<  Reflection Two: Share Their Story  >

2015 Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine/Israel
Co-Sponsored with American Jews for a Just Peace/Jewish Voice 
for Peace Boston's Heath and Human Rights Project


Overview:   This second collection of reflections from the 2015 Olive Harvest Delegation begins with Lauren J.'s meditation on conflicting messages in Jerusalem and Wendy L.'s observation of Palestinian resilience. A meeting with an Israeli settler forms the basis for the reflections offered by Nancy M., Carolyn K., Barbara B.-L., and Gary K.

Since this is the Olive Harvest delegation, it is fitting that the next set of reflections turns to the delegation's visit to the offices of Canaan Fair Trade and homestays with Palestinian olive farmers. Sandra Y. writes of the connections she observed in a Palestinian village; Virginia C. remembers the warmth and smiles of her hosts; John C. recounts moving conversations he shared with his host; and Gary K. resolves to "share their story" (a sentiment we've borrowed for the title of this collection).

Last but not least, Renee K. reflects on the delegation's visit to Nazareth and the discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel.


Conflicting Messages in Jerusalem  |  Lauren J. - Waltham, Massachusetts

The stones in the old city feel like veins, uneven and meandering and beating with some kind of irregular rhythm. 

I try to keep time with it instead of counting how many times I pass the same t-shirt: a picture of a fighter jet with the phrase "America, don't worry -- Israel is behind you!" Or maybe it's "Israel, don't worry, America is behind you!"

Both slogans make ugly sense -- you could buy this shirt at any of the Palestinian-owned shops along the dim streets of the medina, along with others featuring the Israeli flag, the Palestinian cartoon protagonist Handala, or, inexplicably, American sports jerseys with the team names in Hebrew.

The IDF soldiers lounging against a tiny restaurant across the street don't think twice about this dichotomy. I watch to see if they ever glance up to process it -- so many conflicting messages fluttering, dusty, under crumpled awnings. But then I see that they have installed a metal detector along the side of the street, crooked atop the stones, and they will presumably set it up to establish a makeshift checkpoint. 

Handala's back is always turned, and I am afraid if he ever faces us, he will be pushed through this detector and searched. 


Resilience  |  Wendy L. - Bath, Maine

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This is my fifth visit to Palestine and with each visit, I am always amazed by the fierce passion, pride and commitment of the Palestinian people to live a normal life as well as they can under an oppressive system whose purpose is to make their lives intolerable.

Their resilience is exemplified by Fayrouz, who works with Grassroots Jerusalem to map the ongoing takeover of Palestinian lands by Israel for Jewish-only settlements, by our guide, Said, who shares with us his incredible knowledge of the ancient and modern history of Israel and Palestine, and by the people of Canaan Fair Trade in the West Bank whose work with the olive farmers and their families keep them and their communities connected to their ancestral lands.

Our guide through the olive factory at Canaan Fair Trade said it best: "We do not want people of the world to buy our products because they are Palestinian. We want people to buy our products because they are high quality, fair trade and organic."

The resilience of the Palestinian people after 67 years living under the "Israeli boot" is impressive.

Interfaith Peace-Builders partners with Canaan Fair Trade to make high-quality fair trade Palestinian olive oil (and other products) available.  Your purchase helps both the farmers and IFPB, strengthening our partnership! CLICK HERE TO SHOP!


Turning the West Bank into a Theme Park  |  Nancy M. - Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Everything here is very very complicated,” we were told by Miri Maoz Ovadia, the young settler spokeswoman for Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, which oversees 44 Israeli settlements, that boarder the Palestinian city of Ramallah.  

But the more she talked, the more simple things became.  “Jews wanted to come here because they were here in the first place…This was the Israel imagined by people who dreamt of return and read the Bible…As a Jew I believe 100 percent that we have a right to have a homeland in Israel.” 

As we left the settlement of Psagot and drove on Highway 60 towards Nablus in the rain, the West Bank appeared a melancholy dreamscape.   It was nearly unrecognizable from the countryside I had first visited in 1988, in the days of the first Intifada.   

Then, for a brief time, liberation seemed near at hand and the West Bank colonies lived in by 50,000 settlers a distance away.  

Now, those 50,000 have mushroomed to some 750,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Israel’s colonial enterprise is visible at literally every turn.

With these numbers and the infrastructure that services their lives, the ‘return’ to a Biblical Judea and Samaria has profoundly transformed the landscape into a kind of Biblical theme park, where large road signs point to settlements with Biblical names (Shiloh, Ofra, Efrat, Shavei Shomron) and omit any reference to the villages and towns where Palestinians live.  

