Friday, May 17, 2013

still planting olive trees

I started this post the day after we visited Hebron, which I wrote about briefly in an earlier post.  

It was our second day in the West Bank.  We had spent the morning in Hebron, immersed in the tension of a Palestinian city threaded with Israeli settlements.  We now sat around a table in the cool dim light of a cave, escaping the brilliant sun bouncing off of the white stone of the road, the white stone of the fences, the white stone of the buildings on the surrounding hills.  The dark and the cool felt like balm to our day.

Entering the cave

Our host at the table, a man fluent in at least four languages, grew up on the land above and around the cave.  In fact, he grew up in another cave a hundred paces away with his family of nine siblings, parents, and an uncle, who remained living in that cave until he died at 93.  Our host's life still revolves around this land.  He tends olive trees and harvests apricots, almonds, and figs.  He laughs as he tells us how he brought home a braying donkey, who is whining just outside of the cave, in his bright orange VW bus because he knew it could help with the tilling, and, besides, it would be so much fun for his kids.  He built a composting toilet and talked solar power and gray water systems, bio-gas and rain barrels.  He could have been a friend of ours in Ohio, striving for sustainability and self-sufficiency.  But he is a Palestinian struggling to remain on his family's land, in spite of years of harassment from the Israeli government to give up his right to his home, from which he can see  settlements encroaching on all sides of his hill.

His words reinforced the message that I have heard every time a Palestinian has spoken to us about "the conflict" this week:

We do not hate the Israelis. We hate the occupation.

We refuse to be their enemy.  

We are not asking you to choose sides, 
but to seek out justice where you see injustice. 

His message was frank, direct, and full of compassion.

I will tell you that the things I have seen these past few days make me so angry.  They make me desperately sad.  I feel despair and hopelessness.  The Israeli movement to occupy Palestine is huge and well-funded, thanks in part to the U.S. government.  The combination of economic motivation and religious zeal on the part of the settlers is daunting.  I would understand if the message we got from the Palestinians we met with was one of revenge, retribution, and retaliation, but it was so far from that.

Move forward.  

Don't dwell on the past.  

Focus on hope.   

Death is not an option. 

We arrived at Daher's Vineyard, home of the educational organic farm called Tent of Nations in time for lunch. Our driver brought us as close as he could to the farm, but Israeli soldiers, in their attempt to intimidate the family off of their land, have placed large boulders in the road that leads to the farm and continues to the village beyond, so we got off the bus and walked the last bit down the dirt road.  We passed vineyards and olive tree groves as we walked.  A young boy tilled the ground between vines with a horse-drawn plow.  The hill across from the road was topped with a bright white settlement, looking out-of-place above the valley of old stone walls and fields.

Israeli settlement and Palestinian farmland

Daoud met us at the locked gate, and we joined a group of Germans and Americans for a delicious lunch prepared by Daoud's in-laws before heading on a tour of the farm.  His father-in-law noticed me photographing the plants and tried to give me seeds of this beautiful succulent to bring home with me. He called it "Ha Noon."  It was brilliant against the dry earth.

Daoud's family has lived on this land since 1916 and has been fighting a legal battle to stay on the land since 1991.  There are many forms of harassment that the family has endured, from the blockading of their road to eviction notices posted to trees on the edges of the property, where they could easily be missed.  Daoud's family is not permitted to build at all and have had to remove simple temporary shelters for their animals.  Daoud is getting around this particular obstacle by renovating the many caves on his land, turning them into living quarters and classrooms.

Inside the cave classroom

The 100-acre farm is surrounded on nearly all sides by Israeli settlements.  At one point settlers came and cut 250 olive trees from the land.  (European Jews for Justice in Palestine donated new trees for planting.)  They have been issued a cultivation stop order.  When Palestinians are separated from their land  (for instance, by the apartheid wall) and are unable to work it, or when they are given a cultivation stop order, it puts in motion an old Ottoman law that says that when land is not worked for three years, it can be confiscated.

The farm has become self-sufficient.  They are totally dependant on rain water, their electricity is completely solar, they grow most of their own food.  The programs they provide enable them to continue their legal fight and put energy into empowering the local community.  Tree-planting (you can sponsor a tree), a children's summer camp, and a project run by Daoud's wife that teaches computer skills, English, and first aid to women in the nearby village are some of the efforts that come from this farm. If you wanted to, you could travel there to harvest apricots in June, almonds in July, grapes in August, figs in September, and olives in October.  Don't think I'm not dreaming about that...

Almond trees

The farm also strives to become a vocational training center, offering education in alternative energy and organic farming.  Daoud spoke about how the younger generations of Palestinians are becoming understandably disconnected from the land, dumping garbage, not taking care of what they still have. He has a strong interest in reversing this trend by teaching children about the land where their food comes from.

Cave entrance

Daoud's original family cave home
Daoud's presence on the land is his non-violent resistance.  By staying, he is declaring himself.  He said that Tent of Nations is a great threat to the Israeli government because they have hope.  They refuse to make the Israelis the enemy.

Compost toilet in the foreground, settlement in the back
Daoud told a story of his wife meeting - somehow - a recent immigrant to one of the nearby settlements, a woman from Eastern Europe.  This woman had never met a Palestinian before, and she was invited to the farm, where she was greeted warmly and hospitably, surprising and delighting her.  She returned the invitation and asked them to visit her in the settlement.  The naivete of this woman was such that she did not realize all of the restrictions put upon her neighbors, whom she could see across the valley, but who would be harassed and possibly physically threatened if they came to visit her in the Israeli settlement.  The divisions imposed on the people living on this land make the human instinct of connecting with a neighbor nearly impossible.

Our tour - past chickens and ducks, goats, and the donkey, now quiet in the shade - ended in a small outdoor theater, whose seats faced the settlement on the opposing hill.  Daoud, who has the large grin of a small boy, said that during the summer children's camp they will perform in this theater, and he hopes that if they sing very loud the settlers won't be able to help but hear them.

Standing in the outdoor theater
My notes from this day, written during the evening call to prayer, are punctuated by a few key sentences that Daoud emphasized several times during our visit:

Decide for yourself, but be on the side of peace and justice.  

There is still hope.  

Tell people we are hopeful.  

We are planting olive trees!  

We have not given up.

Syrian thistle

PS - Daoud is on a speaking tour of the United States this summer - go hear him speak about life "From the Other Side of the Wall".  For dates and locations, click here.


merry said...

OK, again --- WOW!You said it all,honey.I've been missing these people all day today and pray they are all OK.

Kerry said...