<  Report 3: " These Stories Cannot Go Unheard" >

Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine/Israel
November 6, 2013

Report Overview

Most of this report details the delegation’s visit to Bil’in, an agricultural Palestinian village that has had much of its land seized by the Wall.  Delegates also met Bassem Tamimi in Bil’in and video of him is included. 

Beyond the several reflections on Bil’in, there is also one last piece from the previous visits with olive farmers, a reflection on perseverance, an example of the impact of travel restrictions on families, and finally a piece on the important issue of water rights.



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With Ahmed’s Family in Anin
By Jan M.

Ahmed was eager to take us to see the "wall" which separates him from his olive trees. Although we can see the olives from the hill where his house is, he must travel up the nearby mountain to go through the checkpoint to reach them. Most of the time the checkpoint is open 7 am - 6 pm, two days a week. During the olive harvest Israel has so generously opened the checkpoint each day. 

He shows us the remnants of a very old house on his land and says his grandmother told him that his family has lived on the land for 500 years. Then he tells us the story of building a new house in 1995. Two years later he received a demolition order on his house because he did not have a permit from Israel to build. (Remember, this was after the Oslo accord and we are in the West Bank.) He went before the judge and was given a fine of $7000 - equivalent to the income from 12-15 years of work for this farmer. He said "they are killing me." He also tells us he has not shared this story and he is glad he could tell it.

He laments the theft of his village's land so that three settlements could be built on the hill where he used to graze sheep in the summer. He laments the theft of his own land for building the wall, and the loss of his freedom to cultivate his olive trees whenever he wants to, unbound by checkpoint schedules. He laments the loss of his land and the fine he had to pay - this was to have been his son's inheritance. Several times during his story, he stops because of the tears.

We walk some more and he tells us he likes to come out to his land (the part that is still on the same side of the wall), sit on a rock and enjoy the breeze and the clear air, the smell of the land. 

We walk toward the wall and he stops us short of the 300 meter buffer zone protected by the soldiers, who will stop their jeeps and take out their bullhorns and make anyone in that zone move out - stealing a bit more of the land. 

Ahmed is a man of peace. He has no hatred of the Jewish people. He just wants them to stop stealing his land, his home and his livelihood. He wants to provide for his family and live on the land where his family has lived for at least half a millennium. His existence destroys the myth that the land was empty, waiting for the return of the Jewish people. Or that the Palestinians came from other Arab countries. Or that there are no Palestinians. 

On Palestine

By Jared R.

Palestine I will not weep for you. I will not pity you and I will not fear for you.  I have seen the kindness in your eyes and felt the fire in your songs. You are strong and you will win. Your keys will open the wall built on a cemetery, you will catch rain without permission and the olive branch will not burn. They speak of peace as they try to silence your history and hide their crimes. How someone could try to extinguish your clever smile I will never know but I do know they are too weak to succeed. They legislate because they are afraid not of terror but of freedom. They know you are a stallion they cannot tame and the laughter of your children will flow over ‘48.


Family Stories

By Martin K.

After our morning meetings at the Friends Meeting House in Ramallah, Hekmat Bessiso kindly offered to take us to a restaurant on the top floor of a brand new building overlooking the city.  She is an impressive trainer dedicating herself to providing life skills to groups of women throughout the West Bank to achieve their personal best. 

She is also a mother of 7 children.  A Palestinian, she was originally living with her family in Gaza, but after divorcing her husband she moved to Ramallah in the West Bank.  When her eldest son reached 18, he decided to go and visit his father in Gaza.  This happened some six years ago, and for the past six years he has been unable to return to the West Bank and be reunited with his mother and siblings.

This is just one example among thousands of how Israeli restrictions on movements between Gaza and the West Bank tear families apart and prevent family members from living together.  We came across similar situations where Palestinian family members living in the West Bank cannot even visit their relatives living in Jerusalem.  Of course, no such restrictions apply to Jewish families.

The Trees of Life

by Carolyn C. and Will T.

