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Harvesting Almonds

On July 12, 2008 MPT and IWPS accompanied a farmer and his family to harvest almonds on their land. The farmer had asked for international accompaniment because the previous day illegal Israeli settlers had come with dogs and forced his family to give up harvesting for the day.

The farmer’s land is located above Huwwara checkpoint, one of the largest checkpoints in Palestine. It is deep within Palestinian territory, separating Nablus from surrounding communities that depend on it for services, goods and employment. The farmer’s fields provide a clear view of the checkpoint.

Higher up and overlooking the farmer’s land is the illegal Israeli settlement from which settlers come to harass him and his family.

The farmer advised MPT and IWPS to look for a youth on a donkey when they arrived at Huwwara. Sure enough, coming toward them from a far edge of a checkpoint parking lot they saw a donkey and rider who met and led them up to the almond trees.

The family arrived within minutes with necessary supplies and everyone got to work.

The boys of the family climbed up into the trees to knock the almonds down with sticks. Everyone else picked up the almonds that fell to the ground as well as what they could reach on the lower branches.

The morning passed pleasantly and peacefully. The settlers did not come to the farmer’s land that day, perhaps because it was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, or perhaps because there would be outside witnesses to their illegal actions. Whatever the reason, the family appreciated the company of internationals and was glad to harvest a section of land without interference.

Work stopped at noon while everyone shared lunch in the shade of a tree.

After lunch, the farmer sent his sons home on the donkeys, carrying sacks full of the almonds harvested in the morning. The boys returned later with a thermos of hot tea in the ever present Palestinian tradition of hospitality.

After enjoying tea together, the group continued working for another hour or so, until the heat made further work impractical.

Still, the donkeys had one more task before it was time for them to rest. The boys tied fallen tree branches together for them to drag home for firewood.

As the internationals from MPT and IWPS walked back to Huwwara checkpoint, they talked about what hard work farming is everywhere. They recognized, however, that most farmers do not work shadowed by a fear of violence everyday as do farmers throughout Palestine.

While our day had been peaceful, we were soon back at Huwwara, standing in line like cattle to have our IDs and our belongings checked by Israeli soldiers before being allowed to pass. For us such treatment is an occasional annoying inconvenience. For Palestinians it is all too often a daily source of frustration, humiliation and long delays.



On July 11, 2008 MPT went with IWPS to the village of Jayyus near Qalqilya to join local Palestinian villagers and government officials, other international activists and Israelis in a peaceful demonstration against the Apartheid Wall. Two days earlier, July 9, had been the fourth anniversary of a ruling by the International Court of Justice that the Apartheid Wall is illegal under international law and must be torn down.

Jayyus was one of the first villages to be affected by the construction of the Apartheid Wall. Over 78% of its land (9,800 dunams) as well as 2,000 olive trees were confiscated by Israel in 2002 for construction of the wall. Now in order to access their land behind the wall farmers must apply for permits, which are difficult to obtain, and pass through gates controlled by the Israeli army.

Following a 2006 ruling by the Israeli high court, Israeli army officials have drawn up new routes for the wall. The new plans would still mean a loss of 6,000 dunams of land and do not include access gates to the land that would remain behind the wall.

The Jayyus community has until July 28, 2008 to respond to the this new proposal, but the message the people sent to Israel as they stood before one of the gates on July 11 was loud and clear. “Remove all sections of the Apartheid Wall.”

MPT noted that in addition to men and youth, Palestinian women participated prominently in this demonstration. It was an honor to stand in solidarity with the women as well as the men.

Jayyus is calling for international support in removing the wall from its land and from all of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In total disregard to the four-year-old ruling by the International Court of Justice, Israel has yet to remove any part of the Apartheid Wall.


Another Trip to the Caves of Tuba

On July 8, 2008 MPT traveled to Tuba in the south Hebron hills for another overnight stay with families who live in the caves there. Even before arriving they came upon a change that has taken place since their visit two weeks earlier. The Israeli army has placed a series of large earth mound roadblocks across the road that leads to At Tuwani and Tuba. The MPT taxi was forced to turn around at the roadblock and MPTers continued their journey on foot.

MPT’s Christian Peacemaker Team friends in At Tuwani explained that the Israeli army had begun putting the roadblocks up on the same day that they had delivered an order to demolish a cistern local Palestinians had recently built. The cistern had been built without a permit because Israel would not issue a permit and the people needed water.

Now the cistern is gone and with the roadblocks it is not possible to bring water in by trucks. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has become involved because Israel’s actions are clearly creating a water crisis for local Palestinians.

As MPT walked with CPTers to meet the shepherds of Tuba on their grazing land, they passed the entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’on.

The greenery in the photo below indicates that unlike the Palestinian communities, the Israeli settlement of Ma’on is not suffering from a shortage of water.

Palestinians first asked for an international presence in this area in 2004 because the settlers of Ma’on had established a pattern of harassing and brutalizing them. Of particular concern was the settler practice of beating up Palestinian children as they walked past the illegal settlement on their way to school.

An Israeli court has actually ordered the Israeli army to provide a protective escort to the Palestinian children as they go to and from school each day. This is the only place in the Occupied Territories where an army escort has been ordered to protect Palestinians from the brutality of Israeli settlers.

The Israeli army does not always live up to its court-ordered responsibilities. Sometimes the army arrives late, and some days they do not show up at all. CPTers are thus on constant watch to monitor the children’s safety as they walk to and from school.

