It will soon be winter here in Palestine and with it comes the long awaited rainy season. It’s time for farmers to begin planting their barley crops – their primary source of sheep feed for the year.
Yesterday morning Mohammed gathered his barley seed, loaded himself and his single furrow plough onto his donkey, and rode down the steep hill behind his yard to the valley field below – a field that is clearly in his name and that his family has farmed for generations. He wasn’t there long when a soldier approached him from the settlement across the valley. The soldier pointed his gun at Mohammed and told him to leave. Mohammed tried to protest. Again, the soldier pointed his gun at him, told him to leave and said that he would shoot him if he did not leave immediately. It was obvious that this fellow was serious. Frightened and upset, Mohammed returned to his house. He and his family decided to request protective presence from our Ecumenical Accompaniment team.
We went out to his farm, arriving just before noon. Mohammed, his wife and his children were shaken by this incident. From previous visits we knew that they had had problems with the army and neighbouring settlers in the past. Shepherds had been harassed while shepherding their flocks. Olive trees had been destroyed. Threats had been made against them farming their land. Speaking to us yesterday through an interpreter they told their story, with their voices rising as they tried to explain the details of the incident. We listened intently, trying hard to understand what had happened and how they were feeling.
It was a beautiful fall day. The sun was shining brightly. A good seeding day. With some persuasion, Mohammed agreed to try again, this time with two EA’s present. Together, we went down to the field. Across the way, near the settlement lookout tower, stood a lone soldier. Watching us. Mohammed dismounted from the donkey, hitched up the plough and proceeded to plough his small field. In the midst of the ploughing he suddenly stopped and set the plough in the ground. It was prayer time. Making time for prayer is a priority for many in this troubled land. It is important to keep one’s priorities straight, to remember the presence of the Divine. The donkey stood by patiently as Mohammed knelt to pray. Then it was back to ploughing. He completed the field and we all returned to the yard.
Today, we arrived at Mohammed ‘s farm shortly after 8 am. Eager to get started, Mohammed had left ahead of us to go to the field. We hurried to catch up, getting there just as he was unloading the donkey. He warmly greeted us and then began the task of seeding.
He walked up and down the field scattering the barley seed by hand from a plastic pail. Once that was completed, he began ploughing it in.
Up on the hill near the settlement stood 3 armed soldiers, watching. They apparently decided not to approach, and Mohammed continued his work.
I couldn’t help but think how absurd this whole scene was. Three Israeli soldiers,each of them armed with machine guns, watching an older Palestinian subsistence farmer plant a few acres of barley by hand, using the most basic of tools – a plastic pail, a single furrow plough, a donkey and his own physical strength. Providing protective presence for this farmer were three EA’s – one from Sweden, one from Finland and one from Canada, each armed with a commitment to nonviolence, justice and peace. Israel defends its actions in this conflict as legitimate security measures. How can this farmer possibly constitute a security risk to the State of Israel?
After about an hour, Mohammed’s son Nasser arrived with the family’s sheep, bringing them to graze in the olive grove adjacent to the field. Mohammed left to shepherd the sheep and Nasser began ploughing.
Up and down the short rows he went, frequently looking up at the settlement hill, checking to ensure the soldiers were not approaching. He was obviously afraid of their return. Eventually Mohammed moved the sheep over to the hillside to graze, closer to the ploughing. Mohammed’s wife arrived, telling us in Arabic that we would have tea shortly. We all watched as Nasser and the donkey worked the field. With only a few furrows left, Mohammed instructed Nasser to move the sheep back to the yard. As he left with the sheep, Mohammed finished the ploughing. With a broad grin, he thanked us profusely. The donkey was loaded up and we all returned to the yard.
It was shortly after 12 noon. “Would we stay for bread?” They were obviously eager to provide hospitality. Yes, we agreed we would.
A time of visiting ensued. Through broken Arabic, broken English, lots of puzzled looks and even more smiles, we talked about our families. We were introduced to their children and to their grandchildren. Family is highly valued in Palestinian culture. We then explained about our families – mostly about our children, how many children we have, their gender, their ages. I took out my small photo album and showed them pictures of our family. My husband. Our children. My sister and my mother. Our hosts were thrilled to see the pictures. Then Nasser flipped one of the pages and saw our former sheep flock. Everyone in the family was curious…sheep in Canada? That subject alone provided much conversation.
It was bread cooking time. We moved outside to a stone building containing a fire pit and a steel rounded cooking plate. Around the fire we watched in amazement as our lunch bread was cooked before our eyes. We talked, we laughed. Lots and lots of laughter. I felt aware, as I have been many times over the last months, of the rich blessing I have been given to be here, in this time and place, with these amazingly wonderful people.
Everyone moved back into the house. Sitting on the floor in traditional Palestinian fashion, amidst more laughter and more visiting, we shared a meal of olives, tomatoes, olive oil and delicious, freshly baked bread.
Simple gifts. Warm hospitality. Joy in the present moment.
Arrangements were made for us to return tomorrow morning to again provide protective presence for Mohammed and his family as they continue their planting.
“Bukara, Inshallah”. Tomorrow, God willing.