We had our first day of picking olives not too long after our Hebron tour. We went to a village called Al-Khader, an area to the south of Bethlehem. We came to the entrance of the farm, and the taxi driver could go no further. He dropped us off, and we walked along the narrow road up toward the farm.
On our way through rows of grape vines and jasmine bushes we passed some Israeli soldiers. They brazenly leaned against their military jeeps, snuggling their guns across their chests as a mother would to protect or baby her child. My body immediately reacted to the soldiers' presence. My stomach twisted. It was an uneasy atmosphere.
We walked toward the olive groves and met a group of 50 or so internationals. People from all over the world come to Palestine with the Olive Harvest Campaigne to help the Palestinians do the simple job of picking their olives. This has become quite a challenge in Palestine, since their land has been confiscated for the expanding Jewish-only settlements and the winding wall. So internationals come to witness and to shield because the colonizers are less likely to attack a foreigner than a Palestinian.
The man who drove the bus of internationals to the farm (a Palestinian) was detained for three hours as punishment for bringing people to help the farmer pick his olives.
"People from all over the world come to Palestine with the Olive Harvest Campaigne to help the Palestinians do the simple job of picking their olives."
So we gathered with this group of merry internationals at the top of the farm's hill. And it was a most beautiful scene, people of many languages and colors gathered in support and love for the people and the earth.
It was one of the most beautiful and richest farms I have seen yet in Palestine. The soil was dark and moist and squishy beneath my boots. The grapes were plump and sweet, and the olives were fat and falling from the trees. And so, as the circus, we did what we know best! We put on our stilts and accordions, and we began to pick olives and play music in the field.
On the very edge of the farm to the left there was a Jewish-only settlement. The land that is off-limits to the Palestinians is literally an olive's throw away! There was a fence separating the farm from the settlement. On the other side of the fence a couple of settlers had gathered, one of them draped in an M-16. Jake, our Jewish circus member, immediately began to play a beautiful Hebrew peace song that he also sang in English. It was an incantation calling for peace between all peoples in the land of Israel. A group of us gathered and danced around him in a circle. The settlers on the other side looked at us curiously -- we must has been a fascinating sight to see.
"The man who drove the bus of internationals to the farm (a Palestinian) was detained for three hours as punishment for bringing people to help the farmer pick his olives."
Next, we began picking, and we picked olives through the morning and a good part of the afternoon. During that time I walked over to where Vivien was standing and speaking with the farmer, near the fence that separated the farm from the settlement.
He told us that the colonizers have offered him $15 million for his farm. He turned the offer down because his land and the fruits of his harvest are more important to him than money.
We made our way down the hill, picking tree after tree, moving quickly because of our numbers. Then another round of soldiers came up to watch us. They drove up in their jeep and again sat with their guns to their chests.
Vivien walked up to them in an attempt to ask some questions and create a dialogue. The soldiers told her that they need approval from their higher ups before they could speak with her.
Afterwards, I made my way down to the main house to use the facilities. I was led down the path by a girl named Deema. We reached the house and the smell of fresh herbs and hospitality filled my senses.
Inside the home, the women brewed a feast for us, stuffing spinach in homemade dough and rice and spices in zucchini, rolling grape leaves and love into the meal.
I sat and chatted with them. They were so sweet and welcoming they could have been my own aunts and cousins. I felt at home, at ease in their warmth and presence. After some tea and conversation about their lives and the difficulties they face, I made my way back to the olive fields.
It was almost noon, the sun was bigger, the sky was clear and there wasn't a soldier in sight. I peeked over at the Jewish settlement and saw that the settler with the M-16 was still quietly observing the scene from afar. I wondered if perhaps deep down inside he really wanted to join the musical celebration, the dance, the harvest and the coming feast.
"The settlers on the other side looked at us curiously -- we must has been a fascinating sight to see."
We picked the last of the day's olives, rounded up the tarps from the ground and put the olives away in burlap sacks and buckets, ready to be taken to the olive press for further processing. We made our way as a group back down to the house where a feast was laid out on a white plastic table.
As we feasted, the circus performers got right to work playing more songs and setting the tone for movement and merriment. We sang songs of freedom, lullabies of beauty and chants of peace and nourishment. Again, it was beautiful to see a long row of internationals, Arabs, Europeans, Americans, Christians, Jews, Muslims -- human beings all speaking the same language through music and dance.
In those moments everything felt at peace.
Deema Dabis can be reached at .