A Farm Journey in the West Bank: The Other Side of the Wall

April 30, 2012
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The van for our tour group rolled into the West Bank: my first time seeing the “other” side of the wall.  I can imagine now what it was like in Berlin some time ago, how a bit of cement and wire can be a barrier in the mind as much as it is one between peoples.  Our Israeli and Palestinian tour guides soon asked us to step out and take a view of Jerusalem from a vantage that few tourists get, that almost no Israeli has ever had.  It was beautiful, the Mount of Olives rolling into the Old City and the slope of the streets up into West Jerusalem… it was a different perspective, and the day was full of them.

We soon drove into Walla-Ji, got out to walk because of the road quality, and went a short way to Abed’s Farm where we would spend the rest of the day.  It was about 11:00am, the tall trees all around gave me the first taste of what was like deciduous forest air that I have had  in some time; I’ve been in the desert for the past year, learning about peace and the environment in the Arava Valley.  Coming up to the ‘center’ of the farm, a platform with a date frond roof in the shadow of the dividing wall, the hills of the Palestinian Territories were before us, with olive trees and kale spread across the small growing area.

Abed is a soft spoken, well-tanned Palestinian with an easy smile.  He lives in a cave.  It has a metal roof that is technically illegal and is the size of a large walk-in closet.  His day goes something like this: wake up early, work the land, when it gets hot some friends come over to eat, drink coffee, and play drums; then, when they leave in the early evening Abed goes back to work until the light is gone.  He has infrequent electricity due to power to the region being cut regularly.

Abed told us his amazing story, about how he has been pressured to leave his cave, his land, but won’t.  How he’s an inspiration to the region, how he survives in a more sustainable way than most of the world.  We ate some of the best felafel and hummus that I’ve had in my travels, and then went to work.  Mixing our labor with the soil, I felt as though I’d become a part of the story.  Looking up from weeding my olive tree for a moment I looked around:  I saw the wall, I saw the green hills, I took in the fresh air.  It occurred to me that I was working the fields of Palestine.  It occurred to me that I, an American Jew was working beside a Palestinian farmer in his home – trust; I was grateful, filled with a sense of place and poise, knowing that things were well for me, that life could be much worse.

But for Abed, things could be better.  We stopped at a bit after 2:00pm where drums and coffee were waiting for us.  I danced, there is photo evidence of it that promises embarrassment should I one day run for political office – but I think those that might vote for me would appreciate what was happening in this place – it was people taking a stand, rising up against fear and against limits.  Tourists are afraid of bombs and kidnappings, Abed and his friends from losing their homes, these are both real threats.

But we can do something about it: “We” as Westerners can tell of the injustice seen to all that we know.  Nobody, not Israel, not anyone, wants this man to suffer.  We can raise awareness.  This is my story and I’m telling it.  If you’ve gotten this far you now know it.  Go and learn, see for yourself, tell the story, and, act on it.

We bought fresh olive oil from our new friend, but were given far greater gifts.  Thanks Abed.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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