Ahlan wa Aslan, welcome. Today is my first full day in Khalil, Hebron. The day began for me at 4:30 or so with the first call to prayer, a welcome sound although perhaps a little later might have been helpful. No matter. On the jet-lag morning I find myself awake by this time of day anyway. Now it’s night, the last call of prayer has passed and the air is full of the sound of firecrackers and Arabic music. Thursdays around here are especially good for weddings, and weddings are a long outdoor celebration with much music and dancing. It is a good reminder of the joy of living to hear this.
The day was spent with my host Hamed, visiting. We began our day with falafel and then headed to World Vision, for networking around the issue of summer camps for disadvantaged children. I felt honored to be part of the conversation between people of such good intention and different background, discussing how to better the community allocating scarce resources. Indeed the resources are so small and the challenges so great that discouragement is easy except for the local determination that always brings hope.
Various other stops included a legal agency and a kindergarten in dire need of a new roof. During the day Hamed also learned that settlers had set fire to large grain fields ripe for harvest. Sadly this is a regular occurrence: fires in the grain fields in spring, fires in the olive orchards in fall, to interfere with the harvests of the local people of the land. We were unable to go to see the fires, as we had a full day planned, and others went to take stock of the damages.
Some of our most poignant moments were spent at Tent of Nations. This is a farm owned by the Nassar family since the time of the Ottoman Turks, which lies pretty much in the middle of a massive block of Israeli settlements illegal under international law. For over 20 years, Israeli officials have tried everything to remove the Nassar family from their land, including a long costly court battle, declaring portions of the property state land, refusing the family all building permits, and preventing their access to the electric and water infrastructure.
Yet the family has refused to become vengeful, choosing instead to follow the council of Jesus to love and forgive those who persecute them. The motto of the farm is “We refuse to be enemies.” The family uses their land to teach others what it looks like to live peaceably side by side with the neighbors no matter what.
Early this week, on May 20, in the middle of the night, three Israeli bulldozers crept into the farm and demolished five fields of fruit trees heavy with fruit, along with nearby grapevines. The trees, heavy with apricots, apples and almonds, were buried under great heaps of earth. By 8 am the ugly deed was done. What had been a beautiful, fruitful, green valley now has the appearance of naked earth.
We listened as Daher Nassar described the great loss and how it had come about. Twelve dunums of land had been denuded. The family, he said, had papers demonstrating they owned the land. The trees, he said, had been there at least 15 years. Two months ago, the family found a note on the land saying that it was declared state land. Therefore the trees were not legal and the family had 45 days to “evacuate” the trees and return the land to its original state. The family went to court and submitted an objection to the order, which was accepted. The court had not yet scheduled a hearing when the IDF came by night and destroyed the trees despite the court’s acceptance of the objection.
It’s probably hard to imagine the impact of this. Imagine someone plowing under someone else’s cornfield in August, when the ears are ripe and ready, and you begin to get the feel of it. But corn is not supposed to endure for generations, as fruit trees are. This loss will be felt, not in one agricultural year, but for a long time to come. But besides the economic loss there is the sense of violation of one’s land and of all that is right.
It’s hard to follow this story with another, but there was yet another visit, this time to the home of Hassan in al Masara. Al Masara is a village south of Bethlehem where the separation barrier has not yet been built. Since its route was established, al Masara has held nonviolent resistance marches regularly; now they are held every week. Hassan is the leader of the resistance movement. He showed us movies of the demonstrations to show that they were totally nonviolent. Not a stone was thrown. The community of al Masara simply marches through town and then toward the agricultural land belonging to them, which the separation barrier will cut off from the town. They speak their mind about the injustice of the barrier. They are stopped by rows of soldiers in riot gear.
Today we visited Hassan because in the past year, soldiers have begun breaking into his home at night on a regular basis. He has been told, “You play with us during the day? We will play with you during the night, when there are no internationals, no cameras, no pictures.” Hassan’s mother described the soldiers going from room to room, despite her objections, pushing her around, looking through the house. Hassan states he has good reason to believe that the soldiers have put a camera or a wire in his house and are watching him, who visits him, and so on.
These are a few of the events of my first day in Khalil. There were others, but this is enough for one day. Tomorrow is another one.
If you are reading this in a place where you have free access to your land, self -determination, privacy, and safe, dry, warm schools, be grateful.