Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Planting Roots of Community

Today we are back in East Jerusalem after being gone with homestays for 2 days. We went to Jenin in the West Bank and had to go through a military checkpoint. U.S. AID had the courtesy to call the "improvements" a "vehicle traffic enhancement" and shared with all on its sign that it is a "gift of the American people to the Palestinian people".  There are various levels of disturbance I have with this. First, "gift of the American people" to enhancing a dehumanizing checkpoint where Palestinians have to wait for hours often to get through, and which most Palestinians can't go through because they live in the West Bank, is really not a "gift". I would call it more of an "addition". Enhancing an Israeli checkpoint is like decorating the bars of a jail cell. Oh look, the colors!

During our time in Jenin we learned about how it used to be the best agricultural land in the area but due to land and farm confiscation by the Israeli government, there is less and less land available to farm, much less farm profitably due to water restrictions. Farmers and civilians in the West Bank have their water controlled by the Israeli government and are not allowed to build more wells without permits which are very difficult to get. Along with many other hardships, farmers have gotten together to create Canaan Fair Trade which focuses on olive oil production. Through the cooperative they are able to afford the cost of production and shipping (it is easier to sell overseas than in Israel because they.....can't sell in Israel) and by doing this, are able stay on their inherited land and cultivate their orchards, livelihood, communities, and culture. Olive harvesting is literally an ac of resistance when you look at all the barriers the government and military put onto them like settler violence where they burn trees...we were told that losing a tree that is hundreds of years old is like losing a child. Especially when you realize that it takes 15 years become fruitful so you lose a generation of income. I'm really looking forward to sharing these stories with folks at Evergreen and the larger small farm movement in the U.S. because I believe that the right to farm is one that crosses borders.

Keep buying Doctor Bronner's all you Olympians...any product that includes olive oil comes from Canaan Fair Trade :)

We then went to our homestays and myself and 2 others stayed with a large farming family who is part of the Canaan cooperative. We were graciously received by their wonderful hospitality (coffee, cookies, coffee, dinner, tea, cookies, more tea) and probably met around 40-50 people that night. About 20 family members alone were constantly coming in and out of the house. The sense of community was so strong and the love among siblings was apparent...constantly playing with each other, trying to teach us more Arabic, and discussing politics, survival, and hope. Palestinians are families who love each other, their community, and want the violence to stop. They want the right and ability to work the land that has been handed down through the generations. Many want to live in co-existence with Israelis...they aren't interested in attacking like the media claims they are.. and its heartbreaking when you realize the brutal force the IDF uses on communities that are at their core, non-violent. There is not any distinction made between civilians and militants.

We visited the The Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee camp and learned about the use of theatrical expression to channel such intense emotions...especially with youth where the tendency for violence is higher due to the lack of opportunities for school and work because of the occupation.

Later went to Akka (or Akko in Hebrew) where it is considered a "mixed" city within Israel in regards to Palestinians and Jews. Myself and a few others, stepped across a small wall and walked down to the Mediterranean we sunk our feet into the cold sand, the quiet waves washed over us. We got really silent for a few minutes, all of us thinking about a young woman our age we met in Jenin. She can't, and will not ever be able to if the occupation continues, drive the one hour to the ocean. She has never seen the ocean. She is among many....growing up behind walls, that her and her community are all potential terrorists, they they don't deserve water, education, food sovereignty......always being turned away. Being targeted. Being suppressed.
She has never been allowed to go to the ocean. I remembered our conversation when she asked where we were going next and her face lit up as the word "Akka" was spoken from our lips. "Akka!!! I have always wanted to go there...I have grown up hearing the stories...seeing pictures..."
Why do people think that oppressing youth will ever bring about peace?
We wrote her name in the sand, " Ghuson". I'm sure the waves have washed it away by now, making another name, another voice, nameless.

The multitude of stories we have heard and witnessed are so numerous I can't type them all right now but know that there are many. I hope you'll listen to more once I return. We met with some amazing Israeli peace groups like New Profile, that works with de-militarizing Israeli society and also with Boycott from Within who works with raising awareness of the occupation and putting pressure on the government through boycotts. We also visited Hebron which was one of the most tense places I have much violence. We ended today at a small farming community where this a women's handicraft cooperative and learned about their forms of non-violent resistance and the role women play.

It was a great way to end the remember that there can be success when we come together and are in solidarity. To remember that resistance takes a whole community, every olive tree, every hand.

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