Not only have Palestinian centers of habitation - with the exception of a few large cities - vanished from the signposts.    The Palestinians themselves are often corralled out of sight by gates, walls and tunnels which keep them from accessing Highway 60 and the other major roads that settlers use.  After decades of a settler project which the international community claimed was illegal but did nothing to stop, the map of ‘Eretz Israel’ was being laid on top of the ground of Palestine.  

And yet, it all seems so illusory and far-fetched.  It made me think of Kentucky’s Creation Museum — another place where the Book of Genesis is being peddled to visitors.   It must attract plenty of Christian Zionists who contribute large sums to the Israel’s settlement expansion in order to hasten the Battle of Armageddon (in Israel’s Megiddo) and the Second Coming of Christ.   

Can the 21st century world really afford the Bible being regarded as a title deed to the land of another people?


“Forced” Poverty  |  Carolyn K. - Orinda, California

Our days have been full... Meeting with an Israeli settler, visiting a fair trade cooperative, staying with Palestinian families and meeting with a Palestinian attorney.

I have reflected on the settler's public relations "speech" we received and will leave all other comments to others except one. She was very sincere and believes her narrative wholeheartedly. She has to or she couldn't continue doing what she is doing.

What I spent hours reflecting on yesterday, last night and while I was preparing for today was how amazing the Palestinian people are in spite of their dire circumstances. They continue to resist in any way they can. Currently they are attempting in many ways to become sustainable, independent from the funding they receive from outside sources, which always comes with conditions and helpful hints on how to manage their lives as if these sources have any clue what life in Palestine is really like.

The families were delightful. I couldn't take my eyes off the children and the grandchildren. So beautiful and happy and playful! The family I stayed with was so warm, kind, compassionate and generous. They couldn't do enough for us. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

My mental struggle is with the notion that there will always be poverty in the world. I don't dispute that. But isn't there a difference between poverty due to economic circumstances and "forced" poverty? The Palestinian people are being pushed and prodded like cattle into poverty. Isn't there a difference between no jobs and jobs that aren't available to the Palestinians for various ridiculous conditions that the ruling party sets? Isn't there a difference between a farm that has a bad year due to bad weather, lack of rain and the like and a farm that has a bad year because their water is being stolen, the soldiers won't allow them into their land because they don't have a permit or only one person in the family can obtain a permit (a farm needs more than one person to harvest), or the harvest fails because the soldiers won't let them out so they can sell their produce and their produce spoils?

The Israelis want it all and it doesn't seem to matter how they get it. The international community and the United States are complicit in allowing this to happen. In fact, the United States is funding this atrocity by supporting Israel.

We should be ashamed of ourselves!!!


I Listened and I Tried  |  Barbara B.-L. - Sebastopol, California

The Israeli Settler spokeswoman was articulate, smart, attractive, and believes, believes with all her mind and spirit.  Born in Israel, daughter of British Jews who voluntarily left London, she knows her history, the Bible, and entitlement.  

She has little doubt that she belongs in and on lands taken from Palestinians; they left (for whatever reason) and possession is 100% of the law.  That's a simplification, but her truth.  One of the difficulties for me is that I rather liked her.

I listened and I tried.  But, she's wrong.

Today I experienced some bits of what it is like to be Palestinian, spending the night in a Palestinian home (Mom, Dad and 4 children), walking the streets of Burqin, a village about the size of Sebastopol, meeting members of a women's cooperative, visiting a Greek Orthodox Church where Jesus cured a leper, and crossing from one zone of the country into another.  

In the village, a 20-year-old man was shot by Israeli military about three months ago.  Four Israeli vehicles/cars had come into the town; the young man joined others hurling stones.  I don't know why the Israelis came.  And, I don't know if there was a specific reason for the stone-throwing or just general anger/hatred/fear, but I do know that, for me, shooting a young man for throwing stones is very disproportionate and therefore wrong/unjust.  

Today, even I, a visitor, didn't feel safe.

And then, we drove through Samaria into the Galilee and Nazareth.  

The next part is complicated, so I'll leave it for another day...


Life, Sacred and Equal  |  Gary K. - Afton, New York

So we just met with a Zionist Jewish settler... it was an interesting conversation to say the least.... at one point I asked a question about the imbalance of power (the separation wall in Jerusalem and the many check points on the road) and what she thought needs to happen to remove these things. She didn't really answer my question, but responded by talking about the need for security. To quote her, she said, "people need to stop using murder as a badge of honor."

I completely agree with her statement, but not her sentiment. When she said "people" what she really meant by that was "Palestinians". To this I ask what about the many lives that have been taken by Israel? Isn't all life of sacred and equal value?

