Thursday, October 18, 2012

picky picking and getting political

This post was written on October 17. Read the group blog's account of the day here.

Today marks being halfway through our time in the Holy Land. We have seen, done, and learned so much--and yet so much more remains!

We spent the morning olive picking at the field of a farmer named Adam.* For those of you who read my last post about my surprise allergy to olive dust, I'm happy to report that I emerged from the olive grove unscathed today. Not only has the rash on my face virtually gone away, I was able to particiapte fully today without a problem. Rather than be up in the trees picking olives as I did the other day (in close proximity to the nefarious olive dust), I performed the equally-important, safer-but-not-as-exciting task of picking up the fallen olives from the tarps under the trees. Marietta and I likened this to being a child at a parade, scrambling after every piece of candy thrown from the floats. The olives rained down consistently all morning, so this kept me quite busy.

Adam's olive trees are located in an area that lies between two settlements (illegal Israeli settlements on West Bank land). This area is historically part of the town Beit Jala--but has recently been annexed by Jerusalem. Because Adam has a West Bank I.D. card, he is technically not allowed in any area that is part of Jerusalem--but thankfully the Israeli authorities have given him a special permit to access his olive trees. The only people who are allowed to accompany him are his mother and brothers--which is not exactly a great labor force with which to tackle a formidable field of olive trees. That being said, we felt extra needed today.

The care and pride that Adam takes in his olive trees was more than evident (and for good reason--his trees reputably produce some of the best oil in the area!). More so than the other farmers for whom we have harvested, Adam was very particular about the way in which we harvested the olives ("don't pick them one at a have to milk the branch, but don't strip the leaves"), how many people were to work on each tree (two people up in the branches of the tree, two people on ladders on the perimeter of the tree, two picking at face level, and a few gathering the olives from the ground), the positioning of the tarps (no ground left uncovered!), and when a tree could be considered 'done' (only at his approval). Under his careful direction, we went about our work--interrupted by a tea and cookie break, of course.

Adam's mother prepared lunch for us, and after enjoying their hospitality we were on our way. We next went to the Badil Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, where we heard a presentation from their Legal Advocacy Coordinator, Amjad Alqasis. Amjad asserted that one cannot begin to understand the situation in Israel/Palestine without taking into account the reality of the 7.5 million (as of 2007) Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)--this number being a result of the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 and the second Arab-Israeli war in 1967. In addition to these two major events, new refugees are created daily. Palestinians become refugees and IDPs as the result of the taking/destroying of their land and villages and livelihoods. Many have--decades ago or a few years ago--fled the country...some live in refugee camps (like the Aida Refugee Camp I wrote about the other day), or have settled nearby their previous home and struggle to start a new life, usually without official recognition or basic services like water, electricity, etc (such as the village Ayn Hawd, which I also wrote about recently). It was interesting to be able to connect to these concrete examples while listening to Amjad's presentation. Some of the pieces of this incredibly complicated puzzle are starting to come together.

I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I should/could share with you right now. IDPs are also created, for example, by measures taken by the state of Israel that make Palestinians' life as they've always known it impossible. By this I refer to measures such as the Separation Wall--which in many cases separates Palestinian families from the farmland upon which they depend for their livelihood. Oftentimes the only choice they face is to move elsewhere where some other type of employment may be found. These types of measures, combined with the outright taking of Palestinian land (for military/'security' purposes, the expansions of illegal settlements, etc.), result in the number of Palestinian refugees and IDPs that exist today. Many would say that this is exactly what the state of Israel is hoping to achieve--the ethnic cleansing of Israel. They want the Palestinians to be forced to go elsewhere. This differentiates apartheid in Israel from apartheid in South Africa. In South Africa, apartheid was intended to go on indefinitely. In Israel, apartheid is a means to acheive a certain end--a Jewish nation.

In most countries, the terms 'citizen' and 'national' are used interchangeably, with the same rights and privileges afforded to both categories, as they are essentially one and the same. In Israel, however, one can be an Israeli citizen without being a Jewish national. This distinction creates the two-tier system in which Arab Israelis, whether Christian or Muslim, will never receive the same treatment as Jewish Israelis. A situation in which one can be a citizen but not a national, and nationality is seen as more imprtant than citizenship, will never result in equality.

During the question and answer part of the presentation, someone asked Amjad what gives him hope. He had two answers: 1. the resilience and perseverance of Palestinian farmers, who face uncertainty and deal with the unimaginable daily, and 2., his estimation of peace and justice as invevitable (a similar stance to what our group heard from Elias Jabbour). "Look at history," Amjad said. "Empires inevitably fall. And Israel isn't even an's just supported by one."

(Note: Amjad's statement was not intended to be Anti-American, but rather to point out the true extent of Israel's power (or lack thereof). Furthermore, I realize that much of the content of this post is challenging and political in nature. My intent here was only to present the information as it was given. While it only represents only one 'side' of the story, it is a vitally important perspective, that simply cannot be ignored, and that should challenge us). 

*Name has been changed to protect his safety/privacy.

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