Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Posted by Jake Harris travelling with the HaHRP delegation:
Posted by Jake Harris travelling with the HaHRP delegation:
I am in the Land of Milk and Honey, and as I eat delicious Knafe (a blend of Palestinian Cheese and sugar cooked over an open fire) in the 5,000 year old town of Nablus I have a greater appreciation for what this means. This land is some of the most fertile agricultural land on the planet. It is quite evident as we have driven through the West Bank, exactly why this land is so desired. Near the cool mountainous Hebron we find orchards of Pecans and Grape vines, along the coast we find the famous Jaffa Orange and meyer lemons. in the northern regions of Jenin there are fields of wheat and greenhouses full of strawberries, tomatoes and eggplants. In the warm Jordan River Valley home to the ancient 10,000 year old city of Jericho we find acres of date palms, and banana groves. And of course in every landscape dotting hillsides we see the resilient Olive tree.
The Olive tree is such a poetically relevant symbol of the people of Palestine. Olive oil trees need very little water, and little soil, to produce a valuable product that is a critical ingredient in every meal that I have eaten. Their gnarled branches are resilient to drought and even fire. In Sofyia a town near the fabled sea of Galilee, we witnessed the remains of a recent massive forest fire that burned over five million European pine trees that were planted by the Jewish National Fund, using the slogan “making the desert green”. What remained of the European pine trees was ash and snags, while many olive trees had burnt bark, most already had fresh green leaves only months after this massive fire. Some Olive oil trees in the region are over 2,000 years old and are nicknamed “Romans” after the ancient Occupiers who supervised their planting. Like the Palestinians Olive trees are native to this land, Christians will recognize the Arab word for Palestinians “Filistinis” as the biblical Phillistine people that Jesus and many prophets spoke with. Like the Palestinians these ancient trees have seen the occupation of this land by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Turks, The Ottomans, the French, the British and now the Zionists. And like the Palestinians, the olive tree continues to bear fruit no matter how harsh the conditions.
I have become quite taken with this landscape and its people in the 2 weeks I have traveled here. The Palestinians are as generous as the soil that nutures their livelihood. When you are invited for dinner food is piled high, and a clean plate means you have room for more no matter how much you decline a Palestinian mother will continue to pile more delicious rice, chicken and yogurt or squash stuffed with lamb, and every meal is ended with sweet sage tea or Arab coffee. We have had many adventures and experience here and at this point I could write a book about these two weeks alone, but tonight I will limit my story telling to three farmers I have visited and how their lives have been affected by the occupation of their lands.
Today I visited the Town of Jiftlick in the Jordan River Valley. This visit was arranged by Lifesource a water rights organization that seeks to improve water access and reclaim water rights for Palestinians. The dryness of this region is already a challenge to farming and daily existence, but it has been made even more complicated by Israeli policy and the Zionist settlements it supports.
Hazem and Hajj are business partners on a produce farm in Jiftlick and their families have been farming this land for generations. They are old enough to remember a time when the Jordan River would flood the valley and make crossing impossible, and are saddened by the mighty river that is now a trickle. The Jordan River is the western border of the West Bank and separates Occupied Palestine from the country of Jordan. Israel took control of this land in 1967 and has since blocked any Palestinian from accessing this river by designating it Area C, which means the land around the river is “Arab free” and under military control. Even if Hajj or Hazem could get to the river they would find a phantom of this once proud river. After the 1967 war Israel began a massive infrastructure project that redirected the Jordan River into what is now Israel. Now 90% of the water that used to flow goes southeast through northern Israel and into the industrial regions near Tel Aviv supporting Israeli economic activity. This has left the aquifers of the region depleted a situation made worse by Israeli laws that prevent well enhancements. It is Israeli law that forbids Hajj and Hazem from digging deeper than four feet in the earth and Israeli law that denies them receiving even the pipes to improve their wells. Whats worse is that Israel monitors their water access and implements fines if they go above water quotas that were set 40 years ago. According to Hajj they have 700 dunums (dunum=1/4 acre) of land and only have enough water to farm 200 dunums, which has left many fields fallow and destroyed their once prized water loving banana grove.
These same rules do not apply to the Zionist colonizers near by who not only stole an entire farm of grapes from a neighbor of theirs (who was out of the country in 1967 and could not defend his farming right), but enjoy unrestricted water access from their much deeper well that feeds their water loving date palm orchard.
What makes life even more difficult for Hajj and Hazem has been Israeli destruction of their products. Hajj and Hazem used to sell produce all over the world with a “Grown in Palestine” label through open borders with Jordan, When Israel took control of the border now all produce must pass through Israeli military checkpoints. Part of Israeli security inspections meant digging a thumb into their eggplants, presumably to check for explosives, than turning off the refrigeration unit on the truck, sometimes up to a week as it sat in shipping. When it reached its destination in Europe those eggplants became a rotten moldy mess spoiling the entire shipment. This loss made them change their labels and sell exclusively to Carmel Agrexo (an Israeli company that with the help of Israeli soldiers is run like the mafia) now all products say “grown in Israel” erasing their proud heritage.
