Mufaqara, Part 3: In Which the Apparent Peace is Shattered

In the last entry I described some of the relatively quiet days that Mahmoud’s family lives through. Many days in this part of the world are not so quiet.

Before I begin this entry in the series, let me write a few words about the overall situation here. I am in the West Bank, Palestine, which is part of Historical Palestine. Around the beginning of the 1900s, a movement called Zionism began to take a distinct shape in parts of Europe. Their idea was to create a Jewish-only or at least overwhelmingly Jewish state in Palestine. Naturally, there were people already living in this area who would have to be removed (“ethnically cleansed”) in order to make this happen. Over time the movement gathered steam and managed to recruit the help of the occupier of Palestine at the time, the British. The Zionist movement was able to use the terrible events of World War II to their considerable political advantage, and shortly after the war, began colonization in earnest.

That colonization continues today, and the Zionist movement has not yet been able to secure the entire property of Historic Palestine. It actively continues to try to annex the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, although it certainly has ambitions to acquire other nearby areas as well. Flouting a number of international laws and UN resolutions, the movement continues to grab land and cleanse the local population.

At times, the campaign to eject the locals and take their property has been a direct military effort, with wanton killing, looting and so on, as is traditional with military(1). At the moment the situation is a bit more quiet and complex. Instead of spending the money and dealing with the political disapproval of more outright military ethnic cleansing, the Zionist movement has adopted a different strategy. The strategy is based mostly around settlements, in which civilians (often armed) are encouraged and supported to take over land and build towns in the West Bank. These form bases to intimidate the local population into leaving. The army prevents any violent reprisals against the settlers. The movement is using other strategies to take land as well, for example simply building a wall around portions and stating that the property inside the wall belongs to Israel. It is a slow, grinding process of wearing away the property controlled by the indigenous population. In this way it is similar to how the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) have been treated.

But, back to the ground reality. Every day I wake up around 9am. I’m worried that they think I’m lazy, but Mahmoud does the same thing so I guess I’m in the clear. I take some photos, study Arabic, read some books. I’m reading one about popular resistance in Palestine, and one I’ve always wanted to read called, “Shake Hands With the Devil”, by Romeo Dallaire. During the hot part of the day, the family mostly gathers in the cave to sleep and relax. When it gets cooler we go back to work, grazing the sheep, preparing dinner, filling the water tank, writing, whatever.
Unloading cinderblocks
Unloading cinderblocks

The family ate meat for the first time since I’ve been here. I’ve managed to communicate that eating meat is, for me, “haaram” which is the word they use for things that are forbidden by religion. I think I accidentally told them that all Canadians are strictly vegetarian. Oops. My arabic obviously isn’t up to snuff yet. In fact, sometimes I confuse the words “haaram” and “hmar”, which means “donkey”. As you can imagine, this causes great confusion.

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Mufaqara, Part 2: Moving In

In the last part of this series, I introduced the town of Mufaqara. Today I move in with Mahmoud and his family for a month.

A man in a ghutra, which is the collection white cloth and with black ropes that men here use instead of a hat, speaks loudly at me in Arabic. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, of course. Is this really going to work out? I don’t want to be shouted at for a month. The old English maxim that if you shout English loud enough, everyone understands isn’t true. It turns out, it’s not true for Arabic either. Before the rest of the international guests leave me here, I ask them to carefully explain to Mahmoud that I do not, in fact, speak a word of Arabic. And then, I am left, mostly incommunicado, in the South Hebron Hills, with some kind cave dwelling shepherds to document their determined resistance against the Israeli army and the Zionist movement.

My cellphone actually works if I stand in the right place in the village. And I’ve been here a few times before for the day to take pictures and help with house building. So things are not as odd as they may appear, but I know that I am in for some serious culture shock. I am more prepared than most Westerners, however, because of my experience living in an Ashram rural India and a monastery in Thialand. It turns out the conditions are much the same, which is to say extremely basic. I prefer to look at the situation as camping in a very nice, sturdy tent rather than living with no electricity or running water. Anyways if these people have been living here for years, I can do it for a month. It just takes some getting used to.
In front of the Temporary Portable Structure from the UN

One of the first things to get used to is quite serious for me. Normally, I’m vegan. But I have temporarily suspended my veganism with the justification that the whole point is to work against oppression. Sometimes, one needs to keep that in mind and in the balance I suppose that the oppression of these people somehow outweighs the oppression against the sheep from whom we take milk. Fellow vegans, judge me not. I am determined to remain vegetarian, which will come up later in this story in a most hilarious manner. Continue reading

Raisin Meditation

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Raisin Meditation

This photo was taken at our first PeaceMeal workshop in Colorado in February 2013. This week, our first online cohort of PeaceMeal students are working through a module on inner peace and food. They are also practising the raisin meditation. Join them by listening to the guided meditation suggested here.

Al Mufaqarah; Shepherds in Palestine Struggling to Exist

This series comes from a friend on the ground in Mufaqara, Palestine. We wish to share his writings and photos in order to give an in depth look at a lived experience in a conflict-affected area, delving into the issues around food and agriculture as appropriate.  Enjoy!

Part 1
Introduction to the little village that wouldn’t give up.


This map shows the location of Mufaqara. It has no label in Google Maps.

Mufaqara is a small village in West Bank, Palestine. Surrounded by the hostile Israeli army and aggressive, armed, Israeli civilians, the village of shepherds is putting up an unusually determined fight for its existence. For those of us familiar with the story of Asterix and Obelix the comparison is unavoidable. Continue reading

Only 1 Day to Go! PeaceMeal Challenge: Sustainability Sunday

With only one day to go until the launch of our Online Course, we’re absolutely delighted to share our final PeaceMeal Challenge:

Sustainability Sunday

Connected to absolutely everything, and a terribly over-used word these days, we want to think about what sustainability means and how it might look in its connections to food and to peace.  How do we know what we need or want to sustain? Is our current food system sustainable? How do we make it so? How do we foster behaviours and actions that lead to sustained peace?

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability this way:

Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have,  the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.

Your challenge: Find a friend and have a conversation about what sustainability really means, and brainstorm a short list of ways that you can contribute to the cause, whether it’s switching disposables plates and napkins for ceramics and cloth, drinking shade-grown or fairly-traded coffee, shopping at a local food co-op, or growing your own windowboxes of herbs!

If you’re still hoping to join us for the course, we have a few spots left! Register here and join us as we get into deeper conversations about peace and food at the personal, interpersonal, societal, political, and global levels!

2-day countdown PeaceMeal Challenge: Sovereignty Saturday

There are only 2 days left until our PeaceMeal online course starts with National Peace Academy!

As part of our countdown challenge, today, we offer you Sovereignty Saturday: What is food sovereignty?

From the Via Campesina web site:

“Via Campesina launched the idea of “Food Sovereignty” at the World Food Summit in 1996. This idea has now grown into a global people’s movement carried by a large diversity of social sectors such as the urban poor, environmental and consumer groups, women associations, fisher-folks, pastoralists and many others. It is also recognized by several institutions and governments.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It develops a model of small scale sustainable production benefiting communities and their environment. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

Food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption. It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector. Therefore the implementation of genuine agrarian reform is one of the top priorities of the farmer’s movement.

Food sovereignty now appears as one of the most powerful response to the current food, poverty and climate crises.”

We will be looking at food sovereignty and other issues during Week 3 on Political, Institutional and Economic Peace and Food.

What are some ways that you can promote food sovereignty? Put your ideas below in the comments!