Mufaqara, Part 4: Building Houses

Last time I went through the details of dodging the military in order to move materials into Mufaqarah in order to build small concrete block houses. Two loads of concrete blocks were successfully delivered, while the military prevented some powdered rock and concrete from being delivered.

The day after these adventures with trying to sneak in building materials, we hold our usual Saturday get-together in Mufaqarah. Some Israelis, local palestinians, and international activists from many countries, including Canada, England, Germany, and United States come to visit the village. They are here to hear the story about the village, get updates on the campaign and help in the actual construction of new houses. They help to spread the story of this village as well as deter immediate violence from the military. Many of them work for news agencies, or NGOs. One or two are politically interested tourists.

In the morning the military comes to tell us, again, not to work on constructing the mosque. We make a big show of moving rubble (from a building that the military previously destroyed) into the mosque, ostensibly to level the floor. In fact, we have no intention of working on the mosque. We deliberately use it as a distraction so that they don’t pay attention to the houses we are putting up. It astonishes me that something simplistic like this could work, but the activists here assure me that it does. As for the importance of a concrete mosque, the shepherds here pray in the field next to their sheep, on the road lit up by the headlights of the military, in their caves and in the dining room. It looks to me that their mosque is in their heart, not composed of concrete blocks. They seem to have no qualms about using the building as a distraction to help in the campaign win their freedom.
An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor.  The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background. An older man re-arranges rubble on the mosque floor, pretending to level the floor. The military and journalists take pictures of each other in the background.

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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

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

Ownership of Land

Walking towards the disputed olive
orchard.

We are in Teqoa, Palestine, southeast of Bethlehem. I thought we were just getting out to change vehicles. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. The military wasn’t expecting anything either.

It turns out that Teqoa farmers have been denied access to their olive trees for between ten and seven years. No doubt the situation came to a crisis with well known and technically unsolved murder of Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran next to the settlement. An unsolved murder, is however, a distant and mostly irrelevant excuse to steal land from some farmers and today, the olive orchardists are going to re-claim their land and their trees. We are here to accompany them into the forbidden zone. The presence of foreigners makes the farmers feel more secure against illegal violence from the military and settlers.

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Slow Siege of Bethlehem

The following post comes from a guest contributor in Israel, observing gardening and farming in times and places of conflict.  Please feel free to post comments – this is a provocative and intriguing piece, and we welcome dialogue.
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The soldiers shuffle from side to side, trying to block our path. But there are too many of us. We walk through them like some sort of surreal slow motion charge.

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Political Contributions of Food Industry Giants

This wonderfully illustrative infographic from the Good Guide brings a whole new level of meaning to ‘food politics,’ illustrating political leanings of some of the giants in the agro-food industry. Continue reading

Weapons Easier to Trade than Bananas

Can you believe that there are more regulations involved in trading bananas internationally than there are in trading weapons?  Read this article from the Inter Press Service for details, and take a look at the instructive infographic and youtube film below the article, both from Amnesty International USA.

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Wartime Food Propaganda: Militarizing the Home Economy

In my explorations of peace and food, I’ve become aware of a whole era and subject matter that we’ve hitherto overlooked… wartime food propaganda.  The following is a series of posters from (mostly) North America during the First and Second World Wars.  I won’t say much, except that I find the language incredibly potent, the links between war and food outrageous, and the fear-mongering unconscionable.  And Victory Gardens are precursors to the modern-day community garden.  Just saying.

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A Fork in the Road: Canadian Association for Food Studies

This weekend I have the great pleasure of spending time at the Canadian Association for Food Studies conference, “A Fork in the Road: Crossroads for Food Studies,” where some of Canada’s most respected scholars in food studies gather in collaboration with new and emerging scholars to share ideas, encourage research, and celebrate the work being done in this fascinating, interdisciplinary, and rather new field.

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