We had one more free day before the workshops started. These workshops were the prime reason why we were there in the village to share a skill of some sort. But as are most things in the Arab world, plans shift and change at the last minute. Ours just shifted the night before.
I wanted to go and visit Rezeq, the Olive Farmer. You may recall in previous posts of mine that I met him here in Coventry at a talk way back in February. I wanted to see his farm for myself and see where the olives grew which were pressed and made into the delicious oil I cooked with.
As with everything in Palestine, organising anything is fairly fluid. Three of my fellow travellers’ decided to join me on the trip. A taxi was called. Then Mohammed, our host, decided that he would travel with us as it would be easier than us trying to organise anything. Mohammed’s intentions were good, but he was a rather bombastic character who liked getting his own way. We were 3 strong women and a bloke who liked getting ours. It was to be a power struggle of a day!
Eventually, after being up really early, to enjoy a full day travelling all the way up to Nablus which was only 46 miles away, the mini bus turned up at about 11.15am……yet another morning hanging about. Now in any normal country getting to Nablus at only 46 miles away would probably take about an hour, but here we are in what isn’t a normal country, with abnormal rules and we have to take the long way around as we were travelling in a Palestinian vehicle and can not use the most direct routes….these are of course reserved for Israeli vehicles!
For whatever reason Mohammed decided upon his own agenda and took us to Bethlehem, where we had to drive around for half and hour, then wait whilst he jumped out of the bus and disappeared somewhere. He returned with a ‘Teach Yourself English’ book. Today was already proving to be a looooooong day!
Traffic crawled at a pace through Bethlehem and eventually we were out on the open road again after a detour we really didn’t need to take which cost us about an hour of time. We decided as we were heading North we would like to see Ramallah and Bil’in on the way to Nablus. Mohammed orated a list of places we could visit in Ramallah, one being a museum. We knew that time was going to be tight, so we said no to this. He tutted, shook his head and finger at us. We got the impression that as he wanted to see it, we were going to see it. As we were funding this expedition we all put our collective feet down and said no. This was Mohammed’s first strop of the day!
Ramallah really wasn’t what I expected it to be, not that I really know what I expected it to be like. It’s just another place that used to be mentioned on the news a lot and I always thought it seemed a pretty unsafe place to visit. Well from what I saw it looked fine to me. It was a sizeable, modern town with a ‘fetish’ for the Eiffel Tower. Many houses had the Tour Eiffel as TV aerials and shops and cafes lining the busy streets called themselves either Eiffel, The tower, or such plays on the name. One place here we had agreed to visit was the tomb of Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO, who was always shown clad in the ubiquitous keffiyeh (headscarf). We climbed out of the bus and made our way across the vast expanse of concrete to the glass mausoleum placed in the grounds of the Mukata’a, his headquarters. We were flanked by a very good looking Palestinian soldier, who unfortunately wouldn’t allow any of us females to take his photograph!
Not the best picture of Arafat’s tomb, but it we were given a very short space of time to stand there and were not allowed inside the glass building. Currently Yasser’s body is undergoing tests to see if he was poisoned to death or not.
We set out through the heavy traffic of Ramallah, passing more of The Wall
And we set off to see Bil’in. http://www.bilin-village.org/english/
This was a place where 2 of my friends on the trip were coming to stay after our sojourn in Jordan for a week. They were to be doing Photography workshops within the schools here. flyer (4) (not much time left to see the exhibition, but it is well worth it)
Bil’in has weekly protests down by The Wall.
The villagers protest about the loss of their land which has been snatched up and stolen by Israeli settlers. Each week a video is put on You Tube showing the protest that happens after midday prayers have finished.
We visited on a Saturday, the day after the protests. As we drove through the village we stopped to pick up a villager who offered to take us to the area the protests took place. The first thing that struck me was the burnt trees.
We alighted the minibus and the smell hit us all. It was like the smell you get in the air when farmers have sprayed silage over their fields, but worse, much worse! Our ‘guide’ explained that this is skunk water, a chemical water which is fired by water canon and leaves a disgusting smell on anything it hits. It will not wash out of clothes and doesn’t wash off easily, leaving anything it has touched with an odour of faeces.
Behind the wall, new settlement building was going on on part of the stolen land.
We didn’t have to search very hard before coming across evidence of the previous day’s protest. At first I thought this was a hand grenade, but I have since discovered that this is actually a tear gas cannister.
Obviously we have all heard of how unruly the Palestinians are, how they have become terrorists and suicide bombers, so I was interested in finding out about the other side of the story so to speak. So when my friends returned from Bil’in, the first thing I asked was “What were the Palestinians doing during the protests? What weapons did they use?”
