The calm strength of a Palestinian woman

umm khaled
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 ( 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.

17 Responses

  1. eljay
    November 22, 2010, 3:13 pm

    No one but a Zio-supremacist could read this story and fail to be shocked and disgusted by the racism and immorality that drives “settlers” to abuse Palestinians, and that drives Israel to legitimize the behaviour of its “settlers”.

    Oh, but Saudi Arabia is worse and Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and San Remo and dont’ forget to “Remember the Holocaust!” and blahblahblah…

    • RoHa
      November 23, 2010, 4:10 am

      But humanists will appreciate her resiliance and whatever that other thing was the Palestinians had as she makes better wheels to get around that obelisk in the river of whatchamacallit.

      • eljay
        November 23, 2010, 7:29 am

        >> But humanists will appreciate her resiliance and whatever that other thing was the Palestinians had as she makes better wheels to get around that obelisk in the river of whatchamacallit.

        “Resilience and energy” – yeah, I forgot about that. It’s hard to keep track of all the “humanist” bullsh*t sometimes. ;-)

  2. radii
    November 22, 2010, 3:34 pm

    It cannot be said enough:

    state-sanctioned terror by israel and funded by the U.S. taxpayers

  3. Avi
    November 22, 2010, 3:58 pm

    The colonist seems to be young. A kid intimidating a grown woman, a mother. How quaint.

  4. annie
    November 22, 2010, 4:35 pm

    what a wonderful story of solidarity amidst such oppression. Umm Khaled’s smile is so beautiful.

  5. kapok
    November 22, 2010, 4:36 pm

    This is what drives me batty. How can that creepy settler be a fellow Jew?! And why should I give a damn about his precious heritage?

  6. Avi
    November 22, 2010, 5:16 pm

    Umm Khaled has a son named Khaled.

    Khaled is Arabic for eternal, perpetual, everlasting.

    And in this case, Umm Khaled’s resilience is enduring.

  7. Philip Weiss
    November 22, 2010, 6:04 pm

    This is a great piece (Adam put it up, I just read it). And it moves me to a certain simple understanding that I should have had long ago. When are American politicians and statespeople going to talk about olive trees? Isn’t this obvious. Listen to Prince Turki Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia at the U.S.-Arab Policymakers Conference last month:
    link to

    “The United States, which is, thankfully, the largest contributor to the Palestinian Authority’s budgetary needs has failed to curb Israel: in the brutal policy of collective punishment; arbitrary arrests and killings, even in the “A Zone”; illegal colonization; the merciless Israeli bulldozing of Palestinian homes; and the inhuman Israeli practice of uprooting Palestinian olive trees, for God’s sake. Because of these things Abu Mazen’s credibility with his people has been degraded to its lowest level.”

    olive trees, for God’s sake. you read a piece like this, or you see Budrus, and you understand why destroying olive trees is part and parcel of ethnic cleansing…

    • Avi
      November 22, 2010, 6:12 pm


      In addition, many of the trees are hundreds of years old.

    • LanceThruster
      November 22, 2010, 7:05 pm

      I am reminded (and was just discussing with a co-worker) the reality of the buffalo hunts on Native American hunting grounds. This mass slaughter was not about taking advantage of a hunter’s paradise but rather to deprive the indigenous peoples of a food source so they would choose to move on (“Don’t go away mad, just go away.”).

      Any attempt on their part to resist had them branded as primitive bloodthirsty savages.

    • syvanen
      November 23, 2010, 2:29 am

      It really is quite amazing to think about it. Israel is suffering incredible bad publicity over this issue of settlers stealing Palestinian olives and destroying their trees. Why pay such a major price in bad PR for nothing? Well of course it not for nothing. Israel is getting something in return and those in the government feel the price is worth it. One can only speculate on what they think they are gaining.

  8. LanceThruster
    November 22, 2010, 6:56 pm

    I recently saw a piece in the local paper about Caltech students and volunteers harvesting the olives from the campus courtyard olive trees. It was portrayed as so communal and festive as they went about the process leading up to sending off the sorted harvest to an outfit that donated their facilities to press the oil, which was then bottled under the Caltech brand label ( link to ).

    I could not help but contrast that with the experience that Palestinian families and growers go through regularly trying to harvest their crop (provided the trees have not been bulldozed), not just for the fun of it but to actually survive. I’m sure they could have an experience every bit as festive and communal, but are deprived of it thanks to the petty (and not so petty) harassment they suffer at the hands of settlers and the IDF.

    I am going to write Caltech (there’s a place for additional questions in the FAQ) and ask if they’ve ever considered using their harvest to show solidarity with the Palestinians and highlight and publicize the obstacles they go through to try to bring their own harvest to market.

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