The sun beats down on Jerusalem.
In nearby Walaja, it beats down even harder
The sun beats down on Jerusalem. In what remains of the Palestinian village of al Walaja, four kilometres north west of the city, the sun beats down even harder. The citizens of the village have to endure the frequent threats to themselves, their homes and their olives groves/fruit trees in the burning desire of the municipality of Jerusalem to evict them. They live under the daily pressure of the Occupation. The authorities in Jerusalem want to convert their land close to the city into a National Park for Jewish residents of Israel.
The Israel Engaged Dharma group kindly invited me in September, 2013, to join a coach load of Israeli citizens from all backgrounds willing to witness for themselves the impact of the Occupation on the lives of Palestinians and their families in one small village.
The daylong visit provided the opportunity for Israelis to hear directly from Palestinians their experience of intimidation, arrests, home demolition, the destruction of some olive groves, the military road for the exclusive use of the IDF (Israeli army) isolating the village, the impact of the Wall of Separation and the large Israeli settlement, Gilo, in the hills above the village. The Israeli authorities turn the screw of pressure on the villagers to force them eventually to vacate their land.
The Israeli authorities have already annexed much of the remaining land of al Walaja with only a few hundred Palestinians determined to remain on the land of their forefathers possibly going back thousand years. There is an olive tree on al Walaja land said to be 3000 years old, the oldest tree in the world.
In May 2013, the Israeli Ministry of Interior approved 897 more homes for the Gilo settlement. Children in al Walaja have to walk seven kilometres to school rather than two kilometres as a result of the IDF cutting off the direct route to school.
In April 2006, the Israeli authorities confirmed plans to build the eight metre high Wall of Separation through al Walaja to separate the local farmers from their land. The authorities cut down olive groves, almond, apricot trees and grapes that takes away the income of the local farmers as part of the policy of harassment.
Palestinians now require permits to have access to their olive groves and fruit fields. Some are only permitted five days to pick the olives or fruits. In places, soldiers guard the entrance, examine permits and allow only the elderly and the young to enter the fields.
We listened to two spokespersons for al Walaja and asked questions. For a number of Israelis, it was their first ever visit to a Palestinian village. For many, it was the first time they have listened first hand to the desperate plight of the Palestinians.
Engagement or Apathy
The Engaged Dharma Group develops a dialogue with Palestinians through these visits. It is one of numerous groups in Israel dedicated to dialogue, reconciliation and justice for the people of Palestine. Such groups are a credit to Israel just as the sister Palestinian groups and non-violent activists are a credit to Palestine. I had a public dialogue in Tel Aviv later that month with a founder of a Bereaved Family Group. A Palestinian had shot and killed his son. He met a Palestinian whose daughter had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. For years, bereaved families from both communities meet together regularly through their brave initiatives.
The Engaged Dharma organisers provide an opportunity for Israelis to see for themselves the plight of the Palestinians with a strong encouragement for the Israelis to return to their homes, studies, places of work and elsewhere to speak about what they witnessed.
There is a growing recognition that millions of Israeli citizens have become absorbed in consumerism, commercial activities, Judaism and a degree of insularity that rejects any mention of such words as “Palestinian”, “Arab”, “ peace” or ”the conflict.” There is a widespread apathy in Israel towards the Palestinians leaving Israeli’s political masters, the media, the military, the religious and the settlers to inflict harassment, summary arrests, hardship and poverty on Palestinian families and the growing destruction of their beloved olive groves. It seems also that the Palestinians can see no end to the Occupation.
The UN states there are 73 Gates in the Wall of Separation with 52 Gates locked throughout the year. The remaining gates are only open twice a year for a few days for Palestinians who have finally secured the necessary permits, so they can enter their olive groves. In the pressure to pick enough olives or fruits in the short period of time, Palestinians will cut off whole branches of olives or fruits. More and more Palestinians have become dependent on outside aid for survival while large amounts of olives and fruits never get picked in the time available and go rotten. Denied access to the olive groves through the 21 available gates, the farmers cannot tend to their olive trees, plant new trees or prune the trees during most of the year.
The Israeli army have bulldozed the vast majority of olive trees within 1.5 kilometres of the Wall of Partition, usually built several kilometres inside Palestinian land. Settlers and soldiers can continue to harass farmers during the olive picking days, as well as destroy trees through various ways throughout the year.
Initially, the Engaged Dharma group encouraged Dharma practitioners to engage in Israeli-Palestinian solidarity action, as part of their spiritual practice. The coachload of Israelis, Dharma practitioners and others, who visit Palestinian villages, experience something different from what their politicians and media tell them. They feel for the plight of the plight of the Palestinians and some Israelis want to do something to support them. Dharma practitioners and other Israelis, as well people from overseas, also help pick olives and fruits with the Palestinians. The local farmers appreciate such support and it helps to safeguard them harassment from the IDF and Settlers. See www.sanghaseva.org
The Engaged Dharma group has extended its remit through exploring ways to work with the “conflict mindset” that forms the basis of a project named Mind the Conflict. The project applies three important Dharma principles, namelymindfulness of formations of mind/inner and outer, inquiry into causes and conditions that feed the conflict mindset of the two communities and the exploration of deliberate acts of friendship and loving kindness (metta) leading to reconciliation and justice.
We spent the day with the Palestinians who kindly offered their traditional hospitality of drinks, food and kindness. I have the privilege of visiting Palestine annually for the past 22 years, mostly facilitating meetings in the main town of Nablus, as well as spending time in villages. I spoke to the group of Israelis before arrival and at the end of the day in al Walaja.
I expressed immense appreciation for their willingness to board the coach and see and hear for themselves. I expressed appreciation to Aviv Tatarsky and Shiri Barr of the Engaged Dharma group in Israel for organising the day as well as developing trust and friendship with the Palestinian community. Finally, I reminded the group of the human significance of recognising what we all have in common, including the wish to feel safe and secure, rather than exaggerating differences that lead to mistrust, fear and violence.
We have to take away the power from our governments and the military. We have to reclaim our authority as empowered citizens. We witness. We listen. We act.
MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE WITH WISDOM