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

Peace, Food, and ESL

Friday, September 21, was International Day of Peace, a day of nonviolence and cease-fire declared by the United Nations. I was subbing for an ESL class in the afternoon, so I thought I would prepare some peace-related vocabulary and idioms for our lesson.

To start the lesson, I asked the students (an intermediate-level class)  what they thought peace means. One said the time after a war, and another said friendship and harmony between people, and also an inner sense of calm. I had printed an online definition of peace – to my surprise, there were 17 total definitions of peace! We reviewed and talked about the definitions, found some new vocabulary words within the definitions (such as antagonistic, anxiety, lucidity) and discussed phrases like “rest in peace.”

Somehow, at some point, we began talking about food. I think it was actually a side tangent – one of the students mentioned that she didn’t like to cook, which then led to the topic of organic food and GMOs. It just so happened that I had also printed an article from Breaking News English that talked about the recent Stanford study that claims that organically grown food is no more nutritious than conventionally grown food. We read and discussed the article, with the students largely disagreeing with the study’s findings.

Class time was up. We didn’t have time to finish the peace definitions. As she was getting up to leave, one student commented, “What a funny class! We started out talking about peace and ended up talking about food!”

I told her about PeaceMeal, saying that this progression of discussion made perfect sense to me. And hopefully it will lead us in a new direction for next week 🙂

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

Mufaqara Part 6: Agrarian Days

After dodging soldiers for a few days, things get a little more quiet in the village. Further down the road things are heating up in a village called Susya, but I will save that for the next entry.

For now, I have a chance to pull weeds from the vegetable garden, and watch the last parts of the grain harvest. The dry season is well advanced, some zucchini and cucumbers are coming, the sunflowers are almost ready, the tomatoes are mostly still flowering and the grain is harvested. The olives are finished being pollinated but are still very small drupes. The third house is coming along, with Sayyid and Nisham working hard on it.

The third house almost has its walls complete.The third house is progressing, after sneaking materials past the soldiers. Continue reading

Are You Hungry for Peace?

I sure am.  And what a pleasant discovery to know that Food Not Bombs has published a handbook to this effect, detailing tips and techniques for nonviolent direct action to contribute to their effort to help end war and poverty.  Of course, we know there is not singular answer to resolving these great complex questions, but a handbook with ideas for action is always a welcome tool in the struggle.

Click here to read the full Hungry for Peace book

 

Mufaqara, Part 5: An Attack on Human Rights Observers

In the background, from the beginning of my visits to this area, there has been a group of Italians who run a project called Operation Dove(1). They describe themselves as a non-violent peace corps. I’d like to introduce you to them a little more, because I think they are running an excellent and inspiring project.

After getting to know the team for a month, I have found the who work with the project without exception to be sincere, courageous, hard working and generally lovely. They are welcomed by the shepherd families with wide open arms. Watching them play with the children is charming, and the adults trust them.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, they have asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.
An Operation Dove volunteer plays with an albino rabbit next to the third new house in Mufaqarah. To prevent further and more political attacks, Operation Dove has asked that all names and faces of the volunteers be hidden.

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Mindful Eating Workshops in Toronto

Upcoming mindful eating workshops hosted by the Centre for Mindfulness Studies:

Learn the essentials of practicing mindful eating in this introductory workshop.

Mindfulness in eating is about paying attention in the present moment to the preparing and consuming of food. But, how often do we do that? How often are we rushing through meals, eating at our desk or distracted by to-do lists, and not noticing what we are eating or how much?

There is a way to bring back enjoyment and balance to food and eating. In this seminar, you will:

  • Learn how mindfulness has been applied to eating.
  • Experience mindfulness and mindful eating practices.
  • Explore hunger awareness: looking at the seven types of hunger that trigger us to eat.
  • Take away practical tips for bringing mindful eating into your life.

Dates
Tuesday, Oct. 2  | 9:30 a.m. — 12 noon
Tuesday, Nov. 13 | 9:30 a.m. — 12 noon

Facilitators
Gwen Morgan MA MSW RSW, Marsha Feldt BSc RD CDE, and Lisa Goodman MA Counselling Psych.

Location
The Centre for Mindfulness Studies
180 Sudbury Street
Toronto, ON M6J 0A

Registration
Please register one week in advance of the session you wish to attend.

Fee: $35 per session

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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