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Olive Tree Campaign: Keep Hope Alive in Palestine

So after the success of the Harvest Appeal supporting the Olive Tree Campaign last year; raising just under £12,000, St Mary’s in Oxford are once again supporting the campaign! Starting the season with ‘A Flavour of Palestine’

For more information about the events supporting the Harvest Appeal, click here.

St Mary’s Harvest Appeal 2013: Keeping Hope Alive in Palestine (The Olive Tree Campaign)

‘A Flavour of Palestine’ music, food and dance evening on Saturday 5th October, 5pm-8pm at the Iffley Village Hall,101 Church Way, Iffley, Oxford, OX4 4EG (Thatched building next to the church)

In support of the Harvest Appeal 2013: Musicians ‘Raast’ – (whose members are Palestinian, Egyptian, English and Latin) will be performing, there will also be traditional Palestinian dancing called Dabke – with tutorials so great opportunity to take part too! Raast perform using traditional and contemporary instruments including the Oud and are renowned for their interpretations of traditional Arabic songs as well as their energy and improvisations. With songs of love and hope, Raast bring cultures and generations together.

There will be Palestinian refreshments and snacks as well as the sale of Fairtrade Palestinian produce including olives, olive oil, scarves and bags from a Women’s Cooperative in Hebron, live Skype-in from the Olive Tree Campaign in Bethlehem and raffle prizes to be won, too!

Tickets are donations only with a suggested donation of £5 at the door, tickets include Palestinian refreshments. To reserve tickets contact us here.


Last day of Olive Planting

Day 8 – 4th day of planting

Today was the last day of planting for the 2013 Olive Tree Campaign.

Our plan was to return to the Gush Etzion area close to the fields we worked on the first planting day to plant on more farms there. One reason the farms here are under pressure is that they are almost completely surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and outposts which occupy the hilltops, mostly build on private Palestinian land which has been previously confiscated by various means. In addition, farm land in this area has been attacked by a group called Women in Green who try to assist in land theft by claiming any uncultivated land by putting trees and flags on it, requiring legal challenge by the owner to avoid confiscation by Israel.

Today we planted on 3 different fields which are owned by different Palestinian farmers, some of whom assisted us during the session.
Our group succeeded in planting 400 olive trees on the farm lands which completes the target of 1600 trees for the 4 days of planting.

In the afternoon some of our group took an unscheduled trip to Jericho and the Dead Sea, including a trip by cable car up the Mount of Temptation which overlooks Jericho.
Back in Beit Sahour for dinner, In the evening we all enjoyed a cultural evening with the Jadal Music Group which combine contemporary and traditional Arabic musical instruments, which was entertaining and followed by some moving farewells between members of the group.


Third day of Olive Planting

Day 6 – 3rd day of planting

Today we planted trees on Palestinian farmers land at Al Khader (the Arabic name for St George) which is in the Ain Kassis area in the West Bank. In this area we planned to plant olive trees for 3 separate farming families. Nearby to the farm land is a church which is supposed to have relics of St. George, where both Christians and Muslims go to pray.

Typical to the West Bank, the region is hilly and the farm land arranged into terraces, so that available land is used efficiently and the winter rains are retained in each terrace to provide best all-year conditions for the olive trees, which are relatively hardy and tolerant to variable water supply. We walked some way from where our bus parked to the farm land as the road there is not navigable for non-farm vehicles.
On top of hill we notes an illegal Israeli settlement outpost constructed out of caravans and mobile homes, ringed by barbed wire fences and manned by Israeli soldiers.

The area at Al Khader is in Area C which means the resources are controlled by the Israeli military rather than the Palestinian Authority – though all of areas A, B and C, defined by the Oslo Accords comprise the Palestinian Territories intended to form the lands of a Palestinian state. Israel refused to connect Palestinian farms in the area to mains water (though all the settlements, all illegal under international law, have unlimited water supplies) so the farms at Al Khader have as sole resource one existing water well on their land. Israel forbids Palestinians to dig further wells or create cisterns for rain tester, and frequently destroys existing and any new ones.
The one water well used for irrigation of the land is also a target for local illegal settlers who believe (likely a pretext) that it is some sort of holy well, and insist of visiting it to say prayers with heavily armed soldiers present. Indeed, during our planting, 3 settler young women arrived accompanied by a soldier brandishing an American-made M16 machine gun. I was encouraged to make a polite conversation with them explaining that our international group was there helping the farmers plant olive trees. After a short while they decided to go without incident. Most likely that our presence prevented a confrontation between the settlers and the farmers, which in our absence would have resulted in the soldier(s) preventing the farmers access to their land and the water.
We noted on this farm that some of the trees we planted were to replace olive trees that had previously been cut down and burnt by the settlers

