a poem for Ni’lin | 2008

A poem I wrote in 2008 on a previous trip to Palestine. I was in the beautiful village of Ni’lin. Since 1967, they have had half of their land annexed by illegal Israeli settlements. In 2004, Israel announced they were going to build the Apartheid wall through their olive fields for “security” reasons. Not only is the route of the wall miles away from the armistice line of 1967, but instead of surrounding the nearby illegal settlement that it is “protecting”, it also annexes an entire valley of olive trees. Agriculture being the main source of income, this caused a strangling of the village.

This colonial strategy is mimicked from the South African apartheid system where the goal was to annex the most fertile land, and limit the black South Africans to divided communities without a steady source of income (agriculture), thereby having them as cheap labor for the white communities. Already this is happening throughout Palestinian communities by way of the Apartheid wall, illegal colonies, and ‘closed military zones’.

In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court granted authorization to build the wall through Ni’lin’s farm land and to suppress any protest to the contrary. The town organized and lead non-violent protests as well as fought legal battles. The Israeli military responded with crude violence on the unarmed protesters, and often collectively punished the entire village for their resistance.

When I was in Ni’lin, the wall hadn’t been erected yet. So far on this trip I’ve avoided going back because I am not eager to see this symbol of apartheid and colonization that has been crudely placed through their village. But Insha’Allah I get a chance to go and see the people that have fought and continue to fight a long and difficult battle.

In the short time I was there, I got the strong impression that Ni’lin was full of a warm and courageous people. Within a period of three days, two boys from the village were martyred.

10 year old Ahmed Mousa | إن لله وإن إليه راجعون | photo credit to Willow Heske

Ten year old Ahmed Mussa was martyred when he returned to the olive trees following a protest to find his lost shoe. He was spotted by an Israeli soldier and shot with a live bullet which went through his head and exited the back of his skull.

17 year old Yousif Amira | إن لله وإن إليه راجعون | I wish I had a photo of him smiling, but wallah this is the exact sight that inspired me to write this poem. | Anne Paq, Active Stills

17 year old Yousef Amira was shot the evening of Ahmad’s funeral, from a distance of 8 metres by an infamous Israeli ‘rubber bullet’ which is actually a steel bullet with a thin coating of rubber. Yousif, Allah Yer7amo, was declared brain dead, and died in hospital a few days later.

الله يرحم كل الشهداء

إن لله وإن إليه راجعون

*****

I have only ever performed it once, at verses vs Apartheid in 2009 I think- and I just found it, so here you go world wide web:

You don’t have to venture far into my mind
To find out what lies behind
Just take a breath, and look into my eyes

Look and take step number one.
To us being forced out of our lands at the barrel of a gun
Knowing it would be years
Before we would see
The ancient olive trees
The waters of the Dead Sea
Knowing it may never be
The day where we will be free
To live, love, learn and be in our own territory
So we got on a plane and flew away
To a life born out of disarray
And we settled in the Canadian community
And we built both struggles and unity.

You don’t have to go far into my mind
To know what makes me feel confined
Just take a step, and look into my eyes

So take step number two into the unseen
Sleeping beside my grandmother at the age of fourteen
Peaceful is this night and my brother’s deep breathing
Serene are the dreams that his mind must be receiving
Peaceful is this night, until the bullets start flying
And amidst the F-16s I hear my grandmother sighing
Not again, not again she says so bleak
We haven’t had one quiet night this entire week
And the bullets are louder, and the guns nearby
And now my anxiety has reached a level sky high
And my mother yells at my brother to duck below
Because he’d fallen asleep in the sill by the window
And in this night I’m worried by the lack of crying
Because the children are so used to this that their tears are denying
The shots pierce this night again and again
And the night, she falls to the earth in pain
And she spreads on the earth like a blanket of dismay
And dead, the night can no longer walk away
Killed by the bullets of those that oppress
She leaves the world forever in darkness

You don’t have to venture far into my mind
To find why I fear for mankind
Just take a breath, and look into my eyes

Look, and take step number three
To summer 08 in the middle east
I was running through the olive trees
The intention: to stop the soldiers who seize
My people’s land with their policies
Destroy a home with their machinery
Then tell the world it was in self defense
That this home held a terrorist
Running fast through the olive trees
Listening to their screams as they try to flee
Emotion pouring itself over me
Not of fear but of the need to be free
The need to make the world see
What I see

