The Land Is Who We Are: A West Bank Farmer and Israel's Wall

Political boundaries can’t break a West Bank farmer’s connection to his soil

| May-June 2009

  • Palestine Land

    image by Simon Roberts / Getty Images

  • Palestine Land

At sunset in the West Bank village of Jayyous, Shareef Khalid and I climbed to the roof of his home so he could point out his family lands on the far side of the wall, variously described as a “security” or “apartheid” barrier depending on whether you stood in Israel or the occupied West Bank.

Before I had arrived in Palestine, I had hopes of walking the land with this farmer. I didn’t know how impossible that would be. Jayyous lost 80 percent of its farmland to the wall. Shareef owned 43 acres now in a “seam zone,” a closed Israeli military area since 2003.

“See the quarry.” He pointed. “The lands to the north are my olive trees. They have produced five tons of olive oil in a year,” he said. His hand moved to the right. “Those are our citrus orchards and there are vegetables—tomatoes, onions, beans also. There are avocado trees, walnuts, pears, peaches, and mango trees. I have 100 fig trees. It is a paradise.” He paused. “I cannot go there any longer. The Israelis have denied me a permit.

“Only my wife can get papers to reach our land. She is 60 and has back trouble now. Still she goes to the farm. I tell her, ‘Remember everything you see, how the trees and vegetables grow, if there are problems. I want to know it all.’ ”

Later that night, Shareef, his wife, Siham, and I sat in their kitchen. We ate bread with fig jam and peeled warm chestnuts from their shells. Siham listened curiously to her husband’s English while she peeled a clementine. All the foods were from family trees. Shareef told me his favorite story, one that he had saved for the quiet of the nighttime.

One day when he still had a permit, he was making the rounds of his land and he noticed a small wild thorn tree on a steep slope. It needed water, so he filled a plastic bottle and made small holes in the cap, setting it at an angle to drip around the base of the young tree. Then he was denied a permit and was unable to return to his farm for several months.

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