“We Plant A Tree”
Hope for Peace Takes Root in Palestine’s Rocky Soil
Mary Ann Weston
To take his crops to market in nearby Bethlehem, Daoud Nassar has to drive a long, circuitous route to get around roads blockaded by the Israeli military.
As part of a U.S. delegation that took part in the Palestinian olive harvest in November, I met Daoud, a Christian Palestinian farmer, and helped him pick olives. I listened as he told of the struggle to save the farm, which has been in his family since Ottoman times, from encroaching Israeli settlements.
Daoud is fighting the confiscation of his family’s land in the courts, while fending off settler harassment and vandalism. At one point 150 of his olive trees were uprooted, but his neighbors and peace groups planted 300 more.
“It’s easy to be violent inside,” Daoud said.
Instead, he and his family channel their feelings constructively: “We plant a tree.”
Olives are a staple of Middle Eastern diets, an important crop for Palestinian farmers, and a historic underpinning of Palestinian culture. The fall olive harvest also brings to the fore the inequities of life on the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation, we learned all these things and more during our visit to the region. From our Jerusalem base we traveled to Israeli and West Bank towns, settlements, villages and farms. We met with representatives of 33 Palestinian and Israeli groups working for peace and justice in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Almost every facet of Palestinian life is touched by the Israeli occupation. The Wall, checkpoints, and roadblocks isolate Palestinians in virtual ghettos, separating them from jobs, school, health care and family. The restrictions keep farmers from their land and their crops from market. The Israeli Goverment has demolished or confiscated thousands of Palestinian homes. Water and electricity are diverted to Israeli settlements.
We saw all this, but we also learned of the creative, nonviolent ways Palestinians and Israelis are resisting. However, it was the olives, and meeting people like Daoud Nassar, that brought home both the frustrations and the sturdy determination of those committed to peace and justice.
The delegation’s trip to Jenin to pick more olives was thwarted after we were turned away at three checkpoints by Israeli soldiers armed with automatic rifles that were made in the USA.
The next day we sailed through the Jenin checkpoint without a problem. By then it was too late to pick olives, but Nasser Abufarha, head of the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA), took us to the bustling olive press. The PFTA aims to pay farmers a fair price for their olives and then sell the oil abroad. It’s sold by the American Friends Service Committee, among others.†
Although it was after 7 p.m., the press was crowded with men smoking and talking and lounging against their 60-kilogram bags of olives, waiting their turns.
We watched as one of the farmers, Ahmed Ghanem, dumped his olives into a floor-level hopper.†The green and brown and black olives moved up a conveyer belt to be washed and then pressed.†At the end of the production line a stream of greenish yellow olive oil poured into a stainless steel tank.†
With the look of a proud father, Abufarha caught some of the oil in a bowl, produced some bread and offered it to us.
The hardy olive trees and their precious oil seem to symbolize the stubbornness of hope in the region. They, like the Palestinians and Israelis working for peace and justice, endure against great odds in rocky soil.
Republished from Quaker Action, Winter 2007, Volume 88, Number 1.
Mary Ann Weston is Associate Professor Emerita at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. She also volunteers with American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Peace Program in Chicago.