12 December 2019

Olive harvest

Dialogue Quilt at Ramallah Friends Meeting (see explanation panels at end of this post)
As my family knows, I have the opposite of a green thumb. (Red thumb? Blue?) I seem to have no affinity for plants. When I mow the lawn, Judy carefully places wooden stakes to mark anywhere I might otherwise (despite all efforts at vigilance) cut down a newly-planted treasure.

Olive harvesting in Palestine gave me a chance for a more positive relationship with plants -- specifically, with the majestic olive trees who occupy a central place in the economy as well as the culture of the region.

When our Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron planned our participation in this fall's olive harvest, we coordinated with several other Palestinian, Israeli, and international teams and offices. We were also in direct touch with several olive-growing families whose groves were adjacent to Israeli settlements or roadways, making them vulnerable to settler harassment. Some of the families needed Israeli permits to access their trees -- permits that only gave a short time to complete their harvests, rain or shine.

We participated in seven families' harvests ourselves. My share of the work seemed safe enough for a city boy -- I would draft an article about the harvest. No way I could hurt a tree with words! At three of the actual sites, I would be part of the accompanying team monitoring potential harassment and making photos for CPT use.

That's all I did at my first site. We had two team members who loved climbing the trees, and who worked very competently alongside the growers and their families, pulling or shaking the olives off the branches. Several settlers walked across their property peaceably, along with nearly two dozen Israeli soldiers, over the course of the afternoon. The single ladder at that site was used by a grower, and I couldn't reach any olives from the ground at that site. The only actual labor I did there was carry a heavy sack full of olives about 300 meters to a roadside taxi stand.

When we arrived at our second assignment, a group of volunteers was already hard at work helping the local Palestinian family, which included a retired educator who had known CPT for most or all of our 24 years in Hebron. Among the helpers was a group of Israeli volunteers who worked at one side of the property, and several Palestinian college students and faculty members were picking olives at a second site. One of the Israelis met us at the entrance to the property. She asked with a smile, "Do you want to work where there are Jews or where there are no Jews?" A bit startled, I replied that this was the first time in my life I'd been asked such a question! As it turned out, by the time we'd finished our interview with the retired educator inside her home, most of the hard work had already been done.

My third experience was with the grower shown in this Facebook video. Finally I had a chance to do some harvesting myself! Once again the only ladder was in use by a more qualified person, and I didn't quite dare climb up into the trees myself, but in this case there were hundreds and hundreds of olives within reach from the ground. By the time my arms gave out, I think I had done a more or less decent job for a first-time picker. Best of all, I don't think I did the trees any harm.

We had heard some distressing reports about recent settler harassment of olive harvesters in various parts of the West Bank, including an incident in which an elderly member of Rabbis for Human Rights was injured. In the three locations where I participated, the harvests were completed without incident.

You can find the CPT report here.

This past Monday I returned from a three-month period of volunteer service with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I'll write about some of my experiences with the team in Hebron in the next few weeks. I'll also be looking for opportunities to speak with your church or meeting, or with other audiences as way opens.

In the meantime, here is a glimpse of my final moments with my kitty companions. Of course they didn't know that I would soon disappear from their lives, but I knew it.

I would also post any number of photos of the wonderful team with whom I served, but posting each other's personal photos on public Web sites is something that can cause complications, so we don't do it.

Nancy Thomas's book on Bolivian Quaker history has been published! I ordered my copy at Wipf and Stock's special Web price from this site. (UPDATE: My review is here.)

News from another writing friend: Bill Yoder has put his archive of religious journalism in one convenient location: wyoder.de.

Does the Christian right in the USA worship a false idol?

Leon Aron on Russian political humor. (My own tribute from last year. And an earlier post comparing Quaker and Russian humor, plus Mike Royko on corruption in Chicago.)

God and Stephen King.

Netanyahu wags the dog ... again.

Gino Matteo and Jason Ricci ... "I need Jesus to walk with me."

Information about the Middle East Dialogue Quilt and its imagery (photo at top of post):

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