Saturday evening more than one hundred people arrived at the occupied territories of Palestine. Despite different background, religion and nationalities these people were brought together for a shared purpose. They could all be identified as: fighters for justice. And their mission was clear: picking olives.
No, you were not missing out on any points. The situation for farmers living in the West Bank is a continuous struggle against the Israeli government that is violating the right of the Palestinian people. The farmer is met with difficulties and unnecessary obstacles for claiming the ownership of his land, accessing his land and even harvesting from his cultivation.
These issues gathered 110 participants who are attending the Olive Picking Program of 2011 arranged by the Joint Advocacy Initiative and the Alternative Tourism Group of Beit Sahour. Due to the large number of participants, the organizers had to make three groups. Unfortunately it seems to be a huge marked for the human rights fighters these days…
Visiting Palestine requires at least one full day in Jerusalem. The capital is the most-visited city with 3,5 million tourist arrivals annually, and at Thursday it was our turn. Many tourists go by religious purposes, but even though our tour bus was tagged as “Pilgrim” travelers, we were on a different mission. We were about to dig deeper into the heart of the Holy Land.
The political aspect of the tour was an issue even before takeoff. The fact that our leaders, Ibrahim and Jawal, are forbidden to enter Jerusalem according to the law ruling the region is illustrating how the occupation affects the everyday life of the Palestinian people. In spite of the short distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, many Palestinians haven’t visited their capital for the last 13 years.
The Israeli army controls the checkpoints that separate Jerusalem from the West Bank. We past the checkpoint by bus, and along with the international participants we brought one Palestinian girl with the permission to enter Jerusalem. Despite the strict security system, the soldiers did not ask for our passports, and the bus with all its passengers could enter freely. This illustrates the paradox of the Israeli politics, and the reality of the so-called Palestinian threat. During this day we would discover a far long list of contradiction regarding the Israeli governing.
The group met Ali Jiddah close to Damascus gate, who would give us an alternative guided tour in Jerusalem. He showed us the everyday life in Jerusalem which is not easily discovers by the first glance. The settler occupation of flats located in the old city of East Jerusalem that belong to Palestinians was pointed out. The fact that injustice happens today and will continue to happen tomorrow was hard to deny when we were passing “the Small Wailing Wall” in East Jerusalem. This old wall is claimed to be a part of the ancient temple of Jerusalem and for this reason Jews are praying in this narrow passage. A deep wish of praying in a side street close to Palestinian family’s houses is accepted by the Palestinian neighborhood. The problem is rather that Jews require the Palestinians to be replaced from the block because of security reasons. In other words, someone’s feeling of fear is handed over to a random person who suddenly has to deal with an issue of being displaces.
The frustration came to a breaking point when a large group of Jews were celebrating the last day of fasting in the streets of the Old City in East Jerusalem by singing and dancing through the Palestinian stores. It was difficult not to accuse the celebrating people for branding their not yet stolen territory. This created a tense atmosphere among the participants of the olive picking program, although the assumed purpose of the Jews was not to target the internationals. The comments made by the Palestinians were surprisingly indulgent. “They have the right to show their religion in public, you know” said one of the shop owners.
Ali tried to remind us that this conflict is “not religious, it’s political” and made us aware of our responsibility due to the injustice we’ve seen. “Make your fight back home” because “all your governments are just like shit” he said. We were in no doubt – this guy truly speaks from his heart. Carl from Scotland would put it in a different way – “He’s fucking great!”
The program ended Sunday evening with a successful good-bye ceremony at the YMCA. This included live music performed by a local Palestinian band and a whole lot of dancing by the freshened up olive pickers. Despite the hard work during the week, the participants could not stop dancing this evening.
Thanks to you all for a fantastic week – you really made this to an eventful and significant experience!
Read the entire report from the spectacular days of olive picking and experiences from the underground tours in Hebron, Jerusalem, new settlements and Bedouin villages at http://www.jai-pal.org. And your next step – book your ticket for Olive Planting Program the 4th of February at http://www.travellink.no/main?type=Flow&name=FGSearchFlight.