Mufaqarah Part 13: Exit

I came to this region of the world not knowing what to expect. I had very little knowledge of the area, rather on purpose. I came with an open mind as much as possible. I came to see.

There is a cartoon character whose name is Handala. The reader never sees his face because he is always watching, looking into the cartoon. He does other things sometimes but mostly he just watches, with his hands behind his back. In Palestine, mostly, I watched and listened to see what was happening.

A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus.
A painting of Handala, on a wall in Nablus. Continue reading

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Mufaqarah Part 12: Paradise lost

The grain harvest continues in the South Hebron Hills. It meanders along week after week as people take their time, harvesting the grain by hand, grazing fields with sheep and pass around the threshing machine. There is no rain or cold coming soon so there is no hurry. The situation here is in sharp contrast to the Canadian harvest in which a chance bit of rain can cost a farmer a great deal of money and deadly cold of winter is approaching.

The neighbor across the valley is threshing square bales of grain. People in Canada don’t use square bales much anymore, and if they do then it is for hay, not for grain. It seems funny to me that you would make and transport bales of grain rather than threshing the grain immediately, shipping the seed and putting the chaff back in the field or feeding it to an animal nearby. But suppose you wanted to ship the straw somewhere as well? It makes sense to use a square bale. People here don’t seem to grow hay.

On this side of the valley we’ve purchased some wheat to eat. I mentioned earlier, way back in the 6th article of this series, that Mahmoud’s family purchases their wheat instead of growing it. It is purchased as animal feed, presumably because that is the cheapest way. The chopped straw, which is actually added after threshing because animals appreciate some straw in their grain, has to be removed by hand. The grain is submerged in a tub of water and the straw, which tends to float to the top, is taken off. There is a little bit of corn mixed in and I wonder where it comes from since I haven’t seen much corn growing here. After taking the straw out, the grain is dried and inspected by hand to look for rocks and other debris. This intimate and labour intensive process for preparing grain is almost unimaginable in Canada, where grain is planted and harvested by huge machines then purchased by most people with it’s germ and skin removed, pre-ground, preserved and bleached.

Drying the grain
Laying the grain out to dry. Continue reading

Mufaqara: Reflections and Gifts

Living the resistance in Susya.
After the excitement of the last entry, I think it’s time for some quieter agrarian observations. I’m entering the last quarter of my time here so I’ve been able to see a little bit and can make some comments on some issues that will interest farmers and permaculturalists. Apologies to those of you who aren’t as interested in the technical side of peace and agriculture.

The farming system here has three major crops: grain, olives and sheep/goats. There are some auxiliary things as well like vegetables such as cucumber, tomato and zucchini. Some people in the village keep turkeys, and there are young fruit trees around. Let’s take a look at the major crops, just as a way to examine the system.

I love the olives. From a Permaculture point of view, they are wonderful. They are a native plant, which means they are well used to the area, including the climate, and resistant to local would-be pests. The olives are fairly easy to harvest by shaking the tree. Their oil is really healthy and tasty. The olive while it is on the tree is quite bitter, and therefore resistant to things that would like to eat it. But soaking it in water leaches the bitter substance and the olive becomes good to eat. In other words, the olive is uniquely well suited to human use because none of the other life out there is really able to process the olives into tasty food. This makes it easy to grow because there aren’t a whole lot of others trying to eat it before we do. The farmer here get about one tenth of the harvest per area as US growers do which suggests room for improvement as far as a cash-strapped farmer is concerned. However, olive growing nevertheless seems a popular occupation.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Settlers swim in the cistern of a Palestinian orchardist in order to provoke him while he watches.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.
Olive tree destroyed by settlers.

The grain in this area is often wheat, meant for human consumption. In Mufaqara it is mostly barley, meant for the livestock. In any case, Palestine is part of the Fertile Crescent and grain is, although domesticated and therefore genetically changed, a native crop. There is no doubt that the centuries of breeding have heavily modified the plants but they nevertheless remain deeply suited to this climate. Grains are well matched to the rain cycle; they grow up during the rainy season, and ripen during the dry season. In a place like south eastern Ontario, Canada, there are constant problems with rain during the harvest time, and often lack of rain during the growing period. Not so much in Palestine, although I suppose the yield of both straw and grain could be raised by careful water management. Such management wouldn’t be difficult if the people here could secure sovereignty over their cisterns and water table. Continue reading

Mufaqara 10: Avigail

When I return from Bethlehem there is a neighboring shepherd who has decided that it’s time to graze his fields right next to the outpost known as Avigail. Outposts are small Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, unrecognized by Israeli law.

Avigail is only a few years old, in contrast to Mufaqara’s considerable age. Yet Avigail has a normal electrical system, running water and plenty of above ground buildings. There is even a pizzeria. None of this is allowed for Palestinians. The campaign that Mufaqara is running to build their own above-ground houses and infrastructure brings this point in frequently; they are simply trying to implement the same systems that they see their neighbors building. Throughout the history of the Palestinian village’s struggle, they have timed their efforts to coincide with their neighbors in order to highlight this point. For example, when the Israeli neighbors got electricity, Mufaqara saw this and subsequently built their own power pylons with clear public statements that if the colonizing Israelis are allowed to install electricity, native Palestinians should be able to do so also. The Israeli military destroyed Mufaqara’s power pylons and left Avigail’s alone.

