I had been looking forward to this weekend for so long. I had first planned to go down to Deheishe refugee camp to see my friends of Eid, but this year is a hibernation year for me so that I can finish my book. And because I hadn’t completed enough work I used Eid to write. We had been planning a trip to 1948 Palestine since then and this was the weekend we finally did it.
We got up somewhat early Friday morning and went with a group of youth from the Ibdaa Cultural Center to the nearby Palestinian village of Nahaleen to help pick olives. It was a beautiful day–warm, blue sky, bright billowy clouds. And many of the families were already out picking their olives when we arrived. The village of Nahaleen, like most Palestinian villages, is confronted by the illegal Israeli settlement Bitar which sits above it complete with an Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) watch tower overlooking the village. There were no problems in the village yesterday when we were picking olives, but that is not usually the case–certainly not in the villages around Nablus where I live. The Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, reports on some of these atrocities–committed by the ITF and illegal Israeli soldiers alike. I have also posted a number of links since the harvest began.
Thousands of Palestinians take part in the harvest, with students given time off to help and professionals returning to their villages. Olive oil is a food staple, and even the leftovers from the oil presses are used as fuel.
The economic benefits are relatively modest — about $100 million from an expected 21,000 tons of olive oil this year — but the extra income reaches some 100,000 families. For some, it’s just pocket money, for others enough to plan a wedding or build a house.
Regardless of what revenue is generated by the olive harvest, it is an essential component of many families’ income every year, made more challenging by the number of trees that illegal Israeli settlers set fire to, uproot, confiscate, and poison every year. The village of Nil’in near Ramallah has also seen a difficult year in terms of its land confiscation and violence directed at its villagers who resist this.
I loved that we spent time doing this–especially that Palestinian refugees spent time picking olives. It’s important not only in terms of solidarity between villagers and refugees, but also enables refugee children to participate in a traditional, historical practice that their families would be doing today were it not for the Zionist theft of their land. I was reminded of this on our way to Haifa in the afternoon. There were four of us on our mini road trip: one of us from Nasra and two refugees from the Beit Lahem area. On the way we drove by so many of the villages that Palestinians in Deheishe come from: Beit Jibrin, Ras Abu Ammar, Zakariya, as well as my friends’ villages: Deir Rafat and Malha. In many of these villages, and the surrounding area, there are forests. Nothing has turned the environmentalist in me against forests more than the Zionists. As I glimpse the trees I see nothing but the covering up of Zionist crimes: theft and murder.
Our drive also revealed the many of the boycott companies: Coca Cola, Microsoft, Nestle, McDonald’s. These companies also occupy space on stolen land. We arrived in Haifa in the late afternoon and met up with a friend of one of my friends. We walked a bit around the old city where we saw far too many signs of what Zionists would probably call “art” and what I would call defacing Palestinian homes. Haifa, like Akka, is one of those cities where Palestinians and Israelis live together (or what the Israeli governments call “coexistence”; “coexistence” is always code for Israeli domination of Palestinians by erasing their identity, burning down their homes, boycotting their businesses, keeping them from equal access to housing on their own land, as well as violence directed against Palestinians).
We didn’t stay very long in Haifa as we wanted to get to Akka, which was another hour or so north. We had been planning this trip to Akka before the Israeli violence against Palestinians broke out in that city. Actually, we were supposed to be there that weekend, but my writing schedule and the Israeli closure of the West Bank postponed the trip. Unlike Haifa, people in Akka were still reeling from what happened there. People we met in the streets spoke very differently about their Jewish “neighbors” than people in Haifa. It was disappointing that at least the sentiment among Palestinians hadn’t spread. It’s not like such violence and racism doesn’t exist in Haifa, too. It does. But even politically active people I met seemed to be all too willing to resume “normal” relationships with the Zionist colonists who live in that city in Palestinian homes, on Palestinian land. But in Akka it was different. We walked around the Old City and around the port and rocky sea shore. Even late at night the Old City was so lively–far more lively on a Friday night than in the Old City of Nablus or Al Quds. Here we saw an engagement party being held outside in the streets, people playing card, smoking argila. It was amazing to see people out in the streets like that (in Nablus the city closes down relatively early given the frequency with which the ITF comes in and murders and kidnaps people every night.) We had a lovely dinner in one of the Palestinian restaurants on the sea. We checked first to make sure it was owned by a Palestinian family and the owner happened to be there. He was so happy that people came all the way from Beit Lahem to lend their solidarity that he served us desert for free. And a number of Palestinians eating on the deck nearby who overheard our conversation over dinner expressed similar sentiments.
