Another hot day as we made our way (out of the way) around Bethlehem again to go to a farmers olive orchard in the western Bethlehem region of Ja’ba. This village northwest of Bethlehem is in a region where many more Israeli settlements are popping up and expanding. Abu Lajizzeh, our 73 year old farmer, had many of his extended family there with sons, daughters and grandchildren since school was cancelled because there is a teacher’s strike going on here right now. The Palestinian Authority cannot pay the teachers because Israel is withholding the tax money that should be coming back to pay police, teachers, and other civil servants. Hence the strike. But that made it great for us, because we sang songs with the kids while we picked olives and the young men could help us with the highest olives. We picked many more olives from this very fertile area where the trees seemed to produce much more fruit than the trees from the east of here.
It was very hot and though we brought the same amount of water as last time, it didn’t last as long. Lunch was a little late, so it was difficult for us there in the heat as there was no well or other source of water. What we did hear about, however, was how the settlers of the region were known for their attacks on Palestinian lands. We saw with our own eyes where multiple mature trees had been cut down and replanted. We also heard how a forest of pine trees to the east had been used for cover by local settlers to harass the local Palestinians, attempting to force them from their lands. We also saw the many pumps where the water is taken from the aquifer under the land belonging to Palestinian farmers. This water goes to the Israeli settlements only and provides water 24/7. Any excess water is available to the Palestinians in the West Bank for 5 times the cost but only accessible three to four days a week.
Shockingly, you can tell the Palestinian homes because they have water storage tanks on the tops of their roofs. No such tanks are necessary for the Settlers’ homes that are often in close proximity to Palestinian neighborhoods. There are two water systems in Israel-Palestine and they are not equal. It can be said that the dual system is part of the project to remove the indigenous Palestinians from their land. Even in the hotels in the Bethlehem region we are encouraged not to put toilet paper down the toilet, but to wrap it up in more TP and put it in the garbage can. There isn’t enough water to carry the TP down the system. Here’s what Wikipedia says about water treaties.
“Water sharing agreements:
The 1995 Interim Agreement as part of the Oslo Peace Process provided certain quantities of water to the Palestinians, but prevents them from drilling any new wells in the Mountain Aquifer. The surface water of the Jordan River remains disputed with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Only with Jordan was Israel able to reach an agreement on the sharing of water resources in 1995 as part of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty.”
Mekerot, “Israel’s National Water Company”(http://www.mekorot.co.il/eng/Pages/default.aspx), doesn’t allow the local Palestinians to drill wells on their own historic lands. Israel also claims all of the water from the Jordan River Valley and gives precedence to the 34 Settlements that contain 13,000 Israelis, rather than the 100,000’s of Palestinians who have relied on those waters historically. Large Settlements in the West Bank like Ariel and Ephrata rely on the western and southern aquifers and have taken over these strategic regions for their future of water. The Oslo Process also included provisions for ceasing the expansion of present day Settlements and the cessation of any new Settlements. Yet the world has not held Israel responsible to this agreement. Instead, “as the water goes, so goes the land.”
In the late morning, an Israeli Colonel stopped by the farm when he saw the 50 Internationals working on the harvest there. He played the “good cop,” by asking the farmer why he didn’t call the army to come and help protect us from the local Settlers? The farmer answered that he has never needed such protection. A local person knowledgable of the region told us that it was the Israeli soldiers themselves who had come and cut down the farmer’s trees, but who could the farmer turn to? We saw twenty or so new tree plantings from last February on his plot. From our bus window we noted many other newly felled Keep Hope Alive trees on the road to and from Ja’ba.
After lunch, we attended a presentation by the ARIJ (Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem) which gave statistical information on the numbers and expansions of Settlers since Oslo, the creation of Israeli only roads and the separation of Palestinians from their own natural resources of land and water. What we had seen with our own eyes on one farm was understood as a national plan to disenfranchise the Palestinians not only from votes, but from their own property.
Gifts for Children
Thanks to friends and family back home, we were able to bring school supplies and games to the children we meet on our visits. Today, we shared some of those gifts with the farmer’s grandchildren. Zelda played baseball with the older ones, pickup sticks with some of the younger children. Will made sure the younger girls got crayons, markers and puppets. The kids sang along with us and played other games with international olive pickers as well. Our big song was “If You’re Happy and You Know It!” (Lots of clapping!)
Last night and tonight we experienced the warmth of the hospitality of the local people in Beit Sahour as members of our team were out and about. Zelda and Karen were guided to the bank by a neighbor and her 12 year-old son George. The conversation ranged from topics that only Kindergarten teachers would like to discuss – to George’s interest in soccer and wrestling. The evening ended with tea in the living room of the family home – and an invitation to come again “any time, if you need my help, any time.”
Tonight Bev, Becki and Selden went shopping together where we met 18 year old Mohammed, who then guided them to his family store, where they met his dad, brother, and sister. Selden bought the local olive oil, and they all bought za’atar (a local herb dressing). He said, “You can’t buy this pre-packaged za’atar, I’ll take you to where the real stuff is.” They were looking for flip-flops, but Mohammed took them to the local “Pay-Less Shoe Store” (not the chain), where they purchased leather sandals that would better protect their feet. He took them by his house to meet his mother with an offer of cold water, but since she wasn’t there, another offer was given to come back for tea tomorrow.