Nazeeh and the Olive Grove
Perhaps you need to be an Israeli in order to fully appreciate the improbability of the following situation: A group of Israelis, Palestinians and international peace activists living together in an olive grove deep inside Palestinian territory. Palestinians and Israelis search together for firewood at night, preparing information boards during the day, or washing dishes -- pouring a very careful trickle from a battered old cola bottle because running water is unavailable. They sit quietly next to each other on the short guarding shifts -- fearing, not each other -- but a possible raid by the Israeli army.
Any Israeli who could imagine such a situation would shudder with a reflex vision of some murderous scenario. Being in the middle of "Intifadah-land" in the middle of the night? Surrounded by Palestinians with no soldier in sight to protect you? Even the most diligent researcher could not come up with a handful of Israelis who would be willing to put their lives in such jeopardy.
Two months ago, even those who were on that hill could not fully believe they were actually there. As often happens, the camp started as something quite different. Three months ago, Nazeeh, a farmer from the Palestinian village of Mas'ha, received a confiscation order issued by the Israeli authorities. According to the order, 95 percent of his land was to be confiscated in order to build the separation fence. The separation fence is marketed to the Israeli public as a reasonable security measure meant to separate Palestinians from Israelis; in reality, the only separation it offers is between Palestinians and their land.
As it is, Mas'ha, like all other Palestinian villages, is already separated from normal life by mounds of earth and rock that prevent any vehicle from entering or leaving the village. The ways in which Palestinians manage to survive under these inhuman conditions are worthy of many separate stories. A father of seven, Nazeeh realized immediately that losing his land will mean a death sentence for him and his family. With no land, no way to leave the village, or make a living in it, how could he feed his family?
As people who live in free states, living where we choose, moving freely from place to place, it is incredibly difficult for us to imagine the terrible feeling of impotence, frustration and loss, of being absolutely powerless in the face of a force who can play with your life at will, who actually wants you gone. With these heavy feelings and thoughts, Nazeeh looked at his poor options: The legal way was there, but he knew very well what little chance there was for a Palestinian appealing for Israeli justice. Besides, who could afford the attempt?
A demonstration? What's the point? It would be scattered immediately by volleys of rubber bullets in the best case -- live ammunition in the worst -- and all those who participated would pay dearly. Appeal to media attention? No one is interested in the story of another miserable Palestinian. Nazeeh, a man who is used to working 16 hours a day, whose feet are as hard as wood from walking barefoot in his olive grove since the age of 5, could not contain his sorrow, frustration and anger.
He set out for his grove, to be with his olive trees for as long as he could. He told his wife: "Don't wait for me. I have days, perhaps weeks, 'till the bulldozers erase my olive trees. I want to spend this time in the grove." He took some water, a small bag of coffee and sugar, and two boxes of cheap, homemade cigarettes, and left for the grove.
Gradually, the story of Nazeeh started going around in the village, and then seeped out, through the roadblocks, to international peace activists in a nearby village -- and from there to Israeli peace activists.
Slowly at first, people started coming, at first just to visit, and then to stay. Within a few days, a little tent was erected in the grove. Very soon, the tent turned to a protest tent against the occupation. People created information boards with photos and maps. Media representatives started coming. Nazeeh's tent became a story.
Until now, two months later, Nazeeh has not left the grove for more than a few hours. Some 500 Israelis and international peace activists have spent time there for a night or more -- nights that will no doubt change their views forever.
Oren Medicks works with Gush Shalom, an organization that is part of the Israeli peace movement.