Changing Targets

Our friend and agrarian journeyman James Douglas now finds himself in Israel, from where he sends this article and accompanying photos.  Imagine, a garden where a shooting range once was.  Is there any more powerful example of cultivating peace?

By James Douglas, May, 2012

The bullet baffles are used to hang shade netting. The shooting shelves have been converted into places to store seeds and empty pots. There is a young olive tree growing off to the side.

I am in Pardes Hanna-Karkur, a small town in Israel, north of Tel-Aviv, surrounded by the destroyed communities of Wadi ‘Ara, al-Sarkas Kirbat and Qisarya. There are few traces of the war left to the casual observer. The town looks like a quiet agricultural space, where people love their gardens and collect hay into big, old fashioned, square bales. People here tell me that the name Pardes means, “place of big trees,” and that it is the root of the word “paradise”. Oxford disagrees, but this makes the idea no less charming.

A flowering olive tree

There is a small community garden here that is a nice example of turning swords into ploughshares. The space used to be used to train people to kill. Now, it is used to grow food.

General view of the garden.

It is an old shooting range, turned into a community garden. The shooting range was for civilian purposes, probably for security guards. Three years ago a community group re-claimed it for everyone to use. There are no user fees; they raise money together by selling seedlings as well as receiving funds from the municipality.

Bullet casings remain on the ground

I was excited to see the trees among the vegetable beds, which means the old range is slowly being turned into a lovely orchard. There are pomegranate, mulberry, citrus, brazilian cherry, avocados, mangos, grapes and figs spread throughout. While waiting for these low maintenance perennials to mature and give fruit, the space is used to grow faster, more labor intensive, crops of vegetables.


Half of the space available inside the range is left untouched, because it is recognized as valuable habitat for some unusual wild flowers. In the untouched area I recognize plenty of oats, wild carrot, wild fennel and overwhelmingly red poppies.

This peaceful garden scene is a world apart from the larger picture, a veritable oasis of peace behind the combat lines.

View downrange from the shooting range. The overhead steel sheets are bullet baffles, used to prevent bullets from bouncing back at the shooter.

The number of privately owned weapons is much smaller per capita than in Canada but the ones that do exist are intended for killing humans. Restrictions on carrying them in public places are very relaxed. The number of privately owned Israeli gun tends to go up in response to violence inside Israel as many citizens entertained the idea of killing terrorist/freedom fighters.

It is not unusual here to spy a pistol wedged in someone’s belt at the local cafe, or a teenager carrying their (military-issued) loaded automatic rifle through the streets.

Hanging shade netting from the bullet baffles.

The highest rate of gun ownership is by Israelis living inside the Palestinian Occupied Territories. People living in the colonies established inside the occupied territories are automatically granted gun permits and gun violence is very common. Today (May 20) in Bethlehem a Palestinian man was murdered by settlers and military on his way to work. They said that they thought he was armed. He wasn’t. Impunity is expected.

If projects like this garden inspire peace, this area of the world needs as many as they can get.

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