It’s this sort of treatment, where Israelis are allowed to do things that Palestinians aren’t, that results in the term “Israeli Apartheid”. There are all sorts of rules like this, even streets that Israelis can walk down but Palestinians can’t, roads that only Israelis can use. Normally only Israelis are allowed to build wells, have water towers, have a normal electrical system, leave Palestine without permission and last, but not least, own guns.
Some people don’t like the term “Israeli Apartheid” because it implies that Israel is a legitimate state. I see their point but at least I think the second part is very apt, and I might mention that this is affirmed by the government of South Africa.

In this context, Avigail is sitting on the hill next to Mufaqara, a technically illegal settlement which is left alone because it is populated by Israelis rather than Palestinians. As we are about to see, it is not only left alone but supported and helped to expand by a willing Israeli military.

As I previously described, but am happy to repeat, the way outposts like Avigail expand and take over more land is by scaring farmers away from their borders with intimidation or direct violence. Then, when the shepherds or olive orchardists have been unable to access their land for three years, the land is declared abandoned. The government then takes it and hands it over to the settlers. The process iterates with new borders. Emphasis is laid on areas that will amalgamate existing colonies and cut the Palestinian territory up into isolated sections which have difficulty coordinating and resisting the advancing colonization. You can recognize this as the old tactic of Divide and Conquer manifested in a physical way (as opposed to the also common psychological divide and conquer techniques). I’ve written previously how this is happening to Bethlehem, which is being prepared for an economic siege by surrounding it with settlements, and how Mufaqara is in between two colonies which are trying to amalgamate.

The shepherd we are with today is foiling this process of land appropriation by using his land and documenting it, despite intimidation from one of the strongest armies in the world. He is a non-violent resistance fighter.
Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.Operation Dove with the shepherd, to the right you can see a building of Avigail.

Two people from Operation Dove and myself are accompanying the shepherd to document the process. Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 9: Sheep

Middle of June, 2012

Every day in the afternoon someone takes the sheep out to graze. This job belongs to the boys, and today it’s an outing for 4 brothers to take about one hundred animals out to pasture. They split the herd into two so that it is more manageable. Each half can be led by a single person, but it’s nice to have more people to help.

Mahmoud owns several pieces of land, and today since we are going to an especially dangerous piece one of the boys made it a point to ask me to come along. We are going to graze the sheep near an outpost and are therefore at risk of settler attack as well as harassment by the military. The name of the outpost (a small settlement illegal even under Israeli law) is Avigail.

We leave Mufaqarah and cross a valley, stopping for a drink most of the way up on the other side. The water comes from a cistern built for this purpose. The cistern has recently been cleaned, all the silt being removed by hand, one bucket at a time, from the tank. A dry river of soil lay downstream of the tank provides a dramatic illustration of soil erosion in the catchment area. All of this soil emptied from the tank represents destroyed topsoil.
Soil emptied from the cistern
Soil emptied from the cistern

The flock takes a drink at the cistern
The flock takes a drink at the cistern Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 8: Susya Continued

The second time I visit Susya I’m exhausted and sick. I fall asleep in a tent and when I wake up I don’t know where anybody is. Eventually I get a call from the Operation Dove team who tend to be a little more on the ball than I :-). The protest is over and they pick me up to go back to Mufaqarah. My consolation is that I was able to examine a home-made grain thresher that someone in Susya must have built. Mahmoud tells me I abandoned him, and he almost got arrested. I tell him he deserted me in a foreign country where I can’t speak the language. We are both half serious.

A home made grain thresher
A home made grain thresher.

The next time we go to Susya there is a march organized to protest the harassment and planned destruction of the town.

No For Demolition

There are hundreds of people, with bus after bus coming from Israel and Palestine. The military tries to stop them, blocking the vehicles as they approach the village. People don’t turn around though, they get out of the busses and walk the rest of the way towards Susya. Continue reading

Mufaqara Part 7: Susya

This post contains accounts of serious human rights abuses and is for mature audiences only. This post has taken me many days to write and the people in this cafe must think I’m a bit strange since I have been visibly disturbed more than once.

The map shows the location of the Palestinian town of Susya, which has no label on Google Maps. The nearby labeled town of Susya is the new, invasive, settlement which has taken the name.

Susya is another village in the South Hebron Hills, about two hours by donkey from Mufaqara. Like many towns in this area, the Zionist movement is trying to erase this village and re-colonize the area with Israeli settlers. The story of Susya is inspiring because their resistance has been especially determined. Yet terribly sad because of what they have been through, and the fact that the same thing has happened to hundreds, even thousands, of other villages like Susya. In most instances the Israeli military was successful long ago and the towns no longer exist.

The town of Susya has been under threat for many years, and life has been very difficult since the settlements began. In the past, the town has been destroyed by the military more than once. Many people left, but some stayed and rebuilt their homes. Recently, the military has renewed their efforts to destroy the town. Five months ago the military issued statements that are coming to destroy 15 of their buildings. With support from an American Zionist organization, a new court case was been opened against the town of Susya, in February. The case claims Susya to be an “illegal outpost”, although the village has existed here long before the state of Israel. Continue reading