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November 2006 Olive Harvest Delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders & American Friends Service Committee



Report Two: “We have to invest our anger and frustration in something positive”

November 8

How many powerful images can we see in one day?

This morning we met Anat Bersella, an Israeli researcher from B’tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Anat told us that most Israelis believe that whatever their government does in the name of “security” is okay. Today, we saw one piece of this, the over 400 mile-long wall, or “security barrier.” It cuts across main roads, such as the historic road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, isolates villages, and annexes land. It is enormous, depressingly gray, winding smack through the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods. There are watchtowers along its length. It forces the Palestinians in the West Bank into ghettos. Palestinians are not free to go to Jerusalem without special permission, not even free to travel within other parts of the occupied territories.

I could not have appreciated how devastating it is to the spirit until I saw it. It is frightening, and it is disgusting. It gives to one group of people by taking from another. When it extends into Palestinian territory for the purpose of seizing more land or changing the demographic makeup of the occupied territories, it is illegal under international law, and the Israeli government doesn’t seem to care. All in the name of security. How much will the Israeli government do, in the name of security?

And, I am moved to ask, how much will the U.S. government do at home, in the name of security?

This afternoon, we picked olives at an orchard just west of Bethlehem owned by a Palestinian family. Daoud Nassar is a gentle man, working land that has been in his family for three generations. The Israeli government—prodded by nearby Israeli settlements—has been trying to take the Nassar’s land because it is the last piece of Palestinian-owned land lying in the way of continued settlement ‘expansion’ in the area.

Consequently, Daoud and his family have been in court for 15 years in order to be allowed to stay on their land. He told us that each time he satisfies a requirement to prove his legal ownership; the Israeli government makes a new demand. He has met this persistent land-grab with amazing determination, and with an extraordinary attitude of lack of revenge. While he admits the situation is very frustrating, he adds, “…it is easy to react to such frustration with anger and violence. But, we have to invest our anger and frustration in something positive.”

So, Daoud keeps working his land against great odds. The Israeli government closed the road to his orchard, won’t allow him to build, and denies him electricity or running water. He tells us his personal story, but what I saw yesterday and what I’ve heard from Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations tells me Daoud is not alone. He reacts by promoting programs for Palestinian children, by inviting people from all over the world to come to the farm, to witness, to help harvest crops. He actively supports nonviolence and he continues to smile. He has not lost hope, he says.

These images touch my heart. I see another image, and wonder if the “wall” can stand up to the power of people like Daoud.

--Bill Mims

Picking Olives

From the highway leading to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, we turned onto the “highway” for the West Bank Palestinians: a narrow, dirt road with deep holes which slowed the bus to a crawl. Shortly this road was blocked by an enormous boulder that had been placed squarely in the middle of the road by Israeli soldiers. Leaving the bus, we gathered our bags and walked to the farm called “Daher’s Vineyard” and the “Tent of Nations.” Here siblings Daher, Daoud, and Amal Nassar live with their extended family. The family has farmed this land for many generations—and their modest farm is now surrounded by Israeli settlements on all sides.

In 2001, in the middle of the night, Israeli bulldozers arrived to cut a road through the land that the Nassars had inherited from their grandfather. Since then soldiers have come and hacked down 135 olive trees on the Nassar farm. Later Israeli settlers came and uprooted another 250 olive trees. In response to this destruction, Palestinian neighbors and Israeli supporters re-planted 300 olive trees! (Incidentally, the Nassars are Palestinian Christians; all their neighbors are Palestinian Muslims.)

There also have been protracted legal battles to retain their land. The Nassars hired a lawyer in Jerusalem for $10,000. Although invited, Daoud was not allowed to travel to Jerusalem to attend the proceedings about the land because he was not granted a permit by the Israelis to enter the city. A diplomat from the Swiss Consulate had to escort him into Jerusalem just to make the court date. In court he was told that the land survey he had just commissioned was insufficient; a new one was required which would cost $70,000! In addition, the new survey mandated by the court would require research on Ottoman land records in Istanbul.

Despite the challenges, Daher, Daoud, and Amal are totally dedicated to staying on their family’s land. They decided to channel their frustration into a constructive purpose and now use the farm to create a space of peace, by planning work camps, hosting international delegations such as ours, and organizing summer camps for the neighboring children from refugee camps and Bethlehem. We saw a theatre that has been built near an ancient wine press. Last summer the local young people produced “Romeo and Juliet,” substituting an Israeli and Palestinian in the lead roles. The family hosts visitors from all over the world. Their hope is to provide an example of how to live in these dire circumstances with nonviolence, thereby showing the world that they truly want peace in their country.

Arriving mid-morning, we began helping harvest the olives. The trees are laden with a good year’s crop. Some delegates climbed ladders for the high branches; some knelt on the ground to pick up the olives that dropped. Those of us with “creaky bones” picked the ones in the middle. At lunch we were treated to bread plucked off the hot coals as well as dishes of rice, vegetable stew and salad.

It’s dark and cold now; the 4 kilowatt generator is busy providing a bit of light; bodies huddle around the fire. I intend to join them.

--Judy Lee

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© 2006 Interfaith Peace-Builders