By Tom Blanx
This May, I travelled to the West Bank in occupied Palestine.
I had a fairly good idea of the kind of things I would see when I went, but wanted to take a closer look at what I think is an unfair and asymmetrical situation. I don’t stand against Jews or Israelis. I stand against racism, violence, oppression and ignorance, and all of those things, I think, are here.
During my time in the West Bank, I lived and worked with a Palestinian farmer who runs a Permaculture Project in a small village called Marda. I wanted to see for myself what life was like for Palestinians living under occupation and how Permaculture could help.
Knowledge is everything and with that in mind I’m sharing everything I saw, heard, thought and felt in the time I was there.
Below are excerpts from Tom Blanx’s blog. Read the full blog here.
For those who haven’t been, Israel’s not the easiest of places to get in and out of. And if you plan on checking out the occupied territories you’ll need to be a bit creative with the truth. Despite my polite passport note from the queen, I decided not to reveal how freely I would be passing while on my travels as it would have most likely landed me straight back on British soil. This had happened to previous volunteers so the NGO I had organised the trip with had suggested that I lie.
With the help of Murad, my Palestinian friend and his friend, an Israeli who will remain anonymous, I pretended I was traveling to help and learn on a farm in the south. I probably could have said I was there for a beach holiday or Christian visit too, but a bag full of work boots and full length clothing might have been a giveaway. Murad told me to just remain calm and answer all questions confidently but it was a nerve racking and intimidating experience. Much more than I remember it being when I was 18 coming here. In the end I think I got in through by inadvertently playing dumb.
Getting into the West Bank was more straight forward. I got on a bus from Tel Aviv bus station all the way to Ari’el (An illegal settlement, next to Marda). There are no stops or checkpoints for settlers (on the way in) so all I had to do was get off before the bus turned into the settlement where Murad was waiting for me and I was in. A better understanding of his instructions, some Hebrew and useful geographical knowledge and I probably wouldn’t have ended up bang in the middle of the Ari’el in the isolating situation of looking for a Palestinian village. I haphazardly navigated my way out of on foot and was an hour late – not the look I was going for, but I guess he was going to find out what I’m about sooner or later.
Marda is in the Salfit district which is biggest producer of olive oil in Palestine. The village is effectively a ghetto, with reinforced steel gates at each end for when the army want to shut it down and a high metal fence and barbed wire around it, although some of these had been damaged and removed. There used to be resistance here, but like in lots of the rest of Palestine, occupation has become normalized. These days the village is quiet and peaceful. People work and children go to school, cats wonder around the place looking for food and donkeys everywhere sound like they’re dying. The village sits directly under the hilltop Ari’el settlement, the 4th biggest in the West Bank. Murad said he used to play there with his friends when he was young before Zionists confiscated and destroyed 9000 dunams of it, in the late 70s to build luxury homes, streets and a university for Israelis and Jewish immigrants. The juxtaposition of the two towns, is a powerful thing to see and its something that you can’t help but see, every day.
As I arrived in Marda another volunteer was leaving. Her name was Judy, a 60 year old American woman from Australia travelling by herself. I wouldn’t normally mention someones age or circumstances but I think its significant as many people think the West Bank is too dangerous to travel to and that women could be more vulnerable here. Neither are true. It was her 5th visit to Marda so I wanted to get as much information out of her as I could in the 30 minutes she had left. She gave me the dos and donts about living in Marda, how to be with Murad and told me to explore as much as I could of Palestine “You can’t charaterise Palestine on what you see in just Marda as much as you can’t charaterise the US on what you see in Miami”
Straight away I felt at ease with Murad. From our first Skype conversation, to meeting him an hour late getting lost, I felt welcome and at home. Chilled and pragmatic, straight talking and funny are the best words I can think of to describe him. Everywhere we went there was banter. Banter with friends, banter with strangers. Sometimes he sounds like he is angry when he’s talking in arabic but then he laughs and I know he’s not. Judy said his bark is worse than his bite and I now know what she means. “C’mon man!… what you doing man?!”… “Why you sayin sorry all the time man” still echo round my head.
Murads family have lived in Marda for generations spanning centuries. His wider family numbers in the 100s. His immediate family is his his wife, Ghada, daughters Sara, Halla and Tooleen, his youngest – son Khalid, his Mother, Twin brother, older brother, three sisters and their families.. I think I can count the number of people in my family with my fingers!
The old house he grew up in has itself been in the family for 300 years. His Mother and twin, Hazim live there now and on my first night, he took me to meet them. We ate dinner, looked at our phones (Theres no escaping it!!!) and then I helped Murad download a Lionel Richie “hello” ringtone he wanted for when Ghada called him. I asked him what other music he liked and he said “none”. “But you like Lionel Richie though?” No. just that song.” Then I reconfigured his answer and decline buttons so he could, in his words, hang up in peoples face.
When violence broke out in the second intifada (literally translated as uprising), Murad decided to leave Palestine. With his Palestinian passport, he traveled to America and spent time working in Chicago and Tennessee. In 2006, he returned to inherit his Father’s land and with some basic knowledge of permaculture from a previous project, he started Marda Permaculture farm.
The Permaculture farm (more…)