The poet Joyce Kilmer once wrote, "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree." Having traveled to Occupied Palestine several times, we agree with Mr. Kilmer.

A tree that is almost as ancient as time is the one that sustains the lives of many Palestinians. This tree has played a huge role in shaping the history, the culture, and the economic well-being of many Palestinians.

Sadly, in the efforts by Israelis to colonize Palestinian lands, many Jewish settlers have destroyed this tree - the olive tree.

Frequently, Israeli colonists or settlers go to olive tree fields and chop the trees down, burn them, and, sometimes, uproot them so they can be re-planted in Israel for mostly decorative purposes.

One evening, a group of us traveled from the village of Bil'in up to the top of a hill that overlooked the Israeli settlement (colony) Modi'in Illit and the Wall that separates these illegal Israeli colonists from the people of Bil'in.  We learned that villagers go to this site, start a small fire, and sit and reflect on the land and their olive trees that have been destroyed or stolen. Some of these trees date from Roman times and the time of Chri
presenting banner to bilin
Carolyn and Will present banner to Bil’in Popular Committee

One old Palestinian man, his face weathered and weary-looking, sat facing the Wall, silently lamenting the loss of all his land and its olive trees which provided income for his family. He has thus lost everything; he has set a sleeping mat there and spends his nights outside in the field, an expression of his closeness to the land.

Also, sitting there among us were the Burnat brothers. Iyad is the leader of the Bil'in Popular Resistance Committee, and Emad is a documentary filmmaker who has recorded much of the activities of Bil'in villagers and the violent responses of the settlers and the Israeli military toward them during their Friday non-violent civil resistance.

Emad Burnat's film is called "Five Broken Cameras," an Academy-Award nominated documentary. Iyad told us that he now has to purchase his olive oil from suppliers because he, too, lost his ancestral land and the trees it supported.

While visiting the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, we learned that 4500 of the village's olive trees were destroyed, and the Jewish National Fund replaced them with eucalyptus trees which are not indigenous to this area. Yet, matching the steadfastness of the Bedouins themselves, some olive seedlings have sprouted from the dusty landscape.  The villager who walked with us said, "That tree was killed but is beginning to grow again, so I say to myself, 'What about me?'"

By Guillermo M.-S.

The town of Bi’lin does not have prime real estate. It is not near the beach, nor is it near any significant holy site. Its people live in poverty. The town is in disrepair and there are no government offices within sight. Yet, it has become a town of interest to the Israel government. Why? Local residents have organized a very successful non-violent resistance to the occupation and to the building of the wall. Bi’lin is ground zero in the Israeli/Palestinian tension.

We visited Bi’lin and met two brothers, Iyad and Emad. You might recognize them from their photo. Emad directed the Oscar nominated film “5 Broken Cameras.” Iyad met us when we arrived. We went for a walk with him and I managed to steal some of his attention. He has very intense, dark eyes that are intimidating but as I spoke to him I saw his eyes were full of pain.

Iyad shared stories of the peaceful, non-violent marches that happen every Friday. They begin at the town mosque and finish at the wall. They march for about an hour, singing songs and chanting slogans of resistance. Often, they are met by the Israeli soldiers who shoot tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition. During their peace march, two days before we arrived, Iyad was shot in the leg by a rubber bullet.  The soldiers switched to live ammunition and one man was shot in the foot.

Each person has a story of struggle, oppression, death and pain. The common thread is this bizarre reality where children cannot go to the beach, residents cannot travel to Jerusalem or other sections of the country, tear gas is thrown inside their homes and soldiers have beat them for non-violent actions. Most upsetting is the fact that they all have loved ones that have been killed by soldiers for non-violent actions. To read this from me may create disbelief, but to hear it repeatedly from so many people, time and time again, town after town, reveals a darker side of humanity that is staring at us in the face.


The day ended with us sitting by a bonfire that is placed every night in the same area as a symbol of hope.

I sat across from Emad, the filmmaker of “5 Broken Cameras.” I was given the privilege of conversing with him and I thought to myself, “I’m here for a reason. This experience cannot go to waste. These stories cannot go unheard. Change must come.”