MPTers also walked past a fenced in grove of olive trees, an unusual sight in that the fence is not the high razor wire type used by Israelis and Palestinians do not usually fence their trees. CPTers explained that in 2006 Israelis had chopped all these trees in half, killing many of them. (The stories of wanton Israeli destruction are unending.)

The trees had later been fenced in by the Palestinian family that owns them to protect them from further attack and to try to resurrect them. Two years later the trees are coming back to life.

A phone call came from one of the Tuba families explaining that the shepherds had brought the sheep in from grazing early because they had caught sight of some threatening settlers in the distance. Soon after the phone call MPTers spotted two donkeys coming down the hill from Tuba to meet them. It was a royal welcome!

After passing the early afternoon in a Tuba cave drinking tea, conducting a lesson in English, and watching children play cards, MPTers went out with the sheep for late afternoon grazing.

This time the sharp eyes of the shepherds spotted a settler on horseback on top of a distant hill, but the settler did not draw close. Can you see the settler?

The rest of the day passed peacefully as MPT watched the sheep and goats move nimbly over the hilly, rocky terrain. Listening to the sounds of their movement and their munching gives new meaning to the term “rustling”, which is exactly the sound the animals make in a quiet that is otherwise broken only by the occasional sound of a shepherd’s call - or by the annoying roar of an Israeli fighter jet streaking overhead.

MPTers learned on this visit that the names of two young pups learning their roles as sheepherders are Rex and Bobby. They are the cutest little team at age ten months, and their work obviously tires them out at this stage of their careers!

Back in Tuba for the night, the sheep and goats were fed grain, milked, and reunited with their babies.

A common symbol in this part of the world is a blue glass eye once thought to provide protection from evil. MPT noticed a necklace with this blue glass eye around the throat of one of the sheep. Let us hope it and powers far greater work for these animals and the families who own them, and for all who are so vulnerable to the whims and violence of Israeli soldiers and settlers.


Resistance in the Village of Sarra

"A large fire broke out in the forest.
All the animals began to run away, including the lion.
However, the smallest bird stayed and began spitting water at the fire.
The lion came back and asked the bird,
“What are you doing? You are too small. That will do nothing.”
The bird responded, “It is my duty to do something.”

- Member of the City Council at the debriefing following the nonviolent demonstration
(translated into English)

On Saturday, June 28, 2008, MPT travelled with IWPS (International Women’s Peace Service) north to the village of Sarra for a roadblock demonstration. The roadblock is a mound of earth placed across the main road of Sarra by Israeli soldiers. It cuts the village off from other nearby towns. Villagers now have to travel through Nablus and back, making what used to be a fifteen-minute trip two hours. One resident told internationals that this way they are living in a jail.

Climbing over the roadblock

This was the second week of what the villagers hope will become a weekly demonstration. Last week, 150 people, mostly youth and about fifteen adults, had marched to the roadblock accompanied by five internationals. The soldiers told the demonstrators that as long as they stayed off the main road, they could remain standing on top of the roadblock.

This week, the protest was larger and the local villagers were joined by about twenty internationals. They went back with shovels this week. They also had prepared some of the village boys to perform the Dabka, the traditional Palestinian dance.

MPT processed with the Palestinians through the streets from the Mosque to the roadblock. The march had the feeling of a festival. The young people were filled with energy and passion for change and a commitment to nonviolence. MPT felt strength and hope from this community

Children lead the march

Almost immediately after the group had reached the roadblock, Israeli soldiers began shooting sound bombs and tear gas. It was clear that this was only the second demonstration, as the young people panicked at the sight and sound of the weapons and they began to run, creating a dangerous scenario. More and more soldiers appeared. Soon there were six army vehicles.

Tear gas canisters are fired into the crowd

Running away in fear of the sound bombs and tear gas

Palestinians, joined by internationals, went down to negotiate with the soldiers. The soldiers agreed that the protesters could have ten minutes in front of the roadblock, and then they would begin to fire.

Palestinians, internationals, and the Israeli army in negotiation

The ten-minute reprieve allowed enough time for the boys to come down in front of the roadblock and perform the Dabka. The beautiful dance gave a new energy and confidence to the group and the Palestinians clapped along with pride for their heritage.

Boys from the village of Sarra perform the Dabka between the roadblock and the army

When the ten minutes was almost over, soldiers began to surround the group of dancers and other demonstrators, climbing up onto the Palestinians’ farmland, and getting into firing position. Those demonstrating left the earth mound and backed up a fair distance.

At ten minutes, the soldiers began to fire their second round of tear gas and sound bombs, even though there was no one left on the roadblock. Panic again surged through the young people and they all began to run, creating a dangerous stampede in tight areas. Some boys picked up rocks and began to throw them in the direction of the soldiers.

One boy dropped his mobile phone as he was running. He was hysterical at having lost it, but terrified to go back after it. He asked MPTers to get it for him, which we did. It was not so risky for us as internationals to move back toward the soldiers, but we still held our hands out to our sides to show that we posed no threat.

This protest was much more violent than the one the week before, but the Palestinians are hopeful. They hope that next week there will be more international people than this week. By continuing to foster nonviolence in their youth, they hope that change can happen. MPT’s hope is that as the youth become more accustomed to nonviolent protests, their fear and their urge to retaliate will lessen. What terrible lessons they have to learn!

Palestinians stand up in face of violent occupation!