I see soldiers boasting their superiority
I see teargas grenades fired from the sky and falling down me
I see guns pointed at he
I see teargas fall and slowly seep
Into our air and I no longer see

But I hear. And I hear his fear
And I hear a gunshot and I hear him keel
And I hear them scream Allah hold him dear
And the bullets rage and the people run and the gas falls from the sky and still the bullets shout until I no longer hear

But I feel. And I feel them near
I feel their angers and I feel their tears
I feel the despair they carry on their backs
I feel the hope they place in their prayer mats
The dreams they see when their heads touch the ground
The freedom they feel in a sleep profound
But now the soldiers near
And the smoke clears
And I see what I shouldn’t have seen
And I no longer feel

But I think. And I think about our fate in the stars
I think about love and laughter and if our life is really ours
I think about anger, oppression, hope and aggression
I think about what it takes to make a life
What it takes to fake a life
To break a life and derail a life until there is no life
I think about what it takes to take a life
I see him and I see his peace
But his peace drains me – I just want him to be
He’s just sleeping my mind says
In a minute he’ll wake and open his eyes
And he’ll smile, and I’ll smile, all the while, knowing this is just my mind’s eye
This is all just a lie
His peace drains me and I look to the floor
His father fights his tears back and screams Allah yirhamo
And now I think of chance and of fate
Of love and of hate
The kindness and crime
Bullets in the back
Hope in the heart
A face behind the bandage
A man behind the gun
A mother with nothing to love
A father with no son
A child’s end has come
And I no longer think

*

So the problem I see now is not a lack of objectives, it’s the lack of activists to represent the perspectives
In this time, where apathy’s become the attitude du jour, my words are coming out sounding somewhat obscure
But I can see the power we have within. The power that we have that we’re holding in.
The power to dream and the power to love, the power to care, the power to speak of..
So ask yourself, do you utilize this gift?
This tongue that can speak love, that can heal every rift
People are dying for the freedom of voice
While we avoid an argument to keep our prized Rolls Royce
These possessions, they distract us, keep us away from our brains,
Until the greedy have squeezed dry all the poor and in pain

But despite this world’s chaos there’s one thing that is Great
The ability to create a smile on another person’s face
These people are a reminder that freedom belongs to you
And despite all the chains, your joy can always stay true
Our warriors hold onto that for their goals to be obtainable
Because a clear mind is the way to make activism sustainable
So when I want to step into your memories, your mind
The way will be clear, just a door through your eyes
And together we can share the places we’ve been
To spread the stories of the hearts unseen
And in this lost and divided world
We can work to never let a cry go unheard

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Burin: “We know for certain it’s not the settlers’ land, because they burn it.”

Palestine has been in the olive groves for the month of October, picking despite threats of Israeli soldier & settler violence and harassment. At dawn, generations of the family, from grandmother to grandson, pack up their donkeys or tractors and head to their piece of land to pick each and every olive from each tree on their land. It is hard work, but the people will only complain when they are prevented from reaching their groves by settlers or soldiers. The work is often done with a hint of a rush, knowing that at any moment they could be ordered to leave. When the bags of olives arrive at home at the end of the day, a sigh is released and a prayer is made for the next day.

A portion of the Najjar family's land

This year, more than 4000 olive trees have been burned in Burin by the illegal Israeli settlers. (LRC)

“Every year it is getting worse, and this year it is a lot worse. It used to be they burned trees once a year, but this year they have burned trees four times since April. Since April, they have cut down and burned entire areas to clear the land so we can use nothing,” says Ghassan Najjar. “Olives are the most important farming product here for us. Of course the olive harvest is important for the olives and for the resistance. We know for certain that if we leave the land they will steal it, and claim it is their land.” He also added something that is easily overlooked, “we know for certain that it’s not their land, because they burn it.”(Harvesting Olives as a statement of resistance, EI)

The hillside pictured below shows some of the trees that were so damaged by the fire that they had to be pruned down to stumps. Further down you can see that many of the trees are brown and dry from the fire. The ground is still littered with remnants of black ash.