Witnessing in Bil’in
By Gail B.

So, there we were in the small village of Bil'in where the weekly protest walks began years ago and continue to this day.  This is the place where the documentary film Five Broken Cameras  was filmed and later nominated for an Academy Award.  Many of us have seen the film; if readers have not, check it out on Netflix.  It traces 5 cameras destroyed through conflict over years as this small village persistently resisted the building of the wall through their olive trees - a nauseatingly familiar story by now on our trip.  

And there we were, sitting around a campfire close to midnight with the filmmaker and his brother.  Seriously!  I couldn't make this up.  I was sitting right next to Emad Burnat (the filmmaker) for 1/2 hour or so as he spoke a bit about the movie, about his frequent trips around the world to speak about it, and about the fact that the struggle continues.  We were a 'safe' distance from the wall but we could feel its presence and see the blackness where it loomed between us and the HUGE Jewish settlement on the other side of it. 

This particular village had a small victory in that the Israeli government decided to move the wall a bit back so the olive grove could stay intact.   But families were still separated from their land and homes demolished (courtesy Caterpillar, USA) in order to build the settlements.  Factoid: how can you tell they are settlements?  1) they do not have to save rain water in tanks on the roofs because they have water infrastructure; 2) they are outrageously lit up - with yellow light bulbs and - wait for it - Palestinians are not able to purchase yellow light bulbs for their towns.

Back to the campfire.  "The camera is part of me, part of my body, part of my life," Emad said.  My brother and I stay here because we must continue to resist."

Much more to say and more photos to share when we have a minute to breathe, organize and upload.

Many have questioned the wisdom of these villagers resisting independently and trying to effect change for their own village alone at great price. (There is a memorial stone where the villager actually killed in the movie was shot down.)  The Israeli police continue to enter the village, throw tear gas (last Friday - 3 canisters into a home), and shoot rubber bullets.

Where is the collective action, you might wonder?  Lots of reasons but the big one is lack of freedom of movement.  They literally cannot connect easily with other villagers.  The wall, checkpoints, - ah it is a persistent story.

When we first arrived in the village, it was almost dark, but we walked to the wall to witness.  We could make out clearly on the wall - twice - the letters “I F P B” ... Interfaith Peace Builders.  We have witnessed before and we will witness again.


Two videos of Bassem Tamimi speaking to the delegation in Bili'n have have been uploaded.


Bassem Tamimi of the Nabi Saleh Popular Committee talking about the Oslo "Peace Process"


Here Bassem talks about popular struggle and the international movement for Palestinian rights

You may view all videos from this delegation here.

Water, Water Everywhere, And Not A Drop to Drink
By Carolyn C.

The Samuel Coleridge line above is poignantly applicable to the plight of Palestinians, both in their own territories and the state of Israel.

We all know that people are able to live quite long without food, but they can survive only a few days without water. Israel saw this developing concretely in its legitimate state within the green line between 1948 and 1967.  While there were natural springs there along the Mediterranean, the increasing Jewish immigrant population over those years and the Western-style lifestyle these residents adopted led to an imminent and severe water shortage.  

If Israel was going to live up to its boast that it can "make the desert bloom," it would  need a new source for water and would need it soon as it continued to drain the coastal aquifers. In looking around, the best and closest sources were the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) located between Northern Israel and Syria's Golan Heights (occupied by Israel) and the Jordan River , along with the aquifers located in the West Bank which were then under Jordan's control and populated by Palestinians.

How does one take these possessions from their legitimate owners? Israel used Egypt's amassing of war planes and armaments in the Sinai as the catalyst for the implementation of its master plan; it portrayed itself as the little country surrounded by hostile Arab ones.  Its very existence was under threat.  Therefore, Israel had reason to launch its Six Day War in 1967. Within that time, it captured the Sinai from Egypt, drove the Syrians from the Golan Heights, sent the Jordanian military over the Jordan River, and made the remaining Palestinians in West Jerusalem relocate.  As happens in war, the indigenous Palestinians who had lived in these areas for centuries were the real victims, and they continue to be so today as water becomes more and more precious and the control of this resource lies with Israel.

