By: Jen McCormack - Participant at the Olive Planting Program 2013
University of Arizona, Tucson AZ
A rainy olive field in Palestine in February - this is a perfect place. My fourth time in the West Bank but first time planting olive trees, I shared time with some truly wonderful folks - co-planters and farmer families. This particular week in Palestine coincided with the U.S. Super Bowl and as a Baltimorean, I was pretty excited about the Ravens contest with the 49ers. And I wasn't alone. My co-planters on that soggy day, Mahmoud and Noor, were doing all the hard work of digging, because 14 year old guys can move rock ten times faster than anyone, and I assisted by moving earth back into the hole with my hands (we were short on shovels). We spent much of the planting time laughing and sharing a few words of English and Arabic and drowning in mud and rain. Affection culminated in Super Bowl chatting, and while I attempted to explain rivalries of Baltimore versus San Francisco and the obvious superior scrappiness of my hometown, they laughingly slapped a 49ers hat on my wet head. Note: Only for Palestine could my Baltimorean brow accept such a gift.
But that laughing in the rain was bookended by bitter realities faced by this olive farm. Before my co-planters and I arrived, thefarmer had been beaten by the settlers while he was organizing his field for our visit. And while planting, Mahmoud, Noor and I spotted several IDF and settler police jeeps at the top of the field. I went up to the hill to grab more olive saplings for planting and the young men stayed in the field, obviously concerned. And I was for them. Before the police arrived, we were a team running up and down the hill with tree saplings in hand, shouting at each other to "Yalla, habebee!" But not now. Because to be an American stopped by the IDF is worlds away from being a young Palestinian man hassled by the army in your father's field. This is real occupation, true apartheid, racialized colonialism to know that if you are a young man of 14 having a conversation with the police on your field, you have no say and could end up arrested for planting trees.
My time in Palestine with Mahmoud, Noor and countless other friends cut through all the hyperbole of politicians, activists and academics. These were souls, minds and hearts working legitimately against a violent machine of genocide. Sitting in the fields, I heard stories of Bedouin children being tricked by land mines outside Jerusalem, young people arrested for attending demonstrations (in the "only democracy in the Middle East") being indefinitely imprisoned, and friends being held at check points as they traveled from one Palestinian university to another. I traveled roads that only Palestinians are allowed on and saw the economic disparity between Palestinian families and the subsidized illegal settlements. I walked with people in the fields of Bi'iln where non-violent resistance had pushed back the wall and even on our walk amongst blooming anemones and crocus, tear gas was fired at us. And when I came home to the U.S., people asked me, "Why can't they just get along? What is up with this conflict?" To which I answered and share with you, this is NOT a conflict. This is a genocide, one that is funded by the U.S. and other international governments. This is a genocide that uses a settler strategy to steal land and to justify the imprisonment, torture and deprivation of an entire group of people. This is a genocide that my friends work everyday to end through their non-violence, through planting trees, growing food, and sharing with visitors. These friends offer the only real solution to occupation by living so bravely every day.