While I most certainly do not condone any violence committed by the Palestinians, I also equally condemn the oppressive acts that are being done by the part of the Israeli government. This is not an anti-semitic post - it is a post intended to help us look at the issues in Palestine/Israel in the interest of just peace.


Connections in a Village  |  Sandra Y. - Durham, New Hampshire

We visited the home of a Palestinian olive farming family. 

Three delegates piled into the back seat of a dusty Skoda car and drove for 30 minutes into the darkness.  A bumpy, fast, winding drive through three villages and countryside. Only the life in the lighted towns was visible in the darkness.  It was Friday night and men were standing or walking in the streets in twos and threes, all ages.  The only women we saw was a shopkeeper selling vegetables.

The farmer and a friend sat in the front seat speaking Arabic and listen to Arabic music with its distinctive rhythms.  They spoke no English.  They shout out the name of each village or town as we passed through it.  We turned into a narrow lane at the top of a hill in a village, the name I will research later, and stopped in front of a solid metal door which was pulled along a wall to reveal a small courtyard into which the car squeezed into.

We entered the house and were greeted by the farmer's wife and 5 or 6 children and young adults.  Nobody spoke English.  Everyone seemed delighted to meet us. Everyone except the 5-year-old granddaughter appeared cheerful and pleased to be sharing the evening with us

The room we had entered had a huge flat screen TV on the wall and floor cushions.  At the end of the room was a formal wooden dining table around which we sat for the evening.  After 20 minutes, the electricity went off for a half hour.  Battery lanterns were brought out with an air of this is normal.

We began the dinner, delicious chicken and well-spiced rice.  All of us struggled to pronoun each other's names correctly.  Tariq, the 10-year-old became my buddy and wrote names in English and Arabic over and over.  The young adults, three of them, attending the local university and the younger children were fascinated by the color of my eyes, a hazel green.  Tariq stuck close to my side, in the evening and the next morning.

Friends and family kept dropping in all evening   Still no English to help the communication.  One of the delegates began to dance with the 15-year-old son.  She said it was a traditional Palestinian circle dance.  Soon Tariq joined and I also was convinced to join the group.

The three delegates, all women, slept in the formal living room on cushions from the room with the TV.  The family came in and sat down on the enormous chairs and sofa and smiled at us.  The furniture looked like something from a Disney film set.

The morning was wonderful with a delicious breakfast of flatbread, eggs, fried sheep cheese, a sweet pickled melon rind, dried tomato tapenade and honey.  These were all homemade except the bread.

We were then treated to the life of the community.  Woman after woman greeted us and we all exchanged names.  We spent time in the garden courtyard and then went into the street.  We were sequestered by one of the neighbors, a woman who had a huge photo of Yasser Arafat on the wall of her entry reception area.  Still no English.  What did become obvious to me was the deep connection these people all had who lived on the same street.  All the youngest children were picked up and kissed by the neighbors.  This was the one thing I observed that I believe was an accurate glimpse into the daily life of these amazing and resilient people.


Remembering the Warmth and Smiles  |  Virginia C. - Bedford, Massachusetts

On the second day of our trip, we spent the night with Palestinian farmers and their families in Burqin. Four of us spent the night with a family of six. Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the limited number of furnishings in contrast to all the stuff I've accumulated at home. 

Light orange cushions and pillows were placed against three walls of their small living room. A TV, which was continuously turned on, sat on a stand in front of the fourth wall. Plastic chairs in a corner of the room were unstacked for sitting. The delicious dinner of chicken and rice was cooked on a two-burner hot plate in the kitchen. We occasionally excused ourselves to use the squat toilet in the bathroom. Our beds were cushions on the floor in a small room off the living room. There were no sheets. 

Although I've described the physical setting, it's the warmth and the smiles of family members that I will remember. Despite a language barrier, we were able to communicate. I am grateful to this Palestinian family for their willingness to host four Americans in their home.


Ahmad’s Love for Everyone  |  John C. - Winchester, Virginia

Four IFPB delegates had the pleasure of staying with the family of Ahmad in his home in Anin, a small town near Jenin and the Canaan Fair Trade center in Burqin. “Near” is something of a euphemism. From Burqin, the four of us crammed in a car with a driver who spoke only Arabic, which none of us spoke. We drove 40 minutes on narrow, winding roads through deep darkness only occasionally broken by the lights of Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements. Our driver would occasionally stop to ask directions. Finally, we got to Anin and he phoned our host.