Elaine described it as a David and Goliath scenario. All that the Palestinians had were rudimentary sling shots to throw stones. These didn’t even reach the wall whilst from the other side, 15 cannisters of tear gas were shot at the same time. Skunk water was sprayed and bullets were shot, one narrowly missing Amanda. I was told that if the soldiers had wanted to get her they could that it was a warning for her to stop joining in with the protest there. Google shooting in Bil’in and a wealth of information will come up, as will searching in Youtube to see the weekly demo’s for yourselves. Here is one such video which is exactly as Elaine and Amanda described.
We left Bil’in heavy hearted, knowing that this village was constantly under attack. However, parts of the Western World were aware about here, with internationals taking part in the demo’s. Unfortunately there are many more villages where this is happening which do not got the coverage this one does.
Back on the long way around, and every so often our driver had to stop and ask directions. We had no idea where now Mohammed had in store for us, however, he had rang Rezeq to say we were coming to meet him. Mohammed passed me the phone so I could speak to him. He was overjoyed that I had kept my word about meeting him and he invited us to have dinner at his house later.
It seemed like we were driving for hours through beautiful scenic countryside.
Eventually we came to a village, the name of which escapes me and drove to a sizeable house. we were shown to the covered terrace to take tea and Eid cakes, whilst Mohammed chatted with the owners. We took in the view whilst wondering why we were here. It was about 4pm by now and we still hadn’t reached Nablus. I nipped inside the house to use the loo and as I was coming out, I literally bumped into Rezeq. This was where he was meeting us, but Mohammed had neglected to say. He looked so much older than he had the last time I had seen him only 6 months previously. He apologised for being late, but he had been awake all night trying to put out fires which had destroyed one of his fields full of olive trees. I think out chins collectively hit the floor. Apparently the settlement nearby wants his land. They want the trees cleared. (I mentioned this in a previous post) So as legal methods have as yet not worked, they thought they would destroy the trees and therefore part of Rezeq’s livelihood too. The fire brigade was called to put out the fire, however the Israeli’s set up road blocks around his farm and wouldn’t allow the fire engine in. They said they would call an Israeli one for him. They did, but it arrived without water! I have mentioned before how little water Palestinians are supplied with, so they had to use what little they had. It didn’t go very far, and hence he lost a fair number of his prized trees. We drove later on a road above the are where his trees were. He said to go down there would take hours as we would have to bypass all the settlements, this was the nearest we could get to it without making a massive detour.
Again, not the best photo, but the best I could do from the distance we were away. It does however show how large the area was that was destroyed and it also shows the ‘buildings’ in front of it. These are the first structures to go down when settlers are trying to take over an area. There are like mobile homes. These go down, they claim land and then build massive houses on the stolen land. Unfortunately, this is what will happen with Rezeq’s land now. All of this stress is making him ill. He now has a heart problem probably caused from the stress of what will happen to his land, livelihood and his family; it is a stress which shows on his face!
Eventually we arrived at Rezeq’s house as the sun was setting and were greeted warmly by his beautiful wife and children. We ate a feast of home-cooked food and were made to drink a glass of the treacle-thick coffee as it was rude to turn down such a drink. Then as it was dark and about 8pm we thought we had better be making tracks.
In the mini bus Mohammed proclaims we were now going to Nablus. All of us were hot, tired and just wanted to head home, after all we probably wouldn’t arrive back in the village until gone midnight!
“But Kunaffah!!” declared Mohammed. “Nablus best Kunaffah”
None of us were bothered, we were all more than a bit annoyed that our day had been hijacked and we never made it to Nablus, which was still about an hour away from where we were. Mohammed retreated in a mood as we didn’t let him have his own way and we settled down for the long journey back to our village. However, near to Bethlehem, he stopped the minibus and made us all enter a cake shop, bakery type place. Jo and I were greedily eyeing up all the beautiful pastries, when Mohammed told us all to sit down and handed us a huge slice of something. “Kunaffah” he announced proudly “eat!”
This ‘delicacy’ consists of cheese, with a topping of what I can only describe as treacle or golden syrup sponge. The first mouthful is very strange, but a few more and it is actually quite nice, however, Mohammed had given us the biggest slices that made me gag after I got half way through. Richard was not impressed after his first mouthful and was turning green around the gills. Mohammed was looking on proudly at us eating (or trying to eat) our way through this monsterous doorstep of a slice! There wasn’t even a plant pot near for us to get rid of the pudding…was it a pudding?
We finally arrived back at the village at 12.45am and were greeted by the rest of our group.
“How was Nablus?” You can imagine our response. I guess it’s a place that will be saved for another trip out there. Hopefully next time I will be able to set foot of Reziq’s land, if it still is there and not built upon. If he is still there and not had a heart attack through the stress of the occupation. He is supposed to be visiting the UK again in February for Fair Trade fortnight. I do hope I see him here in Coventry again, with his dignity and the rest of his farm intact!