An Int’l recounts a burning in July of this year: “Arriving at the scene we found dozens of local men and boys fighting the fire. Their mouths covered with scarves and shirts they were beating down the flames with olive branches and cloths. A small boy ran up the hillside carrying bottles of water for the men covered in ash and streaked with sweat… around 50 settlers from the Yizhar settlement beside Burin had come down the hills at 11.45am and set fire to the trees and fields. On such a dry day with a strong breeze the flames caught easily and spread rapidly. However, the fire engine and locals were prevented from reaching the flames for over two hours by the Israeli army.”

“We watched as groups of settlers appeared as shadowy figures through the smoke, viewing the inferno from the hilltop, the army standing between them and the villagers putting out the flames. The rest of the team and I wondered what they could be thinking as they looked down on the village’s livelihood being destroyed.” (RightsNi)

This family has had about a quarter of their trees burned in the past year. We were present because their land is high up the mountain, near to an illegal Israeli settlement. They also didn’t have Israeli authority “permission” to pick the land, but seeing as the land is the property of this family, they were determined to pick it regardless. Many Palestinian families refuse to apply for “permission”, or if it is given, will only pick on days without it. Despite having permission, soldiers often appear and inexplicably revoke it, ordering everyone home.

Climbing the charred landscape. This year, hundreds of trees were burned on this hill.

As we picked I overheard a Palestinian man exclaim that “even with a career, a car, a house, friends, the land always comes first. We drop everything and attend to the land because it is the true value we have.”

Faces of Burin

Below is a view of beautiful Burin from the site of the murders of two young men by the Israeli army. Guys from the village were known to come up here at night, smoke, and hang out. This particular night, there were only two there when a grenade hit the area. One was killed immediately, but the other died after being shot three more times. I’ll bring names and more details as soon as I can, inshaAllah.

Burin has been good to me, hard on my hands, soft to my heart, filling, welcoming, beautiful…

go home

Beautiful Burin

I’ve been in Nablus now for about 4 days, leaving at 7 every morning to pick olives in solidarity with farmers in Burin, a beautiful village nearby. Burin is the 2nd largest village surround Nablus, in terms of land, but has a population of only 4,000 meaning that most of their village is green farm land. The houses in the valley are surrounded by olive, lemon, almond, apple and fig trees, that climb up the side of the hills surrounding Burin. At the hilltops live Illegal Israeli settlers.

Last month, settlers from Yitzhar burned 200 olive trees while Burin’s villagers were celebrating a wedding

Unlike Palestinians, who must submit to checks constantly and randomly by Israeli soldiers and police, these Israeli settlers are free to carry arms, despite their violent reputation. For the crimes they’ve committed, none have served more than a few weeks, even for murder. More often they get off without charge. Israeli soldiers are supposed to protect the Palestinians from these settlers, yet they often watch as the crime is committed, and will arrest Palestinians for retaliating or complaining. Even though Israel politically claims to distance itself from these fanatics, the workings of their entire state seem to support them.

A few months ago, settlers descended and burned hundreds and hundreds of olive trees. The earth is just black and bare. Almost every man I have met here has served time in prison, without charge, or with a ridiculous charge (like cleaning the streets of garbage!).

finishing breakfast in the olive trees

At any moment, these Israeli settlers can descend into the village, heavily armed, and harass & attack the Palestinians who are not allowed to carry arms. If they do, they are called terrorists and are blamed. If they do, the whole village will face army violence. The soldiers are supposed to protect the villagers, but they don’t. Palestinians shouldn’t have to ask permission to the Israeli authorities to farm their own land. Palestinians shouldn’t have to be constantly aware of settlers descending or arbitrary arrests. Palestinians shouldn’t have to have us internationals follow them to the groves, because if Israeli settlers or soldiers come, they will be treated more violently, more illegally, and less humanely if no one is watching.

Harvesting Olives as a State of Resistance: For the settlers of Yitzhar, a burning Palestinian olive tree signifies exactly what a burning cross signified to the Ku Klux Klan in the US of the 1950s — in either case, the message is racial intolerance, and the purpose is ethnic cleansing. “The settlers use fear, they intimidate people to leave their homes … they say ‘we cut down the trees because a Palestinian touched this and made it dirty. This is our land and we can do whatever we want,’” Najjar said.

