Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Palestine: "With each step, the wind blows"

"The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Here in Israel and Palestine the olive-picking, mind-reeling, and heart-stretching tour-du-jour continues. We had two visitors from "Combatants for Peace," a group of hardy souls committed to non-violence and peace, though hardly shrinking violets. Larry, a feisty Israeli, was and is committed to a homeland for Jews and was and is deeply affected by the Holocaust. He fought for the Israeli army for years until he realized that the violence the army was committing had, as he put it, nothing to do with increasing the security of Israel, but had other political aims. He feels that "the occupation is destroying the Jewish state and Jewish morality."

Suleiman, a Palestinian, grew up in poverty and violence and didn't see another way. He started with graffiti at around the age of 12 or 13, graduated to throwing rocks at soldiers, then to Molotov cocktails. He and friends tried making homemade guns, unsuccessfully, so at the age of 15 he and his 18 year old friend decided to attack two young Israeli soldiers to get their guns. They attacked them with knifes and fought for "about half an hour." They didn't get the guns or kill the soldiers, but they were eventually caught and tried in a military court, and Suleiman was sentenced, at 15 years of age, to 15 years in prison. He was released after 10 years, and, amazingly enough, is now fully and completely committed to non-violence, even in the face of violence by others. He's abandoned his Muslim religion, though he hasn't exactly announced it publicly, and he doesn't support the shelling of Israeli villages from Gaza, an apparently rare sentiment in the Palestinian community. He's contemplating trying to find the soldiers he and his friend attacked 20 years ago, though he doesn't know what he'll say to them. "I'm from the Middle East - I don't plan things. I'll see what I say when it happens."

If you don't know, as I didn't, the famous "West Bank" is a huge land mass, relatively speaking - about a third the size of Israel proper. (Click here for a detailed map.) Confusingly, it is not Israel - nor is it another country. It's called the occupied territories because it was taken from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967, not given back, not incorporated into Israel, and occupied militarily ever since. Consequently, Palestinians who live there don't have a country. They aren't citizens of Israel nor of any other country. They aren't even allowed INTO Israel without a permit. (To complicate things, roughly 20% of Israeli citizens are Arab-Israelis, sometimes referred to as Palestinian-Israelis, who are citizens of Israel, and who can travel and reside in Israel, though they frequently do not serve in the armed forces, which is compulsory for all other citizens.)

I'm afraid it's late and I want to send this out tonight, so that will have to do it. Forgive me for my incomplete summary of an impossible subject! In the meantime, I beg of you, please, read this short booklet which does a good job of describing the conflict in terms of "the Israeli narrative" and "the Palestinian narrative." The two sides have completely different views and stories about the same historical events, as well as differing objectives. Trust me - you cannot trust your government or the media to give you the full story about what's happening here. Download this PDF and read it!

When I have the time, I'll write about the day that we volunteered to pick olives in a location where, the day before, the farmers and two international volunteers were attacked by the nearby Israeli settlers with metal poles. It was a surreal and mostly uneventful day, but included discussions like, "What is an appropriate and non-violent response to someone chasing you with a metal pole?"

Until next time, too much love,

My shadow(s) reflect in a spring near where we stayed.

This renovated chicken coop hosted us for the first few days of our retreat. Nobody here but us chickens.

It's a little tiring picking olives in the hot sun, as the expressions here over lunch might indicate - or maybe it was just a moment in time.

A panoramic view of an olive orchard.

This is Petra from Germany, who was with another group. She's spent a total of about three years in Israel and is working on a book. There are many volunteers from all over the world who come to help the Palestinians with their harvest - primarily to show support and also to express their displeasure with the occupation.

The cute daughter of one of the farmers.

The same daughter and her brother are gathering the olives from the tarps and filling a burlap bag.

Jess from England makes some friends.

Our new digs in the West Bank town of Deir Istiya, after some ferocious cleaning. Fourteen of us squeezed into three bedrooms with one combination toilet/shower room. Cozy!

A panoramic view from the roof, where some of us slept and then dropped our tents because of the strong wind. Rain came this day and soaked our tents and my sleeping bag.

Michal and I were dropped off by the side of the road and told to wait for the farmer to come get us for olive picking. A military Hummer drives past, a few cars. Then I look up and seemingly out of nowhere appears a kid riding a horse bareback, holding a stick. He waves it across the road and indicated we should follow. As I kept repeating this week because I think it's funny: "This is the weirdest vacation EVER!"

Just like his t-shirt says, he's "beantiful."

The rain came down quite heavily and we'd forgotten our rain gear or even jackets. Then the dusty red dirt immediately turned into a goopy clay mess.

One of the sons of Nawaf, our local contacts who looks like Richard Gere. This kid? Maybe more like Elvis. Elvis-ish.

Zuhir, a lovely man who arranged the farmer connections for our group.

I love a photo like this - a cute little kid peeking out from behind a door.

This little guy was turning inside out from shyness. Sweet.

We walked through the old town of Deir Istiya, where at least some of the buildings date to Roman times.

An old door in a newly renovated house.

One of the seven gates into the old town.

A friendly kid with the usual question: "What is your name?!"

Nice kids.

A shop is lit up as the sun sets.

The next harvest day, with rain threatening.

Another photo of Zuhir.

You see quite a few donkeys in the West Bank, and almost none in Israel.

Rizzik, another Palestinian contact. He mentioned that he's been to England giving talks to interested groups.

Zohar, the organizer of this retreat, along with her husband Nathan.

The kids are sweet and excited to meet us, even when they find out that half the people are Israeli.

Another farmer, whose name I know and can't remember! Oops.

On the hill straight ahead is a settler's village, Revava. The farmers frequently won't come to harvest unless we accompany them, even though this particular settlement is not aggressive. We did see, though, that they have been dumping raw sewage into the valley, which kills the olive trees.

Revava settlement, recognizable by the red tiled roofs, which you don't see in Palestinian villages.

Walking to Deir Istiya, with one of prominent mosque towers in the distance.

(The End)