Yesterday our landlord and important leader in the area, Abu Azzam, took us out on his land. Several times I have greeted Abu Azzam and his wife, Sahem, in the mornings riding their tractor through one of the agricultural gates we monitor. On his farm there are greenhouses with tomatoes and trees ripe with mango, guava, citrus fruits and avocado. He also has olive trees that will be ready for harvest next month. Only recently this year was Abu Azzam granted a permit that allows him to sleep overnight on his land. This is important especially during harvest season when there is a lot of work to do. Abu Azzam also explained to us the personal significance of being able to sleep in a small shed out on the land for someone deeply connected to his family’s ancestral land. Abu Azzam explained the struggles he has had over the past several years to safeguard this land. Israel confiscated land from the local Jayyusis through a series of laws (from the British Mandate and Ottoman empire) which claim that land which is not regularly cultivated may be confiscated by the state and turned into state land. Abu Azzam has been able to develop his land with more agriculture that had predominantly been used for grazing sheep and goats through his own efforts and with help from local and international friends. Jayyous was the one of the first communities affected by the construction of the separation barrier resulting in a great loss of land. It is also difficult for farmers to access the land they have left since it is surrounded by tall electric fences (also known as the separation barrier) which is not built along the 1967 ‘green line’ or border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Farmers need permits (not always easy to obtain) and must pass through a security gate at specific times during the day. All of these difficulties in accessing the land creates an economic crisis for people who depend on the land for their livelihoods and poses problems for the agriculture that needs regular irrigation and tending in order to thrive.
Abu Azzam explains the struggle to maintain his family’s land
While we were out on Abu Azzam’s land we took a close look at an illegal Israeli outpost near the Zufin settlement. Currently there are five trailer homes parked next to Abu Azzam’s land. This is typically how a settlement starts before people build more permanent houses and roads.
View of an illegal Israeli outpost near Jayyous
In 2005, Abu Azzam and I met in Geneva at the Theological Reflection on Accompaniment meeting of the WCC. He was there representing the Land Defence Committee. At the meeting he shared his story and struggle to maintain his family’s land. According to the British law that was imposed in this land (and sometimes adopted by Israel) any land consisting of more than fifty percent rock is not considered suitable for agriculture and therefore can be confiscated by the state. Yesterday he showed us two trees growing out of stones one of which is featured in this story he shares as a symbol of resilience of the Palestinian people and connection they have with their ancestral land:
On 21 October (2003), I discovered a wild tree growing on an inclined rock; it was faded, because of thirst. As a farmer I felt I must help. I brought a bottle of water and poured it on the wild tree, but because the rock is inclined the water came out quickly, so I drilled the lid of the bottle with a nail, so the water came out drop by drop. The wild tree began to bloom. I did that daily until my wife called me on the last day of October to say that she had received my passport with a ticket to attend the European Social Forum in Paris, so I must come back home. I felt sorrow towards the wild tree, I went to it and said: sorry, because I will leave to France, sorry because I will not be able to come back to take care of you, because I have no permit. I don’t want you to suffer again and to die many times daily, because of thirst. So, I cut its two branches, and when I reached the gate the Israeli soldier asked me what I had in my hand. I felt really puzzled; why was I still carrying the two branches in my hand?
After five months, I got a permit and went with my wife to the land. After we passed the gate, we kept silent, watching everything as if we were seeing it for the first time in our lives. When we reached the shed, my wife began crying because everything was dusty and the food was damaged. I ran away to do a tour of the farm; after an hour and a half I came back to the shed to have breakfast. On my way I found my wife moving out the grass around a small orange nursery plant, and she was singing with tears (the Palestinian way). She was 10 meters away from the place of the wild tree, so I went there to see if it was still alive. I was astonished when I found many branches were growing again, I kissed it, and apologized that I had cut its two branches before. My wife heard me talking – she was worried that I had become mad, and shouted, Shareef!! Wake up!! With whom you are talking? I was lying beside the wild tree, a few drops of blood came out of my lips, because of the thorns of the tree. Then my wife, who was gazing at the rock, asked: ‘how can this tree survive?’ I answered: ‘This is a Palestinian tree; a Palestinian can live without water, without food, if his roots are in his land’.
(Source: Theological Reflection on Accompaniment, WCC, p.170-171 <http://eappi.org/en/resources/eappi-publications.html>)
Abu Azzam shows us the tree growing out from a rock
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