I wanted to investigate this issue of water while on this delegation.  In Bethany, a town east of Jerusalem, there seems to be no problem with availability. The Palestinian townspeople receive water consistently from the Israeli water company Merkat. East of Bethlehem, the village of Beit Sahour cannot depend on consistency; water may flow from the tap for 7-8 days and then be withheld for as much as 3 weeks afterward.  The black water tanks used to store water on roofs of Palestinian homes are ubiquitous and a clear marker of their residences as opposed to Jewish homes with their green grass, blooming flowers, and swimming pools.

Some Palestinians collect rainwater during the winter months and store it for emergency use later. Knowing that Palestinians use this method to satisfy their need for water, Israel has passed a law to prohibit rainwater collection.  The Palestinians' action, however, is peaceful resistance to an unjust law. Were Israel to allow the harvesting of rainwater, it would lose control of the Palestinian population which is the military goal. Palestinian areas in Israel suffer the same fate though the neighboring Jewish towns have an unlimited supply.

An even more devastating situation is that which exists for the people of Gaza; after its infrastructure was destroyed in 2008-2009 and sewerage was no longer treated, the potable water decreased to 1%.  It is estimated that by 2015, there will not be potable water available for the 1.7 million inhabitants.

Finally, in the Negev Desert, the indigenous Bedouin population, a people granted Israeli citizenship in the 1950s, has been denied services and water, contrary to the rights of citizenship. In addition, the Jewish National Fund in consort with the Israeli government has demolished 57 houses and uprooted 4,500 centuries-old olive trees in the Village of Al-Arakib, thus destroying one of many villages. On that land, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has planted and waters daily lines and lines of eucalyptus trees.  One displaced villager said, "JNF kills me. It gives water to the trees but not to the people."

In Beit Sahour, our delegation visited Bustan Qaraaqa, a permaculture project promoting sustainable, creative solutions to problems of environmental degradation and food and water insecurity facing the local community. Tom, the lead scientist there, reported that 100% of Israel's water originates in Occupied Territories: 70% from the Golan Heights and 30% from the West Bank aquifers.  As far as distribution goes, however, 83% of the water is allocated for use by Jewish Israelis and only 17% for Palestinians who are the majority population.

There are other examples of Israel's unjust distribution of the stolen water resource.  The residents of Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem have gone as long as 73 days without water.  This is done as a collective punishment of all residents for some political action of one person.  That is a violation of international law and human rights to which Israel is a signatory.

Other residents of Bethlehem talked about turning on the tap and no water flowing, yet they were charged for "empty pipes."  In East Jerusalem, residents are required to renew their residency permits every year, and their paid water bills are included in the checklist to document their presence in their homes for that time.  They are "over a barrel" literally, for to not pay for a commodity they never received would deprive them of the permit to stay in their homes.

In another example of using water as a weapon, it is estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins of the Negev, who are citizens of Israel, have no access to water at all, for, like Palestinians everywhere, they cannot get permits to sink wells in their communities.  They must purchase their water from the Israeli utility which then tanks it to them at three times the cost.  En route, some of the water is "mysteriously" lost. Again, the quantity paid for and the amount received is often in conflict.

When Palestinians were driven from their land in 1948 and the remainder of their land occupied in 1967, they lost their ability to harvest water.  Many indigenous peoples seem to suffer this consequence when their conqueror makes them dependent. The oppressor takes away the resources until the practice breaks the oppressed. All Palestinians of the past relied 100% on rain water which, when stored high, can be moved without electricity. The Palestinians once knew how to conserve the 6 inches of rain that fell each year during the 5 rainfall events and how to store this precious resource in the land--in plants, contoured filtering, and reservoirs.  

For Palestinians to survive, they and Israelis must change their way of living.  Appropriate design and good practice, an end to exploitation and discrimination, and a commitment to human rights and equal access are essential for the future.



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