Today we picked olives at Adam’s farm (not his real name). Last time we went, four years ago, we waited at the checkpoint gate from Beit Jala for 2.5 hours before the soldiers would let us pass. This time, no one is able to go through that gate but Adam himself. So we had to drive East out of Beit Sahour, and into Jerusalem, bypassing two other villages that have been subsumed by Settlements to go to the Eastern end of the valley, and hike the mile to his house. Like others who live in Beit Jala, Adam’s land has been subsumed into the Jerusalem district being between the Settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. It’s a fertile valley with views of Cremisan Monastery (which makes some great wine we are tasting now). Adam takes great pride in his land and the olive oil it produces, calling it the best in Beit Jala.
Adam stays there in the small harvesting home. He would like to get married, but there is not enough room in the two room structure, built in 1885, to raise a family. If he were to try to expand it or make significant repairs, the Israeli army would have an excuse to come in and demolish the home. Adam’s family has deeds going back to the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, but Israel considers any land not actively in use to be state property. They also do all in their power (like instituting policies which attempt to separate famers from their farmland across the West Bank, checkpoints, demolition orders, etc.) to encourage Palestinians to leave the country.
Our Keep Hope Alive group is necessary in this case, as Adam’s extended family and friends don’t have permits to come on the land. Without Internationals coming to help with the harvest, Adam would quickly become another statistic of a Christian farmer who has left the Holy Land because Israel has made it hard to exist. Israel could have found a way to not appropriate much of the land West of Bethlehem, but has instead used their Settlement expansion and the placement of the Segregation Wall in the region as a way to move Palestinians off their land.
This afternoon we heard a presentation from BADIL. This NGO (non governmental organization) documents the process by which Israel welcomes Jews from around the world to Israel, while creating policies which may allow citizenship for Arabs in Israel proper, but withholding the status of being a member of the Nation of Israel from them because they are not Jewish. Before 1948, being Palestinian was a national identity that included Muslims, Christians, Jews and Druze, but today the state of Israel only recognizes Jews and Druze as members of the Nation of Israel. It is one of the few countries in the world that lists one’s religion on identity cards and then gives additional rights and responsibilities to those of the favored ethnic/religious groups. As we had heard before, Arab citizens in the Galilee of Israel don’t get the same land, water, power, sewage, and other infrastructure rights for their part of the country. In the West Bank and Gaza it’s worse, for since 1967 Israel has been colonizing the best land and water resources to be used mainly by Israeli Settlements, while creating policies and military structures that isolate Palestinians. Some of these policies have superseded the Israeli Supreme Court because they are listed as “security measures,” even though they clearly violate the Geneva Conventions and UN Declarations. Why do such policies persist? US taxpayers and American Jewish groups are helping fund these projects, and the US uses its veto power on the UN Security Council to preserve the status quo in Israel and the Occupied Territories.