Excerpts from an article originally published by Just World Educational.
In the West Bank, seasons are shifting: the rainy winter is shorter, limiting the time for optimal planting and growth. Farmers are now advised to plant in November rather than October, to use interventions that value the benefit of every drop of water, respect the decade-long drought with summer temperatures reaching 110°F (but a recent wild snowfall in Hebron.) About 30 houses in the Berin hamlet now benefit from solar panels.
Yousef Nasser, a professor at Birzeit, joined a recent meeting with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in Ramallah. His eyes bright and twinkling, he wore a shock of silvery hair and thick mustache. Professor Nasser talks about the global gap project, the focus on new varieties of vegetables that can be marketed on “the outside,” the transfer of know-how to farmers to help open global markets despite the crushing restrictions and permitting that threaten Palestinian agriculture. Cups of Turkish coffee arrive with overflowing bowls of apples, bananas, and pears.
Food sovereignty is the major challenge in Palestine. The movement and export restrictions, the long waits while tomatoes and strawberries sour in the hot sun, is 70% better in the West Bank [than in Gaza]. There are malicious rules on pallet size, consequent limits of number of trucks that can carry each load, and rising prices for transport.
In Gaza it is only worse. Exports travel to Jordan or Ashdod, negotiate an Israeli mediator, the prices are 30% higher than in Israel or in the world market so Palestinian exports are rarely viable, they die by a thousand regulations and delays. Plus, after the US, the Occupied Palestine territories (oPts) form the second largest market for Israeli products and they are not going to change that captured financial/economic arrangement any time soon.
Yousef notes that after Oslo, the Palestinian 1%’ers exploded and this “filthy rich ruling class” (like all filthy rich ruling classes) is not about to change a system that is working so well for itself. There is an overall loss of hope within the hard working and often looking-for-work 99% of the population.
UAWC seeks “to keep the candle lit,” to fight the prevalent assumption that Israeli products are better and cheaper (as Palestinian products sit in containers waiting months for “security clearance,” and then their owners are billed for renting the container spaces!). That does not even begin to describe the outrage that truck transports are often forced to stop at some checkpoints to offload to another truck “on the other side,” increasing costs even more – and think about what that does to the once-lovely tomato. Farmers turn to other sources of income, often working in Israel, in settlements, in unskilled, unprotected, below-minimum wage jobs, with wages like 100 NIS ($26) per day in Ramallah, or 70 NIS in the villages. The minimum wage in the West Bank is 1,450 NIS ($380) per month – in Israel it is more like 5,000 NIS. In 2011, the poverty level for a family of five in the West Bank was 2,193 NIS. Birzeit University, he says, pays cleaners 50 NIS per day through a private company.
UAWC works with the Bedouin communities in the West Bank, providing education about efficient animal breeding methods, rehabilitation of traditional shelters, creating animal fodder through composting and hydroponic methods, protecting their lands, and empowering and training women (after some early male objections.) The Israelis in Area C are busy trying to displace and rehouse Bedouins from the eastern slopes around Jericho to a development town/housing project. Needless to say, a traditional society based on farming, herding, and a more nomadic lifestyle does not take kindly to such 21st century attempts to “improve” or shall I say “cleanse” them.
They show us another newspaper article. The Israeli authorities have demolished a water cistern (translation: water is like gold in these parts, this is a clear act of aggression) near Bethlehem. This was one of UAWCs successful projects to help with irrigation of nearby farming lands. Plus the Oslo Accords continue to haunt the daily lives of Palestinians who are forbidden to build tunnels or bridges, suffer from strict water quotas, and have an almost zero success rate in approval for water pumps connected to wells that are located on their own territory. This has resulted in severe water shortages and an increasingly sewer polluted water system.
The Zionist settler project continues in all of its crushing minutiae. Jews celebrate their “right to return” to the ancient city of Jerusalem while Palestinian refugees languish in camps in Jordan and Lebanon and maybe still in Syria, as well as the oPts. Our hosts assure us that this is not struggle against Jews as Jews (there are many righteous Jews), but rather against the Zionists who have enshrined Jewish history, trauma, and aspirations above everyone else in the region and also against the Palestinian 1%’ers who are benefiting from the corruption, collaboration, and greed, and the extreme amounts of shekels that can be amassed.
Fortunately for us, the tasty chicken musakhan drenched in sumac and oil, and the tomatoes and cucumbers chopped into tiny tasty bits arrives just in time to strengthen our resolve and our growling stomachs.