Sami Sadiq is a living symbol of the fate of his village, Aqaba, in the far north of the West Bank — both have been crippled by the 33-year-old Israeli occupation. But the comparison stops there.
Despite being bound to a wheelchair since an Israeli bullet struck his spine 28 years ago, Sadiq is waging a tireless campaign to breathe life back into Aqaba, once a thriving village but now nearly a ghost town.
Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, its Army has built a ring of bases and training zones in the surrounding hills, choking off Aqaba’s growth and forcing an exodus from the surrounding area.
The village today counts only a handful of homes and about 100 residents, compared to some 700 who have left to live in the towns of Taysir and Tubas, located further south in the Jordan Valley. Sadiq, 44, is working to change this, single-handedly rebuilding a basic infrastructure in hopes of attracting residents back to town. “More than 700 people from Aqaba are living in Taysir and Tubas. They haveto come back to revitalise the village,” Sadiq told AFP.
His campaign began simply enough, having friends put up a sign on the main road which runs nearby signalling the existence of Aqaba down an otherwise nondescript dirt track. But even that act required a battle with Israeli military authorities who run four training bases in the area and resist any changes in Aqaba, including the construction of new housing.
Sadiq, who was struck by a stray bullet fired in a training exercise, said he had complained many times to the Israeli Ministry of Defence about the lack of basic services in the village and the explosions and shooting that punctuate the night.
But he received only one reply from former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai, and it referred to training areas well away from the village. “We approached him about problems with the camp set up on village land, but his response was about an area several kilometers away,” Sadiq said. “If the Israeli Defence Minister spent one night here, he wouldunderstand how we suffer,” he said.
Since the Palestinian Authority took control of the civil administration of the area in 1995, Sadiq has formed a local council and opened a four-class elementary school and a women’s group — all operating out of his sprawling home.
A year ago, Sadiq obtained a generator from the Palestinian Authority and had electricity poles and lines put in to the village homes, only to see the Army rip down the system. True to form, Sadiq simply had the lines put up again last week. But about 30 people have already returned to Aqaba, living in tents while they seek Israeli permission to build homes. “There are 2,000 dunums (200 hectares) here which belong to Aqaba, and our goal is to save this as Palestinian land,” Sadiq says.