I’ve spent much of today going through the various brochures, documents and websites of many of the organisations we visited in Palestine and Israel. It seemed a good way to spend a cold, dreary, rainy Scottish day, when this is where I’d rather be:
As I have said before, everywhere we went, we heard one sentence repeated again and again: It’s complicated.
We want peace. . . . But it’s complicated.
We want to return to our land. . . . But it’s complicated.
We want to help the Gazans. . . . But it’s complicated.
We don’t want to fight with the settlers. . . . But it’s complicated.
We want security. . . . But it’s complicated.
I don’t know about you, but I often feel helpless in the face of deep, complex, complicated systemic inequality and injustice. And it is that helplessness that too readily leads to silence. The problems seem so vast. I can’t see any way forward. I don’t know what I can do to make a difference. So maybe I send a text to Christian Aid to donate £5 to their Gaza appeal. Or I stop and speak to one of the Oxfam or Greenpeace chuggers on Princes Street. But I act more out of guilt than a real desire to make a difference. And then I get annoyed at the number of times they phone asking for more money. And when envelopes full of branded pens and coasters and stationary come through the letterbox, I wonder where my money is actually being spent.
One of the most helpful things about our visits was being able to see firsthand the work of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission partners (many of whom are also Christian Aid partners). In addition to sharing more stories over the coming weeks, I’d also like to tell you a bit more about some of these partners, in case you, like me, want to do something but don’t quite know what.
One of my favourites is the Joint Advocacy Initiative’s Keep Hope Alive Olive Tree Campaign (click on the link to go to the sponsorship form). It is a project run by the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine, and if you can’t figure out what to buy your loved ones for Christmas, why not sponsor trees in their name? $20 (about £14) covers all the costs related to planting a young olive tree, including the cost of the tree, preparation of the field, irrigation system and protection tube. (The online form is admittedly not the most straightforward, but it would be worth emailing olivetree(at)jai-pal.org directly, or contact info(at)ycareinternational.org, the UK-based online giving system for the Y.)
If you wish, you can even go and visit your tree. And if you wish to do more, you can take part in JAI’s olive tree planting and olive picking programmes, working alongside volunteers and local farmers and learning more about the effects of occupation.
But why are olive trees so important?
Building and land cultivation in Area C of the West Bank are under Israeli military control, and land that is not cultivated for three years can be declared state land. So in areas of settlement growth, measures are put in place to deter — or even prevent — farmers from cultivating their land. They are not given building permits to build sheds or shelter or water wells. Water is controlled by the state, so building irrigation systems is near impossible. The building of military or settler roads blocks the most direct access to the land. Settlers have been known to destroy olive trees (as has the military authority — one of the more famous recent incidents occurred at the Tent of Nations in June) or to harass farmers walking to their land. And so farmers give up and the state takes the land. Increasingly, not only land in Area C, but in all areas (because the boundaries are completely blurred and arbitrary) is being claimed as military training land.
JAI’s Olive Tree Campaign supports farmers whose land is under threat. It encourages them to cultivate their land, offers protection and support, and, through your sponsorship, shows international solidarity. This man is one of the people JAI is working with, and I told his story a few days ago.
So it might seem a small step, an insignificant contribution, but it actually makes quite a real difference to the individual farmers, and to the local communities living under the occupation. Planting trees next to the separation wall, next to bypass roads, or on the border of settlements is a show of defiance, an act of nonviolent resistance, a confirmation that hope is indeed still alive.