The Road To Palestine
Following the 10th International Permaculture Conference and Convergence that was held in the beautiful and hospitable country of Jordan a small group of us traveled on into Israel; our encounter at the Israeli border was arduous to say the least and after a bomb scare which emptied the building in 3 minutes flat - our group was held in customs for 4.5 hours. For the Muslims traveling in our group this experience was trying and long as the border guards rifled through their suit cases and asked the same questions over and over again –for Starhawk, one of the most respected voices in modern earth-based spirituality who is also known as a global justice activist and organizer, she had spent the entire week leading up to our travels into Israel working with the customs officials to make sure that she would be allowed entrance into the country. In the end, our entire sleepy group successfully crossed the border, boarded the bus and headed to our hotel in Bethlehem – ahhhh sleep.
Early the next morning we boarded our bus and headed out to tour parts of Bethlehem and the West Bank. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about the Palestinian people, their rich history; and the oppression suffered under the hands of the Israeli government. Our guide spoke reverently of Jesus “The Prophet” and relayed stories of his life in and around Bethlehem – pretty amazing!
Our bus tour took us to Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem, approximately 2 km to the east of Bethlehem lies the village of Beit Sahour, where one of the most sacred places to Christians; the Shepherds' Field; is found, identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Jesus' birth; "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And the Angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:8-10).
If I had to name two highlights to our journey in the Middle East it would be our visit to see Tom and Alice at Bustan Qaraaqa as well as Murad Alkhuffash and his family at the Marda Permaculture farm in Marda, West Bank - in reality, it would be difficult to narrow this experience down to two experiences as the entire journey into the West Bank was amazing, as well as overwhelming, educational, emotional, illuminating and above all, an inspiration.
Doing More with Less:
Our driver expertly navigated the narrow winding roads of Palestine on our way to Bustan Qaraaqa, literally translated means “Tortoise Garden”, and as we rounded the corner, a beautiful valley opened before us with 8,000 year old terraces lining the sides of the valley. The valley floor populated with olive, fruit and nut trees are all planted and tended by the volunteers of Bustan, with another 1,000 seedlings planted just this spring. Wild herbs grow in abundance and are picked by the local woman for healing tinctures and teas.
As we walked along the dusty road towards the century old Guest House we ate figs and pomegranates from the trees – heavenly especially for a girl from Calgary, Alberta. We were welcomed into the courtyard of the guesthouse, an area covered with terraces and greenery dripping from the sides and providing a shady respite from the hot sun. The staff served the group mint tea; a few glasses at a time as there was a shortage of glassware and we settled in to listen to Tom
"How are you going to grow anything here without water, they asked us. But for us that's exactly the point — using what we have to show other people what can be done here."
Swales have been dug in preparation for trees and vegetable gardens on the slopes. A composting toilet, greywater system, and a compost heap are all functional.
Bustan Qaraaqa – a 3.5 acre or 14 dunams parcel of land
Tree Nursery (Trees for the Community)
The farm's tree nursery contains over 100 species of native trees – the seeds lovingly collected by Tom during his travels through seven different countries. The trees include oaks, carob, acacia, pecan and pistachio all destined to be planted along the terraces and in neighbouring farms.
At Bustan Qaraaqa:
Intensive vegetable production/companion planting
In the community:
An excerpt taken from the Bustan Qaraaqa webpage outlines that the aim of the project is to propagate a grassroots environmental movement in the Palestinian Territories to address the problems of food insecurity and environmental degradation that threaten the well-being of the population; problems that are going unaddressed as a result of the ongoing Israeli military occupation which impedes effective development.”
Bustan Qaraaqa's primary goal is to engage and empower the community. The farm conducts tree-planting workshops and helps local farmers during the olive harvest. Another project involves setting up roof gardens and greywater systems in refugee camps, where food security is a serious issue.
Here is a Blog written by two Permaculture friends Carlita and Jean who traveled with me to Jordan and on into Palestine where they chose to stay at Bustan Qaraaqa and help with the olive harvest:
"Individuals and communities have more power than they believe," says Alice, one of the co-founders of Bustan Qaraaqa. "The idea here is to turn our lives into an experiment, to explore what people can achieve using simple methods and the basic resources at hand."
Additional plans for Bustan Qaraaqa include building constructed wetlands for sewage treatment. As in most of the West Bank, sewage in Bethlehem is not treated; raw sewage flows into valleys, eventually making its way to the Dead Sea contaminating the land and water, and destroying the ecosystem.
Our visit here was far too short but stay tuned as Bustan Qaraaqa and the wonderful people who are working the land and sharing with the community have many more stories to tell and much to share.
Once again we all loaded on to the bus and traveled to the village of Aida, a refugee camp located right beside the Wall closing off the West Bank – this was such a disturbing experience for all of us to witness; like the wall of Berlin. For anyone who has seen this wall, it is an affront to everything that is decent - a ripping and tearing inside. To the Israeli government, take this wall down! Who are you to imprison these people? The people of the West Bank hope and pray every day for this terrible barrier to be removed from their lives; a constant reminder of oppression and segregation.
The people of Aida were so welcoming and full of smiles and laughter to see us and have our group visit their village and learn about their amazing initiatives to grow community and provide a positive cultural outlet for the children of Aida from the hardship that they face each and every day.
We were invited to visit the Al-Rowwad Center; an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for children in Aida Camp trying to provide a "safe" and healthy environment to help children creatively to discharge some of the stress from the war conditions they are forced to live in. Truly amazing the work that is being done here with the children - the positivity in the face of such oppression was awe inspiring.
Following our tour at the Al-Rowwad Center, we were taken up through some of the tenements; the apartments had large gaping holes in the walls where the Israeli soldiers had come in with battering rams creating gaping maws into the Palestinian homes. On the roof tops were the remains of the water tanks, blown up by the Israeli soldiers as it is illegal for the Palestinians to harvest the rainwater.
As we descended the steps from the rooftops the children surrounded us asking us where we were from “take my picture” they chanted swarming around us to see the images that had been produced by our cameras.
Inspired by the people who live within these Apartheid walls and with heavy hearts we said goodbye to our new friends and left to continue our tour into Bethlehem.
I always knew of the injustices being carried out against the Palestinian people but until this day – my heart and my mind had not connected all of the dots. The Propaganda machine which paints the Palestinian people as the terrorist – the Muslim people as the terrorist - In reality, it is the oppressor who is the terrorist.
In 1948 the Palestinians locked up their homes, expecting to return within a few days – now for generations the keys are passed down the line in the hopes that one day, they will return. We drove through an enormous gate shaped like a key hole into the refugee camp; this represents the keys that each family still holds – the hope for a return to their land and homes.
Still to come:
A visit to the Market in Nablus and the Marda Permaculture Farm, Marda West Bank, Palestine