The heavy rains had made the steep muddy road to his home impassible by car so we backpacked the final 200 meters to his home.  At that point, my expectation for our housing were pretty low, but he took us into a spacious, clean home that had bedrooms for him and his wife, his son’s family, and two spacious bedrooms for guests.

After a generous dinner of stuffed grape leaves and eggplant, we learned about his life and family. Before the building of the “separation fence” or wall, Ahmad had worked in construction, often working two jobs for 13-14 hours a day. The fence made it impossible to continue in that work, so he turned to making charcoal and cultivating olives. He had quite a struggle building his home. He owned the land but had to get a permit to build his house. He applied for a permit, but that was denied. He went ahead and built the house and was told that it would be demolished. He hired an Israeli lawyer who was able to get a series of delays in demolition until it became legal after the Oslo accords. He estimates that he spent over $7,000 in legal fees to keep his home. 


Ahmad has three children, one son and two daughters. His 22 year old son was a senior in the Open University of Jenin. 

Ahmad spoke functional English. With the help of his son’s smartphone translator, we were able to communicate well. Ahmad declared at one point: “Because I am human, I love all people with a clean heart: African, Jewish, American, and Israeli.” 

When I asked him what he hoped for, he replied: “My president is corrupt, what can I hope for?”

I also asked him if he was afraid of the IDF soldiers who entered the village, he replied: “I don’t fear anything but God!” 

The next day we rose early to sunshine and a delicious breakfast prepared from produce his family had grown.  After breakfast, we helped Ahmad with the olive harvest -- he owned 200 trees.  The five of us worked on one highly productive tree for about two hours.  We picked four buckets of olives before we had to leave to meet our delegation.

Our brief stay with Ahmed and his family demonstrated to me that Palestinians are hardworking, resilient people. Nor had Ahmad allowed himself to give way to hatred or retaliation. As he said, he simply wanted to be left alone to work the land and share life with his family.


Share Their Story  |  Gary K. - Afton, New York

I had the opportunity to stay with a Palestinian family for the evening along with a few others that are with our group.  Awad, the patriarch of the family is an olive farmer as well as a retired employee of the Palestinian authority.  He and his wife live in a small village less than a mile from the separation wall.  They have ten kids!  

As we talked throughout the evening, along with the help of a translator, other guests stopped in to join our conversation.  Among those that joined us were a major in one of the Palestinian authority’s security forces and a minister of the town council (much like the mayor of a town).  

We talked for a number of hours.  Awad told us of some of the hardships that he and those that work with him on his farm face.  Since the building of the separation wall in 2003 he is cut off from part of his land.  While he can move freely on this side of the wall to work on his farm, he can only visit the part of his olive grove that is on the other side of the wall two times a week on particular days with particular hours.  This is a major hardship, as the weather plays a role in the harvest... not to mention going through the various check points along the way.

As the conversation continued, one other major topic came to light.  The young men (and women as well) are not able to openly travel, as they are often not given permits.  This also prevents many of them from working.  Life in Palestine/Israel is fairly expensive, so this makes things difficult.  Many have college level educations but can do nothing with it because they are unable to find work (mostly due to the oppression they face).  This adds to the tension; young men and women being held captive within their towns and villages where it is expensive to live without the ability to support themselves and their families.

The biggest hope they have from us, based on our visit, is that we share their story - a story which most people in the western world are unaware of because of the political systems that are in place in both Israel and the USA.  I can honestly say that these are people that are like any other people.  While the mainstream media has vilified them for decades - most of the people living in Palestine want nothing more than to live with just peace.


Palestinian Citizens of Israel: Separate and Unequal  |  Renee K. - Cambridge, Massachusetts

Most Americans recognize the special privilege that US citizenship confers; civil rights, some protections. Being an Arab Israeli citizen means not only living separately from Jewish Israelis but also living unequally. Here in Nazareth, one of the larger Israeli cities, and the city of Jesus, the Jewish Israelis occupy the heights and the Arab (Palestinian) Israeli citizens occupy the lower part of the city. They go to separate schools, shops and live very separate lives. 

When Muna Haddad, a lawyer for Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, attended the law program at Tel Aviv University, it was the first time she was in the same class with Jewish Israeli citizens. However, she was given daily reminders of her underclass status as an Arab citizen. Until recently, it was stamped on her Israeli passport. She regularly is searched at airports and checkpoints. In job interviews she is always second to a Jewish Israeli and starts out 20 points below Jews for being exempt from serving in the army, mandatory for all Jews and gives those advantages all around.

Why do most all American politicians support this systematic discrimination of Palestinians -- not only in the occupied territories but also of Israel's Palestinian citizens?


We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reflections

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reflections.  As such, reflections are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reflections may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reflections with others.

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