Israel’s process of Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine is often a slow and ugly process, with settlers using every means including violence and intimidation to persuade the farmers to give up farming and leave the land unused – when Israel then applies old Ottoman land laws to seize unused land, declaring it state land belonging to Israel.

Today we succeeded in planting nearly 400 trees on the Palestinian farm land, to the delight of the three farming families who will have crops to support them and avoid imminent land seizures by Israel. Olive trees are productive from 7 up to 500 years, require no fertilisers or pesticides and use just natural rainfall, are an essential part of the ecosystem and are a valuable organic crop farmed in Palestine for thousands of years.

Checkpoint and Hebron

Second day of Olive Planting

Day 4 – 2nd day of planting

Today we succeeded in planting over 400 Olive Trees on a Palestinian farm belonging to the Azil family in the Khillit El-Khail area close to Bethlehem. Four families benefitted from the tree planting.

This farm suffers from frequent harassment by settlers from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Tekoa/Nokdim, and hence the Palestinian farmers cannot access their land easily. We were told that during the latest incident yesterday, settlers yet again harassed the farmers preventing them from tending the farm land.
Our aim for the session was to plant as many trees as possible out of a target of 400 trees. Due to the risk of settler violence or possible intervention by the military a team from the EAPPI World Council of Churches was there to help and protect us. The EAPPI performs a remarkable role in Palestine, a key function being to protect school children from abuse by illegal settlers and military.

The oldest member of the farming family, Mahmoud Shaheen Abu Yousef joined us in the fields, walking around and talking with members of the group. At the remarkable age of 102, he has documentation proving ownership of his lands from Ottoman period as well as the later British, Jordanian and Israeli occupations.

In under 3 hours our team had completed planting the 400 trees, having endured moderate to heavy rain as well as hail and sleet in the process, and with undiminished enthusiasm for the task. By completion of the planting session the rain had abated and our farming family host provided a much-welcomed alfresco lunch which was delicious as well as nutritious.

After the planting our coach collected us for the return trip to Beit Sahour, in time for an afternoon presentation on the Separation Wall and Illegal Settlements, followed by dinner and a fascinating evening talk on the history of nonviolent resistance in Palestine.

Visiting East Jerusalem & The Jahalin

Day 3 – Visit to Jerusalem & The Jahalin

On behalf of the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Angela Godfrey-Goldstein took us on a Tour of East Jerusalem, including one of the largest settlements and then onto the Jahalin nomadic tribe. The session started with a detailed explanation of how Israel is Ethnically Cleansing East Jerusalem of it’s indigenous Palestinian population, and achieving a “land grab” of the surrounding area through construction of Illegal Settlements, the Wall and Israeli-only roads.

We were taken on a Drive-through of the Illegal Settlement of Ma’ale Adumim settlement which is vast, consisting of a huge number of modern concrete apartment blocks laid out on a modern road network, and is classified as a city in it’s own right. Israel chooses to give Biblical titles to settlements, to somehow justify the construction of concrete blocks on illegally-annexed private land. Ma’ale Adumim is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It also is the site of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. The settlements are all illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory.

Having left the settlement, we were taken to visit the nearby Jahalin Bedouin nomadic tribe.
This tribe is one of the native Bedouin nomadic tribes of historic Palestine, originally from the Negev desert, and has oral traditions back to an uncle of Mohammed – who did not believe Mohammed – so hence the name of tribe means “lost”. The tribe is encamped in a semi-permanent manner, complete with a school for the Bedouin children. We were welcomed into the Bedouin camp and sat in a circle on cushions, being served tea prepared in traditional style on an open fire.

