Two: “We have to invest our anger and frustration in something
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.
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.
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