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Hebron Jew won't claim home until Palestinians return

June 23, 2010 2:33 A.M. (Updated: July 3, 2010 4:56 A.M.)
By Muhammad Oweiweih

Hebron – Ma’an – An elderly Jewish man from Hebron has asked the city's mayor to permit his burial in a Muslim cemetery when he dies, insisting that his body not be placed in one of the sites now controlled by Israeli settlers.

Haim Bajayo, 75, visited Mayor Khalid Al-Useili at his office in the southern West Bank city and described in detail how Jews and Arabs had generally enjoyed amiable relations until the arrival of tens of thousands of foreign immigrants from the 1920s until 1948, the year Israel was established and most of Hebron's Jews fled to the new state established in their name.

Bajayo was born in Hebron in 1935 and grew up in its Daboya neighborhood with his family, which owned a home there and held official property documents until 1977. A decade after Israel seized control of the Palestinian city and began permitting its citizens to settle there, Bajayo ceremoniously ceded his home for the benefit of the Palestinian municipality. The mayor at that time was Fahd Al-Qawasmi.

"As long as [the settlers] are in Hebron, there is no chance of reaching an agreement" to end the six-decade conflict, he told the mayor. "I don't want any of my property or my house back as long as Palestinian homes and lands are not returned. The same day the Palestinians regain what was taken from them in 1948, I'll come to you and say, 'I have a house ... registered in the real estate department.'"

In footage of his recent meeting with Al-Useili, obtained by Ma'an, Bajayo recalls the history of his family, which moved from Spain to Morocco before settling in Egypt. His grandfather moved to Palestine and lived in Hebron. Bajayo's family witnessed the 1929 massacre of Hebron's Jews. “If the Abu Haykal family hadn't protected my grandfather at the time, I wouldn't have been born,” he said.

At this point in the film, the mayor interrupts Bajayo insisting that a British Mandate officer was responsible for the massacre, contrary to the Israeli narrative which tends to blame only Palestinians for the bloodshed. Bajayo affirmed the mayor’s comment, according to what he heard from his father and grandfather, who told him the Jews and Palestinians in Hebron once treated each other as neighbors.

Bajayo went on to tell the mayor that he vehemently opposed the occupation of Palestinian homes in Hebron by Israeli settlers. “Settlers are an obstacle to peace and the Palestinians must attain their rights and return to their homes and lands occupied in 1948. After the Palestinians return to Hebron, I can return to my grandfather’s home in the city,” he explained.

The meeting ended with Bajayo requesting that after death his body be buried in a Muslim cemetery in a show of respect to the history of his family which once lived in peace with its Arab neighbors in the city. "I want to be buried in Hebron. I won't go to a Jewish cemetery at any rate, because it's under the settlers' control. I'm requesting a modest burial spot in a Muslim cemetery," he explains.

For his part, the mayor welcomed Bajayo home. "Haim, you are always welcome," Al-Useili says in the video. "Not as a guest, but as an authentic Hebron citizen. This is an honor for us."

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