Farming While Palestinian
Ours is an environmental delegation so it is natural that we should have visited as many as six farms during our tour of Palestine. We picked olives in Asira al Shamiliya and enjoyed an afternoon of festivity in the Canaan Olive Cooperative; we stayed for lunch on the beleaguered farm of the Nassar family outside Bethlehem; and learned about techniques of organic farming from farmers in Bili’in and Battir.
Farmers anywhere will tell you of their difficulties - the price of seed and feed, the price they can make in the market, and the vagaries of the weather. All this and more is sent to try the farmers of Palestine.
Asem Yasin put us to work in his olive grove and told us of increasingly long periods of drought showing us brittle leaves and olives not as fat as they once were. Unlike their Israeli neighbors, where Palestinians are allowed to drill a well, the depth is restricted so that it cannot reach the water table. Nor can most farmers afford the high price of water demanded by Mekorot the public/private Israeli water agency that controls all water supplies throughout the region.
Israeli settlers receive approximately 4 to 5 times the amount of water than is distributed to Palestinian farmers.
For farmers in Area C (the area of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control) the situation is even more dire. The Israeli strategy is to clear these areas of Palestinian inhabitants, achieving this goal incrementally by refusing building permits for any structure (99% rejected, 1% accepted), disallowing any natural water harvesting systems (e.g. collecting rainwater from a roof), cutting down olive and fruit trees and blocking access roads.
All this and more has been endured by the Nassar family on their farm, The Tent of Nations, near Bethlehem. Despite the family's having clear legal title to the land with documentation reaching back to Ottoman and British rule, the Israeli government is conducting a long drawn out and costly legal battle in the hope that the family will give up and leave.
A similar act of "lawfare" is being waged against the Bedouin of the Negev who have equally valid documentation to their land but are being dragged through the courts, their animals and crops poisoned with toxic chemicals and their houses repeatedly destroyed, now over 130 times in the case of the al-Araquib village.
In Bili’in we visited Palestinian farms surrounded by an almost complete ring of dense medium-rise Israeli urban development (the "settlements"), any gaps filled in by the 20-to-30-foot high concrete wall effectively shutting them off from the outside world.
This policy of encirclement is intended to drive Palestinian farmers off their land by making it uneconomical to continue farming. It thus serves two purposes: First, it releases the farmland for the building of more settlements. Second, it deprives Palestinian workers of the opportunity to make a living off the land, driving them instead into low wage labor in Israeli cities. Such has been the policy of colonial powers for centuries.
The pushback is impressive. Palestinian resistance to this slow strangulation is vigorous and creative.
The Nassar family in The Tent of Nations is not only fighting the government in court, they are determinedly farming their olives and almonds with support from volunteers, refusing to give in. Turning down vast cash offers, they say their "mother" (the land that has nurtured them) is not for sale.
In Bili’in, the encircled farmers who stage non-violent protests every Friday against the continuing encroachments are attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, sometimes with live ammunition, but still they plant their organic crops in defiance against injustice. Papaya, zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes and more are their line of defense against military bulldozers and the firepower of their oppressor.
In Bethlehem Vivian Sansour and Mohamed Saleh are building an heirloom seed library as further resistance to the attempted obliteration of a people and their culture.
The Canaan Olive Cooperative, a fair-trade organization, has member farmers throughout the West Bank, providing an economic opportunity for farmers working together. They have invested in olive presses and almond processing machinery and provide outlets for selling these agricultural products to Europe and the United States. Hosted by Fida Abdallah, our afternoon at their festival with food and music and dancing showed us that Palestinian resistance to oppression is alive and well.