Swords into Plowshares

I wrote the following in October when we had just begun our journey in Israel/Palestine. As with all conflicts, it is hard to tell one side of the story without coming across as one-sided. So it is with the recognition of this inherent bias that I share a piece of our experience that does not represent the whole story, but it is an important piece nonetheless. 

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We sit in a political bookstore in East Jerusalem surrounded by profound and provocative works by Arab, Palestinian, Jewish, and Israeli authors, artists and experts. It is a cacophony of art and story and passion and hope and despair and frustration and critique and it sets my pulse racing. Book jackets with their cover art and enticing summaries call to me, reminding me that there are more voices, many more voices to be heard before I can begin to grasp the complexity of my current milieu.

It is inspiring.  And a little discouraging.

With so much written and created to illumine the multifaceted perspectives in this conflict, with so many actively working for nonviolent resistance, so many using image and word to tell important stories, how have I heard so little?  With this kind of literature and art available, how is there still so much misunderstanding?

It also puts me in a state of paralysis as I attempt to unravel in public word my own thoughts on Israel and Palestine. First, it is a danger-zone riddled with myriad ways to offend pretty much everyone. Second, sitting in a room surrounded by the works of others much more experienced and much more qualified to speak on this topic, I feel woefully inadequate.

But we have set out to tell the stories of the places we visit….

We have spent the last 3 weeks working on a farm in the West Bank.

The land begins at the top of a balding hill and oozes down the sides like well-drizzled glaze, pooling in the Eastern valley. The western panorama, which boasts rolling hills, rocky terraces and sparse vegetation, glows pink and purple in the setting sun. On a clear day the Mediterranean mirrors the sun’s blaze with such intensity it can be seen as a white streak in the distant horizon. On stormy days the whole mountain is engulfed in cloud so that one cannot see beyond the next step.

This is not “farm land” according to any definition I have previously held; it is hard earth covered by rock and dust. And yet, with the tenacity of nature, life still springs rebelliously from this desert.

childrensgarden2

The Children’s Garden after our “landscaping,” and two new planters we built.

Most days the sun beats hot and bright as we wage war on the thorn bushes and rocks, the warm scent of desert sage sometimes filling the air. We have been given responsibility over the greenhouse and a small, neglected plot of land that was intended to be a children’s garden. We have also been “given” a field we have taken to calling the Laboratory, where we are testing an irrigation system using recycled plastic bottles. It feels good to have our little domain where we know each plant intimately as we sow, tend, weed, water, transplant and landscape. This week we planted 40 new trees in the Laboratory and seeded 40 more in the greenhouse. I love those trees. I love the innocent green of the new grape leaves and the breezy shiver of the apricots leaves. I check the almond seedlings every morning to see if any have begun their brave journey into new life. I have placed thousands of stones in rings around the trees in the children’s garden after Andrew has pruned and staked them. I have torn at the earth around each tree with the heavy blows of a pick-axe to loosen it so that the coming rains can soak down to the roots. Every afternoon we spend two hours carrying 18-liter jugs of water by hand to the various fields and terraces, dig a small hole by each young tree, pour in a liter, and re-cover the hole. We have personally cared for hundreds of trees in our short time here. It is only our two hands, multiplied by hundreds of volunteers and family members, that sustains the life on this farm.

TentofNationsIrrigation1

On May 20th of this year, the Israeli Defense Forces bulldozed 1,500 mature apricot trees that were ready for harvest. It was an action that was illegal according to Israeli law, and though the family is now in court to fight for restitution and the protection against future destruction, the damage has already been done. When I heard the news while we were in Nepal, I was indignant. Now that I have lived on the farm and taken care of baby trees, I am deeply, deeply saddened. I know three weeks of the work and time and love that went into bringing those trees to adulthood. I know the beauty of flourishing, fruit-bearing trees in this dust-swept land. I also know that Daher, the eldest brother and master farmer loves this land and these trees much more than I do. I see the love and sadness in his deep, sun-lightened eyes when he speaks of them.

But I see something else as well. I see grace.

His sadness is not just for the trees and the land, his sadness is for the soldiers who were ordered to carry out the destruction. “They are young, some of them are just children and they had to go home that night and tell their families ‘Today I destroyed a thousand trees.’ I feel sad for them.”

greenhouse

The greenhouse and 40 new almond trees we seeded.

We refuse to be enemies.

That phrase is emblazoned on a rock outside the farm’s gate in Hebrew, Arabic, English and German. But it is not merely a nice platitude, it is a rigorous and costly way of life for the family. The rolling hills surrounding the farm hold growing settlements with tall watchtowers and large Israeli flags. The farm does not have access to electricity and by night you can see the sharp line where the bright orange glow of the settlements end and the faint green of solar-powered lights in the village begin. We also don’t have access to running water, so the farm runs solely on harvested rain water.

Yet they refuse to be enemies.

1,500 trees were destroyed. So they are planning to plant 3,000 in their place. Soldiers come to intimidate and destroy and they are invited in for tea. People from all nationalities and backgrounds – including Israeli Jews – visit and volunteer.

I have much to learn. I am merely a three-week observer but already I feel myself growing angry and judgmental. I look at the surrounding settlements and find myself inwardly rebuking the devout who attend to their rituals but not their fellow human. I have not yet heard their stories, known their pain, or understood their fear and it is easy to hate what you do not know. Over, and over, and over again I have to remind myself “I refuse to be your enemy, I refuse to be their enemy, I REFUSE to make them my enemy.”

A rock near the center of the land bears Isaiah 2:4

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

swordstoplowshares1

The first time I read that rock, it moved me to tears. Never has that concept made more sense or been more beautiful to me than here, in this place, on this land, where a family and a growing community of volunteers are committing not to be enemies. The cycle of violence stops here. It is not returned, but transformed into rows and rows of trees. Swords are beaten into plowshares. Olive trees are grown from oppression. Life blooms in the desert.

 

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