We were given a talk by Eid Abu Khamis, who is leader of tribe and also spokesperson of the Jahalin – through an interpreter, as his native language is Arabic. Eid gave a vivid description of life as a present-day Bedouin. Though his own father was not literate, Eid was fortunate to be sent to school as are all the Bedouin children now. The tribe has no rights to power or water, but they have some solar panels and are only Bedouin tribe which have them. They are refugees, because they refused to join the Israeli military in 1951 hence had rights removed by Israel and were evicted from their lands in the Negev desert. The Jahalin have no access to Jerusalem since 1967 due to the permits system imposed by Israel. Illegal Israeli settlers are a huge problem for the Jahalin, and they are backed by the state and the military.

Due to encroachment by Settlements, the Jahalin live in a zone which is closed on each side, but are prey to aggression from the Settlers who live there. Amongst other acts, the Settlers place toys and other object which look bright and attractive but contain explosives intended to kill or wound the children. So far 6 children from this village died from such incidents, another 6 were injured.

As it is a closed zone geographically they cannot keep large flocks as they traditionally did, and instead base their income on sale of animals from the flocks, now down from 1600 to 140 total, to pay for source of food for the remaining animals. Previously they used to produce milk and yoghurt for sale in Jerusalem, but since the Wall was built by Israel they cannot get there to sell the produce. The Jahalin also used to work in settlements and industrial zones in Israel, but since they built their own school, none are allowed to work in settlements or Israel as a form of collective punishment placed on them. Hence they are living below a subsistence “red line”, and only UNRWA is supporting them, with basics such as flour and cooking oil, etc.

Previously the children used to have to walk 21km every day to school, which was very demanding for young children, as there was none locally and Israel refused to provide transport. In 1998 they went to Palestinian Authority and requested transport, and a bus was promised – but still not delivered – because of situation between Germany and Israel. Instead they decided to build their own school from car tyres (we were given a brief tour – it is well built and the classrooms are well laid out and tidy). There are currently 95 children in the school, which is a primary school; older children go to school in Jericho.

Water supplies are a serious problem for the Jahalin.
There are 2 wells but Israel blocked one well and posted security personnel to prevent access to the second well. The Bedouin did not find solution except trying to tap water from pipeline to settlement, but were fined for trying. They did a deal with the Israeli water company “Mekorot” to get a water supply in a deal that Mekorot would rather do that than risk the Jahalin disrupting water supply to the illegal settlers. The Jahalin now have a source of water 3km away. However the settlers found out about this supply so the settlers deliberately disrupt this supply, usually at the start of the weekend so the Jahalin are then without of water for 3 days – as the water company will not respond over the weekend.
In July they caught a settler putting poison in the water source and disrupting the pipes, but when they handed him over to the Israeli authorities there was no punishment for them, as they are “above and below the law”. Since July they have not used these wells because they cannot test for what type of poison is being used. They have asked Israelis to test for poisons but no response yet. It is described as an “internal wall” to make their lives unbearable.

In this region there are 5 Jahalin communities but no other villagers, so if Israel manages to remove or displace them there will be no Palestinians from here to the Dead Sea which will also damage the peace process. Hence they are determined to resist and not to leave to prevent Israel from controlling this area.

The Jahalin suffer regarding even basic Healthcare. This territory is defined under the Oslo Accords as “Area C”, so the Palestinian Authorities cannot bring ambulances here. Israel do not recognise the community so they have to arrange their own transportation by public transport if they can find it. Hence emergencies are often life-threatening, as are child births.

Evening talk
In the evening we had a talk entitled “The Political situation in Palestine and the political situation in Israel” given by Nasser Ibrahim, which was very informative.

First day of Olive Planting

Day 2 – 1st day of Olive Tree Planting
Our group assembled and was taken by coach to Beit Iskaria, a Palestinian village in the Bethlehem area. The farm we aimed to plant on is owned by the family of Abu Raya, whose 14 family members farm the land with various crops including Olive trees.
Beit Iskaria is in the Middle of the “Gush Etzion settlement block”, which like all such settlements in the West Bank is illegal under International Law.
The farmers suffer regular harassment from settlers, who as well as damaging crops regularly block the water well which is the only water source for this farm land.