Over dinner one of our many conversations was about what my one friend learned in her schooling in Nasra where they are obligated to use Israeli curricula and textbooks. There is not one word about Palestinian history in these books. In fact, the word Palestinian is not mentioned. For my friend, this has led to a situation where most of her peers growing up–those who did not receive such knowledge from parents and grandparents–assimilated, or tried to anyway. They grow up thinking that they are Israeli and that they are not related to or associated with Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza or the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. In some ways this is strange for me to hear because I have dear friends in Lebanon who are from Nasra, who still have family in Nasra, so there is obviously knowledge that there is a relationship between Palestinians elsewhere, particularly those expelled from their land, and those living inside 1948 Palestine. But the Israelis, like all colonists, have been quite successful at its project of internalized colonialism. (For anyone out there who thinks that assimilation is a good thing and that it somehow leads to an erasure of racism just look at the U.S. elections and how hard republicans are trying to prove Barack Obama isn’t really American.)
In Nasra it seems that the situation is more difficult–people just want to live their lives, they don’t want to fight for their right to learn about their own history (and I should say that Palestinian textbooks here in the West Bank are not much better: while the word Palestinian is obviously used here, these books are also subject to Israeli and American censorship, usually led by Hillary Clinton, and the history is far from complete) according to my friend. And yet Nasra, like Akka, is subjected to the same level of racism as in the rest of 1948 Palestine as Ali Haider wrote last week in Electronic Intifada:
But Acre is not alone. There are six other cities like it that are also called “mixed cities,” where strong and deep-rooted Palestinian communities lived until 1948 and where only the remnants of the expulsion remained. The situation of the Arab residents in Acre also reflects the situation of the Arabs in Jaffa, Ramle, Lod and Haifa. During the past decade, they were joined by Upper Nazareth and Carmiel. The residents in these cities are exposed to persistent efforts to expel them by various means, most of them systemic. They are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, suffer from unemployment, poverty, a shortage of housing and land, and encounter policies of two-fold discrimination: from both the central government and from the local government.
There are reminders of the way in which Zionists have always stolen land all over 1948 Palestine. One of those reminders was when we went searching for Leila Khaled’s house in Haifa on our way home. We found it with the help of my friend’s friend whom we met up with again later that night. But it was disturbing to see that there was a name written in Hebrew above the doorbell. I had thought that the house was empty–actually I had been told that by someone in Haifa, and also I vaguely recall hearing that in the film Leila Khaled: Hijacker. But perhaps that has changed since the film came out a few years ago. We also saw a house called “Beit Najadah,” for which a photograph above, with Hebrew text, commemorates (for the Zionists). This house is on the main road, Salah el Din Street, along the coast in Haifa and apparently this is the road that Lebanese resistance fighters who came to fight in solidarity with Palestinians during an nakba came down. As a result there was fighting there between the Jewish terrorist forces Hagana (the same Hagana that the coastline street in Akka, around the Palestinian old city, is named after) and Palestinians. But while I suspect this sign is memorializing the 36 Jewish terrorists who died there on April 21, 1948, the fact that this is being commemorated at all shows one of the few Arab victories of 1948. But the Zionist colonists were so worried about the location of this house that they commandeered the bottom two floors from the family who lives there and until this day it is a synagogue.
Before we left Haifa, and 1948, we went out with my friend’s friends for a drink in an area called the “German Colony,” though we did go to a Palestinian cafe there. But even the name of this area doesn’t disguise what it was and what it is: a colony of foreigners who don’t belong there. Who were not invited. Who stole and steal and murdered and murder. I had Arabic coffee given that I had to drive back to Beit Lahem (we didn’t get home until 5 am), but my friends had beer. Of course, my friends from Beit Lahem observe the boycott and so the one who wanted beer ordered Taybe, the Palestinian beer. But the two men from Haifa who we were with ordered Gold Star, which is an Israeli beer. Anyone who knows me well can expect what happened next. An argument ensued. I started it, but my friend from Deheishe carried it through–for about 2.5 hours, until almost 2:30 in the morning. And as the evening (or morning, rather) wore on the number of Gold Star beers these two men consumed increased. Their choice of beer bothered me for two reasons: 1) when you have a Palestinian choice, precisely because there are so few spaces here where one does have a choice, you should choose the Palestinian option; 2) if you don’t like the Palestinian option because you’ve so internalized the idea that Israeli products are better and you don’t question that colonial logic, then why not drink something else? Beer is not necessary in one’s life. It’s not like soap or vegetables or things one needs every day. This is where I just fundamentally cannot understand why someone would make a choice–especially someone who is active in politics and in a political party that they share with Azmi Bishara. Bishara is known for his speaking all over the world about boycott, divestment, and sanctions. So why can’t people match their politics with their behavior? This fight was interesting especially because at dinner in Akka we made it very clear that whatever items on the menu we were consuming we wanted Palestinian versions wherever possible. For instance, we didn’t want bottled water because you can’t buy Palestinian water in 1948.
I don’t know what will have to give in order to unify the ideas and the people all over Palestine in order to enable Palestinian refugees to return to their land, but something’s got to give. And soon. While smuggling my friends into 1948 Palestine was a great pleasure in so many ways, I hate that I had to resort to illegal activities in order to help my friends see their own country that they were forcibly removed from. I want them to not only visit whatever area of their country they choose to visit, but to be able to live wherever they want to.