Down the Road from Hazem and Hajj is the Shedeh-Dais Family. The Shedeh-Dais Family is a mother and father and seven sons and all of their wives and kids, 150 people total (Palestinian farmers have lots of kids). Normally I would have been overjoyed to visit their livestock farm which had several hudred sheep, goats and cows, but today was much more somber occasion. Across the street from their livestock was another Zionist Settlement which began forty years ago by stealing their farm land. They too had lost a valuable grape farm to the settlers which was now surrounded by ten foot high fences with barbed wire, I imagined working every day with the livestock and staring at my families livelihood that was taken by an invasive neighbor. Like I said I wanted to run around and look at all the sheep but our first stop was their former well. Water is more valuable than gold in this region and their well was one of six in this town that had been destroyed by the Israeli Army. They came unannounced 15 years ago with a Caterpillar Bulldozer and destroyed the well that provided sustenance for them and sixty other families in the region. Once the well was destroyed, one by one each family left leaving only the Shedeh-Dais’s. What’s more is a month and a half ago the bulldozers returned. Since Israeli Military law in the region does not allow Palestinians to dig more than four feet into the ground, no foundations can be established, all construction is done with mud bricks on top of soil or tin shacks. Five years ago the Shedeh-Dais Family constructed two such shacks to house their sheep . Even though thy abided by this disgusting law, the Israeli army came to bulldoze their sheep sheds. Once again a Caterpillar was used to smash them down killing 20 of their sheep in the process. As I took photos of the mangled wreck, my translator told me why the father and brothers had an anguished look in their eyes. When the Bulldozer came two of the brothers stood in front of it to block the destruction, they were promptly arrested as a security threat and are still imprisoned today, with little hope of timely release. I have a hard time containing my anger at this injustice, and cannot imagine what it must feel like for the family as they bear the full force of policies designed to make them so miserable that they leave their land.
The final story I will share this evening from my experiences is on the one hand devastating and the other inspiring. This is the story of Hanni Amer, a resident of Ma’ Sa. The Town of Ma’ Sa is near the Green Line which is the internationally recognized border of Palestine and Israel. Every Zionist settlement in the West bank is determined illegal by UN law because an occupying force is not allowed to colonize an occupied territory. Still they are being built, and the Ku-Foqasam settlement is one of those illegal settlements. The Village of Ma’ Sa had 20,000 Dunums of farmland, that they subsisted off of, after the Israeli Occupation began in 67, the settlement of Ku-foqasm was built on their farmland leaving them only 3,000 dunums of farmland. What’s more is that the remaining farmland is separated from the village by the settlement itself, so in order to reach the farmland the villagers have to go through 4 checkpoints and apply for yearly permits to access their land. What used to be a fifteen minute walk for Hanni Amer, now can take 6 hours as Israeli soldiers are slow to allow them to pass especially when they are bringing fertilizer for their soil. Israeli law prohibits the best fertilizer from being used by Palestinians based on an extrapolation that they could be used to make bombs so Hanni has to use a sub standard Israeli product, and even than is limited to the amount he can bring through the check points at one time. What’s more is that they only permit the famers to be on their land until 5pm, meaning if it takes 6 hours to get through the checkpoints Hanni may only have 2 hours to do all the work he needs to do on the farm including repairing their water pump which is frequently vandalized by the Zionist settlers.
Earlier this decade Israel became construction of what it calls a “security fence” to delineate the border of Israel and Palestine. By international law this wall should have been built along the Green Line which is the established border, but since Israel is continuing its colonizing of the West Bank the fence has snaked into the west bank and is seizing 20 percent more of the remaining land of Palestine. This gradual colonization is at the heart of the conflict. The wall was set to run right through Hanni’s home as his family lives on the border of Ma Sa village and the Ku Foqasam settlement. A common sight in Palestine is the bulldozers set to demolish a Palestinian home and all would have been lost for Hanni Amers Home if international peace activists had not stepped in. They waged a media campaign and around the clock sit-ins to prevent the destruction of the Amer family home. The small Amer family took on the seemingly beyond the law state of Israel and were able to protect their home from demolition. This glimmer of hope, is followed by an equally disgusting act though, as Israel instead surrounded the Amer home with four walls. Now in order to enter his home Amer must pass through a locked gate that he only recently received the key to. We visited him in his home and felt the feeling of being imprisoned by Israel as his wife served us tea and his grandson played with the Frisbee I gifted him. The situation for Hanni is one of desperately holding onto his rightful land. The farming is long since profitable, and he continues to farm his land knowing that If he is gone for even one week he could find his land taken by the settlement. Existence is Resistance.
Tomorrow I will meet with the Stop The Wall Campaign and with the Ramallah Farmers market association, and than on to Jenin where I will meet with Canaan Farms and the Palestinian Fair Trade association. I will be making my way back to Seattle this weekend and am looking forward to educating others about this critical food justice issue as well as launching myself into the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that I think is the strongest way to hold Israel accountable for its disrespect for international law and basic human decency.
Love and Happy Growing