As the bees in Ahmed’s polluted hives on the West Bank somehow cling to existence, so too, do the people of the Occupied Territories.
Ahmed (name is changed to protect his identity) is a 29-year-old university accounting graduate. He is married and works on his family's organic farm inside the Seam Zone in Tulkarm. Recently, to make ends meet, he found a part-time job in roofing. He told me that he cried some tears when he realized he could not support his family and had to find extra work.
The Seam Zone is an agricultural area in the West Bank located east of the Greenline and west of The Wall. One Israeli soldier explained that Israel is on the west side of “The Wall” and no-man's land (Seam Zone) is in the middle. The West Bank is on the other side. This is technically incorrect as the Seam Zone belonged to the Palestinians who are now permitted entrance only with a registered permit. It is guarded by armed IDF soldiers and gates are opened to allow access only at certain times of the day. In 2004, the International Court of Justice found that the construction of The Wall, in the occupied territory, was against international law as it did not follow the Greenline but entered into Palestinian land. Interestingly enough, settlers and persons of Jewish descent, from all over the world, can move freely in and out of the Seam Zone, while Palestinians must use a permit to continue to live in and/or have access to and work on their own land.
Ahmed's family's farm is in a uniquely difficult position. Sipping tea, from a seat under a lemon tree, Ahmed and I can see The Wall (the separation barrier) on three sides of his family's farm. In addition, on the opposite side of one wall, there is an Israeli chemical factory. It was built on his family's land, land owned by his grandfather and now claimed by his father.
I have been invited to check Ahmed's beehives with him as he has learned that I too have hives at home. As we put on our protective suits, he explains to me the problems he is facing attempting to keep his hives alive. The bees are not a hobby. They are critical in the pollination of the crops on the farm. It is clear after a few moments of examination that the bee colonies are struggling to exist. Most of the bee colonies are weak and there is little evidence of new bees being born. Ahmed tells me that one day he came to check the hives and thousands of bees were dead outside on the ground. "I cried," he said. The nearby chemical factory's emissions pour into the air each night. This obviously weakens the hives and at its worse, poisons them. Only one hive, "fighters" Ahmed calls them, is doing well. They are erratic, yet feisty, in their attempt to survive against the odds.
These hives appear to me to be a symbol of life under occupation. Palestinians struggle to exist within the confines of the occupation, fighting against settler colonization, military occupation, violence and environmental hazards. In spite of these oppositional forces, Palestinians refuse to give up. They continue to resist, for the most part, in a nonviolent way, As the bees in the polluted hives somehow cling to existence, so too, do the people of the Occupied Territories. But Ahmed has fears. He fears that eventually frustration will bubble over into internal strife. Like the old saying, you always hurt the ones you love.
We speak more about the bees later. Ahmed reveals that like the successful hive, he is a fighter against the occupation. All of his life, he has learned resistance from his parents. As a child, he witnessed many attacks on his parents' lives. His mother saved his life as soldiers raided their home and razed their farm. His father was buried up to his neck in dirt by a bulldozer as his mother clung to her husband to protect him. Ahmed describes these scenes, "like those from a movie. No one would believe them unless the scenes were actually witnessed.” He described soldiers screaming, shooting, people falling down and trying to get up. He tells me this occurred hundreds of times. Israeli occupation forces attempted to take more land to expand the chemical factory. "I don't know how we are still alive," he tells me. Living this life, watching his parents struggle, Ahmed followed in his parents' footsteps. In university, he lobbied for women's rights and volunteered in organizations for peaceful resistance to the occupation. He was vocal about the effects of the chemical factory, the checkpoints and other occupation concerns. These efforts have had a serious impact on his ability to obtain a job in his adult life.
Ahmed is blacklisted by the Israeli government because of his involvement in nonviolent resistance programs in university. He cannot get a permit to work in Israel on the other side of The Wall. “I'm not afraid of work,” he said, “I'm good at my job, but I'm not permitted to travel.” Ahmed tells me that there are thousands of graduates looking for just one job in Palestine. If he could obtain a permit to work in Israel, or to travel into other areas, he could earn 600 shekels per day as opposed to the 100 he earns roofing in the West Bank. He cannot pay his bills with 100 shekels or start a family, as is the custom for a man his age. He and his parents are supporting his two brothers in school until they graduate and are able to support themselves. It is fortunate for this family that they have enough food on the farm to eat on a regular basis. “But here in Palestine we help each other to live,” Ahmed states, “not one Palestinian sleeps in the street. We are people who help each other. When our house and fields were damaged, neighbours and friends rebuilt them over and over again. We do that for each other.”
Suddenly quiet, his infectious smile gone, this seemingly vibrant young man admits to me that the Israeli occupation, "has broken my dream. I still live. I am alive," he says to me, tapping his chest. "Inside every Palestinian, young and old, there is hope. But,” he explains, “this is not the life he saw for himself; it is the life that he lives.” He asked me how should he find joy and balance in his life. He is such a young man, with such passion for life, yet he is boxed in on every side, literally and figuratively. I felt like weeping.
"I now live to save our land." He and his father use recycled materials to build systems to assist with the organic method of farming. All over the farm are piles of recycled satellite dishes and huge wooden spools from coils of wire, bits and pieces from machines that they have found on the street. Nothing is wasted. No chemicals are used on this farm. The ever present chemical factory and walls are barriers enough to good health. The organic farm is used as a model for new generations about how to live without chemicals. Tours are given freely on a daily basis to promote the concept. "My father has a passion and a message,” he explains, "we must save the land for next generations," he says emphatically. “Right now we close our mouths and our hands. I can live with the situation now. I still have some hope. In a few months, maybe I won't."
Paul's message to the Romans in Romans 12, verses 6 to 18, epitomizes the resilience of what I see in the Palestinian people. Let us remind ourselves of these verses: "Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Love one another with mutual affection. Outdo each other in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient and suffering and persevere in prayer... extend hospitality to strangers... rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another... do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
— A. Margaret is a retired secondary school teacher and Curriculum Leader from the Toronto District school Board and an active member of The United Church of Canada. Her strong faith has led her through the long journey to participation in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). She feels it is a privilege to act out her faith in a practical manner as peace and justice have been on her radar for many years.
The World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is an initiative under the WCC’s Ecumenical Campaign to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East. Its mission is to accompany churches in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation and support a just peace in the Middle East.