Friday May 1 was Workers Day here in Palestine, and I got the day off. So I decided to follow a group of friends to a march happening from Solomon's Pools in Al Khader village to Artas village for the Annual Lettuce Festival. When we arrived at Solomon's Pools there was a Dabkeh dance troupe there dressed in white.
They started off the pre-march atmosphere with flute-driven dabkeh beats, stomping and spinning down the street. Our guide Awad led us through the windy hillside. Solomon's Pools were built in the time of Kind Herod 2,000 years ago. At one point they were full of water reserves, but now they are mostly filled with litter.
At the third pool, Awad tells us about two little boys who drowned the day before. They were playing on the ledge when one slipped and the other tried to help him. The pool is not deep, and had the children known how to swim perhaps they would have survived.
We made our way past these somber waters into the valley where Awad told us about the land confiscation, settlements, uprooted trees and issues of the area. We were led to the land his grandfather owned. He asked us, "Without your land, where is your heritage, where are your roots?" In Palestine people are connected to their lands and their families. In fact you could almost say these are the two most important things to people in this society.
"Awad tells us about the protest that took place here in 2007 to prevent the confiscation of land the Israeli state wanted to use to expand Efrat."
The creation and maintenance of the state of Israel has done a lot to disconnect the Palestinian people from both of these things. And yet there are people like Awad, whose land has not been taken yet and who is working to make sure that his heritage is preserved.
When we got down to the bottom of the valley, the Efrat settlement became visible in the distance, silhouetted by two hilltops. Awad tells us about the protest that took place here in 2007 to prevent the confiscation of land the Israeli state wanted to use to expand Efrat.
For 22 days a group of Palestinians, including Awad, sat on the land. On the 22nd day bulldozers came and uprooted olive, apricot and walnut trees, among others. Ironically enough, all the settlements in this area are named after fruit trees. Protesters were arrested and beaten, including Awad, who was put in jail and forced to sign a paper saying he would not go near his land in order to get out. Now Awad tells us he is on his land illegally.
We made our way out of the valley to the Artas Village Lettuce Festival in celebration of the famous crop. I did not get a taste of the crispy treat, but we did get there in time for an impromptu dabkeh show. There were lots of kids and traditional Palestinian woven clothing embroidered in local designs and colors of red and black.
After a short walkabout, we made our way to Wallejah to visit Abed on his farm and check out the farmers market he runs on his land. He welcomed us with coffee and a meal, and after a sip and some greetings, I asked him to tell me the story about his land. He related the story like he was speaking about someone else, and he took me on a tour of his open and beautiful farm.
"Abed just wants to live on his land, and he told me that anyone is welcome so long as they come peacefully."
Abed lives in a cave on his land. There used to be a home on the site, but the Israeli military bulldozed it and told him he was not allowed to live there. In the West Bank there is an old Ottoman Law that is still used that says if someone does not live on a piece of land it can be taken by the state. For this reason Abed knows that he must live here to prevent its confiscation.
His land is near the "green line," the border that separates the occupied West Bank from the internationally recognized borders of Israel. On a nearby hillside is the Gilo settlement that is built on land taken from the West Bank city of Beit Jalla. Abed has a home with a wife and children but chooses to stay here to preserve his heritage. He keeps asking me, "What do they want from us?"
Abed just wants to live on his land, and he told me that anyone is welcome so long as they come peacefully. He told me a story about how two Israeli soldiers came to his farm and said they wanted a drink. He told them to leave their uniforms and guns behind. So they did and they sat down with Abed for coffee.
He works very hard and sacrifices precious time with his family in order to preserve what is his.
There is a group of Israelis who come help him tend the farm and help with the Friday market. A group of British people from Beit Sahours' permaculture farm Bustan Qaraqa are helping Abed build a compost toilet. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian government will give Abed water facilities on his farm. So a compost toilet is the solution.
Compost toilets are also brilliant for places where there is not a lot of water, since no water is necessary to run them. The compost will eventually fertilize the soil and nourish the crops, therefore creating a cycle in which everything has a use.
Abed is a shining example for people everywhere on ways to build constructive solutions in difficult situations and live harmoniously on the land.
Deema Dabis can be reached at .