We climbed the terraced hillside from the highway below and along the way passed abandoned family homes. We were engulfed by a landscape in full spring bloom with the sweet scent of freshly tilled soil accenting the air. It was Land Day in Palestine, a day in which Palestinians gather across the country to call attention to the ongoing regional strife and to reaffirm their connection to their land of nourishment. Across the highway, a looming warning. A giant settlement sprawled across the horizon which was all too common of a sight. Years before, olive groves once flourished on this hillside, but all we see now is a walled settlement.
We joined Palestinian farmers near the top of the hill to plant several dozen olive trees. Using well-worn shovels and hand-carried buckets of water, we assisted family members of this land in the first step of cultivating the new crop.
We worked in solidarity. Joined by the passion of others from around the world with a common cause. Working under the noon sun, the light brilliantly exposed the abandoned homes. A beautiful mess. We couldn’t help but inquire about their past and the stories they once told. They explained that many families once lived in these homes but when the settlement was built, families were forced to leave for “security reasons”.
Spirits were high among the group. Palestinian farmers joined by an international team of volunteers where smiles and laughter were exchanged. We were shown the proper way to prepare these trees for planting.
A glimpse of a fresh start. This is the exact reason Harvest Peace was founded and why we will continue to support these farmers. The day’s intention was to plant olive trees, but there was a deeper underlying meaning behind our gathering. This family had been farming for generations. They didn’t need our help but generously let us participate by showing us what to do step by step. We realized that the sum of all our work was the real goal, in unity, in harmony. These farmers wanted to share their culture with the international community. For us, the day was about telling these farmers that they aren’t invisible. That we see what is happening and we stood next to them with support.
While working on their hands and knees, the shadow of their demolished home provided some shade. Yet they remain hopeful. With the land being used for agriculture, it will be more difficult to be confiscated for “abandonment” reasons. It will take another five years of growth for the trees to mature enough to produce a crop of olives. A long but hopeful wait. If these trees get that far along, they will have produced more than just oil.
They will have produced a right for this Palestinian family to remain connected with the land. Without this land, there cannot be any olive trees and without these olive trees, there cannot be any olive oil. The cycle continues, year after year and Harvest Peace stands with these farmers.