An Israeli group called Women in Green are active in this area. Despite an innocuous name, this group is organised by illegal settlers from Belgium who plant trees with aim of assisting land seizures, claiming rights to the land by the presence of their trees. The neighbouring farmer in Beit Iskaria was suffering such “parasitic horticulture”, and a legal challenge in progress.

We a discovered that it was the Palestinian National Tree Day! Dozens of other Palestinians turned out to come and help plant trees, plus interviews being taken by a local TV station.

Over 400 trees planted today

Over 400 trees planted today

Today’s planting session was a great success, with more than 400 olive trees planted, each one carefully bedded in, with supporting stake and the characteristic plastic protective tube that you will see in the photographs. The tube protects the young vulnerable plants against non-human wildlife pests and bio-degrades as the trees grow. It was a great delight to see yet more trees happily growing in the fields next door, which were ones planted in 2012 by the group I joined on the same trip one a year ago.

Being rather hungry after our efforts, our group enjoyed a delicious alfresco traditional lunch prepared and cooked by the farmers family outdoors where we were, in the beautiful Palestinian sunshine and fresh country air.

20130204_074706After the planting session we were taken by coach for an afternoon presentation at the Badil resource centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, and after dinner, a documentary film and talk on Kairos Palestine.

Palestinian Gallery

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A Tour around Bethlehem

Statue of St Jerome outside the Church of the Nativity

Statue of St Jerome outside the Church of the Nativity

Day 1 – A tour around Bethlehem

In Aramaic and Hebrew, ‘Bethlehem’ Means House of Bread. Being the birthplace of King David, Bethlehem was already a significant and historical city by the time of Jesus. Travelling from nearby Beit Sahour, our guide took us to Manager Square and the Church of the Nativity, explaining it’s history from founding in the 4th century to today.

Candles in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Candles in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Steeped in history, you have to stoop through a deliberately low door to enter- our guide telling us that the pre-existing tall doorway had been lowered to prevent tax collectors on horseback entering, and also ensuring that all those entering would have to bow their heads in the process! Inside one appreciates a sense of deep history of the place. The traditional birth-place of Jesus is in a grotto below the church, as is the cave where St Jerome stayed to create the Vulgate translation of the Bible.  Outside in a courtyard we were shown bullet hoes where Israeli forces had laid siege to the Church, killing several of those who took sanctuary within.

Dheishah refugee camp - 13,000 people live in 1 sq km

Dheishah refugee camp – 13,000 people live in 1 sq km

We were taken on a tour of Dheishah refugee camp, one of four such camps in Bethlehem. Most of the occupants of the camp were those families evicted from their homes in Palestine in 1948 by Jewish forces when the State of Israel was created, turning 750,000  people into refugees.  Today, Dheishah camp has a population of 13,000 people, living in 1 square kilometre.  From 1948 till today Israel has consistently refused to negotiate or compensate the refugee families, despite United Nations Resolution 194, which defines the Right of Return of all peoples of the conflict.



The Separation wall in Bethlehem is 24 feet (8m) high

The Separation wall in Bethlehem is 24 feet (8m) high

We visited the Separation Wall which snakes around enclosing the Bethlehem area and into Bethlehem itself. At intervals along the 24foot high structure there are watch towers, cameras and other surveillance equipment.  One large area of Bethlehem is encased like a box, inside which is Rachel’s Tomb, accessible to visiting Israelis only. Covered in colourful graffiti which convey message of hope and peaceful resistance, including contributions by UK street artist Banksy, it is clear how the structure received it’s more usual name of the Apartheid Wall.

The Wall in Bethlehem, by Rachel's Tomb

The Wall in Bethlehem, by Rachel’s Tomb

In the evening we were given a screening of the film The Iron Wall which documents the creation and construction of the Separation Wall, created by Israel.  Now some 760km long, the Wall consists of a 24 feet (8 metre) high concrete structure and electrified fence which twists and turns rather than following the recognised 1967 ceasefire line which is the internationally recognised separation line between Israel and the West Bank – which is only 360km long.  Rather than follow the border, the wall is mainly built on Palestinian land and annexes valuable farmland, water wells and settlements, often separating Palestinian villages from their own farm lands. The film was very moving as well as informative.

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