The Survival of Olives: Olives have been cultivated in Palestinian land for thousands of years.  Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, with the remainder for pickles, table olives, and soap.  The harvest is worth around 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the fragile Palestinian economy, struggling under the burden of occupation.  Up to 100,000 families depend upon the olive harvest for their livelihoods to some extent, according to the UN. Olives are also symbol of Palestinian culture and a connection to the land.  Olive picking contains a strong political dimension; particularly in villages which are vulnerable to settler attacks and interference from the Israeli military…

Settlers chase woman with wild boar, causing both her legs to break

Rana H.

Oct 21, 2011

Early Thursday morning, a Palestinian woman in Beit Furik was picking olives when a settler began to chase her, and set loose a wild boar after her, causing her to fall and suffer broken bones in both her legs.

Muhaya Khatatba was in her olive groves with her two sons, aged 14 and 17 years old, when a settler descended from above the hill and began to chase her. “I was with my kids picking olives, when a settler saw us, and took advantage of us the fact that we were all alone.” Then the settler released a wild boar after her. She beckoned to her boys to run ahead of her, and as she ran, she tripped on some rocks and broke her leg. She struggled to begin running again, using one leg, and fell again, breaking the other leg. Unable to stand, her boys ran back to pick her up and ran with her to meet other villagers. She broke one leg in three places, and the other leg at the ankle.

Khatatba says that when she saw the settlers she was very frightened because of the violent attacks on residents of Beit Furik in the past few years. “But the fear I felt for myself is nothing compared to the fear I felt for my sons,” she says. “And I’m not concerned only for myself, but for all the people of Bait Furiq. They can’t go to their olives. We want a permanent solution. We want someone to stand by us.” Khatatba is only thirty-five years old. Her husband cannot join them in the harvest because he is obliged to a full time job. She has never gone into her trees without permission from the Israeli authorities, and Thursday was one of the four days she was permitted. Now her permission time has run out despite that many olive trees are left.

Beit Furik is very close to the Itamar settlement, considered illegal by international law. Itamar has a wide history of brutal attacks and harrassment to the native Palestinian population around them. The settlement was formed in 1984 and has grown from 300 residents to over 1000.

In the past, settlers have reportedly damaged Palestinian property, obstructed access to their farm land, stolen olives, attacked, and even shot at local Palestinians. For example, the murder of a Palestinian taxi driver who was shot and killed by an Itamar resident in 2004, or the murders of 3 Palestinians in their home in 2007, including a 10-week old infant. In both cases, the settlers who committed the crimes did not serve time in prison.

Olive picking

I came to Tulkarem this morning to take part in a festival in the green olive groves of Farawn marking the official opening of the harvest fe Phulisteen. I’ve been in the South all this time that I forgot how different from the North it is. The North, especially near Jenin, is what I have in my memories. Deep, red, powerful soil, flowers everywhere you look, and lush greenery. Hundreds of people were spread within the trees today. Many school children running around (somehow, in the burning hot sun), university students, government officials (the prime minister was present), international activists, and villagers.

Picking right beside the Apartheid fence (may be worse than the wall because it is about 70 metres wide. Barb wire, road, fence, road, wire)

There were people dancing the dabkeh, a beautiful stallion, women in traditional dress, and speeches. Lots of laughing, and everyone was fed with last year’s olives, and this year’s FRESH olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumbers…..

Then we went on a little tour of Farawn and Tulkarem…

All the houses near the Apartheid Fence are ordered for demolition.

Then my relative and also one of the leaders of the ISM, introduced us to Fayiz Aoudy who gave us a tour of his farm. He used to have 30 durhams of land, and now only has 14 because the wall cut right through it. An incredibly toxic Israeli chemical factory was also placed on his farm, and beside the village (Israel wouldn’t poison their own people). It has all Palestinian workers, and 6 have died already from the bad conditions.

the Israeli chemical factory

It shoots out black smoke. Apparently the wind blows West, away from his farm, all year except for 40 days in May. He complained that for these 40 days his farm is polluted but the courts refused to recognize there was a connection. An Israeli flower farmer right beside Fayiz, on the other side of the wall, went and complained the smoke was ruining his flowers, and the factory agreed not to create smoke for those 40 days of the year. So they will stop the pollution for some Israeli flowers but don’t care that their factory is poisoning the 67,000 people East of the factory, that receive the smoke 320 days of the year.

The wall cuts right through Aoudy's farm, and also has a 10 metre area of barbed wire.