Rabbis for Human Rights
Sunday morning MA and I went on an olive harvest with Rabbis for Human Rights. We were in Bethlehem, so in order to get to Jerusalem by 6am (which was the obscene hour that the bus was leaving) we had to leave Dheisha Camp at 5am. I woke up around 4 am when the mosque (which sounded like it was in the same room with me) started the call to prayer. I fell back asleep for about 15 minutes, during which time I dreamt that I was standing at a soft serve ice cream machine, but when you pulled the little lever showerma and falafel came out and fell into a waiting pita pocket.
MA and I were at the Bethlehem checkpoint by 5:10, and we stood at the checkpoint for about 15 minutes watching the soldiers in their little stand smoke cigarettes and ignore the steadily growing line of people. No one is allowed to approach the soldiers until they call for you – trying is a good way to get shot. Eventually they decided to let us through and we walked about a half a mile until we could catch a cab to Jerusalem.
We found the meeting place for Rabbis for Human Rights with a little difficulty, but we still made by 6 am. We spent the next 3 hours on a bus heading for Yamoun, a village outside of Nablus. Now, Israel is not that big of a place, but because we were specifically trying to avoid the infamous Hawara checkpoint (known for long waits and pissy soldiers) we took the scenic route. Close to our destination we saw a big settlement on the top of the hills; we also saw orchards of olive trees that had burned by the settlers. Apparently this village has had a lot of trouble with the settlers, and with one in particular who the local Palestinians call The Sheriff because of his posturing and way he uses Palestinian farmers as target practice.
Rabbis for Human Rights sends internationals out to help Palestinians during the harvest season for two reasons: First, because the Israelis only give Palestinians a limited amount of time during which harvesting is permitted; Second, because settler’s are much less likely to shoot, beat or otherwise injure an international than they are a Palestinian. Thankfully, the day was uneventful. The only visitors that we had were the Israeli media who decided to shoot some footage of internationals harvesting olives. As for the actual harvesting, it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was hard work, but the weather was nice, the countryside was beautiful and the conversation was diverse. I met a black man from South Africa who is working with the YMCA in Bethlehem. While we were working, I asked him what he thought of the situation in Palestine compared to the Apartheid system in South Africa. He said, in his opinion, the situation in Palestine is much worse than it was in South Africa, particularly in the area of freedom of movement. He also pointed out that the anti-apartheid movement had the support of the international community, which is something that the Palestinians do not have.
After about 6 hours of reaching up to pull olives off trees and crouching down to pick the fallen olives – mind you this is during Ramadan – I was ready to head home. To be fair, no one seemed to be observing Ramadan very closely, including the Palestinians who were with us, but I was still happy to head back to Jerusalem for a meal. Once back in the HC (Holy City) MA and I met up with a friend of hers and ate at a restaurant in East Jerusalem. I thought my adventures were over, but I’d only been on the bus heading towards the West Bank for about 5 minutes when MA called me from her taxi to say that 3 settlers had been killed in the West Bank that afternoon and that she’d heard the West Bank was being closed down. While I was talking to her our bus was pulled over by Israeli soldiers who came onboard and checked all of our IDs (this is common on the way into Jerusalem, but not on the way out). I called a friend in Ramallah to check on the situation, but luckily things were quiet in my direction and I made it home.
Since then things have gotten interesting . . . old checkpoints are being reinstated and the Israeli government was threatening to completely shut down Bethlehem and Hebron (that is where they think the shooters came from) but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m supposed to go to Bethlehem on Friday to meet with Holy Land Trust about working with them . . . hopefully I will be able to.