect the couple against cold or rain. There is no electricity, and only five years ago they obtained running water.

Two months ago, the Carmeliton company began paving a road near the hut as part of its Carmel Tunnel project. The bulldozers give the Hassans no peace, and they fear that the work could start a rockslide. But no one has evacuated the ailing couple to a safer place.

The land occupied by the couple's house - which they legally own, by dint of half a century's residence - is due to be expropriated for the sake of another project, a road that will connect Haifa's lower and upper sections. But nobody from Yefeh Nof, the company managing that project, has approached them to discuss payment, Hassan claimed. The company reponded that it had offered the couple either payment or alternative housing. But Awani Shahada, who cares for the Hassans, said: "They came two months ago and said that they would find the couple an apartment; since then, we haven't heard from them."

Hassan says that he fled from Acre to Haifa in 1948. He moved to Wadi Rushmiya, which in the 1950s and 1960s housed dozens of Arab and Jewish families, in 1956. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the Haifa Municipality evacuated most of the wadi's residents in exchange for financial compensation.

Hassan, however, refused to leave. "The first time, they offered me compensation of NIS 40,000, but where could I find a house for me and my wife for such a sum?" he demanded. The next time, he said, they offered him an alternative apartment, but it was abandoned and neglected - "like a sardine tin, fit to house dogs, not human beings."

Asked for a response, Yefeh Nof said that the decision to expropriate the Hassans' land was approved only recently, but "our representatives approached [the couple] even before the expropriation decision was published and offered alternative housing."

The Haifa Municipality said that its welfare agency has been helping the couple, and in this context, "the city in the past proposed a number of alternative housing solutions to the couple, through its Shikmona company. These solutions were rejected by the couple. The city will continue to help the couple in the future on every issue, including finding suitable alternative housing."