Umm Khaled being followed by the settler.
Umm Khaled, at first glance, is a Palestinian woman like many others: black clothing drapes over her body and head, her face marked by the years making her look older than she probably is. Yet this woman, who according to Western stereotypes should be ignorant and submissive in an oppressive patriarchal society, possesses an uncommon strength, a strength that only those who have known suffering, yet face difficulties with their heads held high, possess.
We met her in Jeb al Theeb during a meeting we scheduled with the residents of the village in order to introduce ourselves and explain our month-long project offering accompaniment during the olive harvest in this area under threat by the illegal Israeli settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim, home to Israeli FM Lieberman. The turnout for the meeting was less than expected, despite our best efforts (including distributing a flyer translated into Arabic by our local coordinator), due to the sudden death and funeral for a woman from the village. There were just a dozen adults, surrounded by the ever-present children.
Meeting by kerosene lamp in Jeb al Theeb.
As our coordinator began speaking with those present, even without the occasional translations between questions and answers it was clear to all of us that these people, after years of harassment and vile attacks, were understandably afraid. However, one woman, who had just minutes before underlined the very real risks she and her family face, decided to attempt to access her land with. This woman is Umm Khaled, and in the light of the kerosene lamp (Jeb al Theeb is denied electricity by Israel) her face sums up the modern history of Palestine: the pain of abuses suffered unjustly, the hope of living one day a life of dignity and the awareness of the need to continue to resist. Arrangements were made to meet at 7:30 the following morning.
At 7:00am we begin to climb the hill that separates us from Jeb al Theeb, and as the village came into view we saw Umm Khaled waiting to greet us. She offered us an abundant breakfast, followed by a visit to the tiny village preschool and then we started out toward the olive trees. Trailing behind us was an elderly man who had been brutally attacked by the settlers two years ago. He did not speak, but his smile indicated his approval of our presence. Along the short walk to Umm Khaled's olive trees, the scene is dominated by the Israeli fertilizer plant built next to the village, together with its stench. A shame, for if it weren't for the plant and the settlements the view on this autumn day would be breathtaking.
As we reached the olive trees, our worst suspicions were confirmed: the settlers, after having denied her access to her own land, had stolen most of Umm Khaled's olives. Not to be discouraged, we set about our work and after a couple of hours we had almost finished harvesting the few remaining olives, approximately 15 kg. Just then a settler, who had by now become a loathsome yet familiar face, arrived on the scene with his white pick-up truck, observing us from a distance, his machine gun slung over his shoulder. After a few minutes, as we continued to pick olives, he pulled out his phone and called a certain Ariel. At this point, mindful of previous experiences, we expected the arrival of IDF soldiers, who fortunately did not appear.
Umm Khaled taking taboun bread out of the oven.
As the harvest was nearly complete, we began to make our way back to the village. The settler followed slowly behind us in his truck in a clear act of intimidation, while his accomplice, who had arrived just as we were coming down the ridge of the hill, arrogantly wove in and out of our group trying to photograph us. Not wishing to give him the satisfaction, we staged a sort of improvised ballet to dodge his camera, while Umm Khaled continued straight on her own way, head held high, without even bothering to even look at him.
The two settlers eventually left and we entered the village where Umm Khaled demonstrated how Taboun, a typical Palestinian bread, is made. We ate lunch together and enjoyed the view. In the afternoon, a trail of colored aprons and backpacks came over the hill on the dirt road as the children returned from the school in the next village and spent the afternoon playing with us, overcoming the initial shyness of our first encounter.
As the sun descended upon the horizon, we headed back home, our hearts filled with wonderful memories of the day and in hopes that other people of this devastated village will follow the example of Umm Khaled, an extraordinary woman.
The Volunteers of the Harvesting Peace Project
Harvesting Peace is an Italian civilian peace intervention project in Palestine to support the olive harvest and the work of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (www.popularstruggle.org). The project is promoted by Service Civil International - Italy, Association for Peace and Un Ponte Per. Volunteers will be providing international accompaniment for four weeks in the village of Jeb al Theeb near Bethlehem, under threat by the nearby illegal settlements and settlers. raccogliendolapace.wordpress.com