the friend online
19 January 2007

International Edition: Multifaith and hope in the West Bank

How did two Friends from Britain come to be helping with the olive harvest in the West Bank?

Jane's tale

I went to a QPSW weekend in the spring of 2005 where I met Maggie Foyer who spoke to me about the IWPS olive harvesting. But nothing prepared me for the reality of a country living under aggressive military occupation when

I decided to go and see for myself.

Our group of harvesters lived for a week in a West Bank village in the Salfit area, then a week in another a short distance away. Both villages struggle with difficulties that would be unthinkable in our affluent society: no refuse collection, schools enclosed by wire fences to prevent vandalism from the illegal Israeli settlements on the nearby hills, roads into the village blocked by mounds of earth, pregnant women giving birth at the checkpoints on the main road on their way to hospital. We were told that babies had died of cold in this situation.

Of course we all realised that it is a two way problem, but the odds are visibly loaded against the villagers who are deprived of so much and struggling to lead an 'ordinary' life.

Yet in spite of all their hardships, people there are cheerful and hospitable.

We spent the weekend break in Bethlehem, a sad place. It is a city under siege surrounded by the apartheid wall. Palestinians can only leave or enter with permits through the one military checkpoint like a border crossing. Main roads are blocked and oil tankers from the south have to pump their load across an earth and rubble mound into another tanker to get it into the city. Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity are lovely but the tourists see none of the reality of everyday life.

For me the highlight of the trip was sharing simple meals in the olive groves with the farmers and their families and being invited into their homes for a meal.

Coming home at the end of November and being thrown into our Christmas fever was rather a shock.

Jennifer's tale

I have been selling Zaytoun olive oil now to friends for some time. The small firm of Zaytoun was started by a group of young people appalled at the difficulties experienced by Palestinians trying to work their land and export their produce under conditions of Israeli occupation. The more I discovered about Palestine today, the more I felt I needed to do more to help on a human level and that is why I contacted The International Women's Peace Service who have been in the area now for some years as observers of human rights. This organisation too was started by a few women who support volunteers and the community as they live with the villagers. They commit themselves to a long term contract and forge many links with the people there as they go about their work in the area. Family commitments made it difficult for me to stay longer than two weeks and I was delighted to find through the Zaytoun link that it would be possible for me to go for this short time in a practical role of harvester and observer with the opportunity to report faithfully the stories of the lives of the people I met in that time.

The politics of the place is overwhelming and the country, like Jerusalem, does indeed suffer from 'a lethal cocktail of history, religion and ideology.' (Amos Oz)

What I remember, though, is the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the Palestinians we met and the amazing diversity of our little band of harvesters. We were a mixture of faiths; one Muslim, one Jew, one Catholic, a Druid, an Atheist, two Agnostics, an Anarchist and two Quakers. We were united in our beliefs that cooperation is better than confrontation, that respect is due to all people, and that Peace is not possible without Justice. We could delight in our differences and learn from each other; living in a group is not easy at the best of times but sharing when resources are scarce and life is uncomfortable is difficult. In this respect we have a lot to learn from the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians keeping hope alive when they are losing their trees daily and the situation looks impossible and when they are humiliated at every turn, is resistance of the highest order; for myself, now, realising what effort is involved to take a few sacks of olives down the mountain after a long day picking in the sun, I shall never take olive oil for granted again but treasure it as the precious liquid it is.

One farmer stays in my mind. After his particularly grim tale of how the settlers had harassed and frightened his family when they were trying to pick their own olives I asked him 'Don't you hate them?' He looked at me and said slowly

'Hate? No I don't hate them. Hate is for crazy people.'

We came home but Sam, one of the harvesters, stayed on with the IWPS. This is a fragment from her last letter.

Sam's Newsletter

One woman on the demonstration said to us 'you can never know how we feel as we watch them steal more and more of our land'. This is true, I can't even imagine how it must feel, yet few days go by when I don't feel outraged and angry with what is happening all around me. I don't know how long it would take me to break under that kind of pressure, of never knowing what might happen to my father, husband, brother, sons or friends, but being fairly sure they won't get through their life without at some point being beaten up or detained. After the demonstration a young boy told me how frightened he was when the demonstrations were on. 'I don't mind the bombs and gas' he said 'but I know one day they will shoot us and I'm scared of that. Still what can I do? They are taking our land and we have to fight back so I have to come.' There wasn't much I could say as he knows better than I do what might happen in his village but it's sad that eleven year old boys have to worry about these things.

Advices and queries 24

Children and young people need love and stability. Are we doing all we can to uphold and sustain parents and others who carry the responsibility for providing this care?

The International Women's Peace Service

We met many Israelis who are working to help alleviate the suffering of their neighbours. Among them were the Rabbis for Human Rights and the Women in Black. There are a number of joint Arab/ Israeli initiatives and we went on one of their many peaceful marches protesting against the apartheid wall (Israeli-West Bank barrier) in Jerusalem.

/Jane Garrett is a retired radiographer, a member of Leeds Monthly Meeting and attends Rawden PM.
Jenny Bell is a retired speech and language therapist, a member of West Somerset Monthly Meeting and attends Spiceland PM.

Jane Garrett, Leeds MM & Jenny Bell, West Somerset MM


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition

International Edition: Multifaith and hope in the West Bank
Jane Garrett, Leeds MM & Jenny Bell, West Somerset MM
International Edition: a visit to the West Bank
Alan and Pauline York
International Edition: Promoting non-violence in the West Bank
Gerald Conyngham
International Edition: Report from the Middle East
Franco Perna
Countries of the Week: Israel & Palestine

Conciliation work in Nagaland
Sarah Alldred, Hardshaw East MM
News round-up
Green living may not be so simple – or is it?
Andrew Hughes Nind
Edward Hoare & Judy Kirby
Silence and patience
Susie Paskins
Why gay people should be welcome in churches
Stephen Cox
A portrait of George Fox
Simon Webb
John Hamilton: politician with a heart
Peter Smith

Things to do, where to stay, people to see etc...

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