I will try to address the questions I am often asked about my time in Palestine; and if you have a question, please submit it on the contact page.
Why focus on the olive harvest?
When I first decided to go tp Palestine, I wanted to "lend my labors" in a meaningful way. The olive harvest is what to spoke to me. The olive tree and the harvest are a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness (sumumd) with the land. They are also important culturally and economically. The fate of the trees and the farmers that care for them is directly impacted by the occupation on a daily basis. Volunteering to help with the harvest provides a direct response to that occupation and helps the farmers maintain their ties to the land. There are, however, many issues that call for attention in Palestine; and many organizations working to address them. As my commitment deepens, I am looking at a variety of ways to be involved in other issues such as the water situation, child development, right of return for the refugees and equal rights in Israel for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Did you have a good time?
Wow – this is a hard one. It’s a sincere question – but – when people ask this they want a yes / no answer. There just is no way to do that – even in three or four sentences. And they just don’t seem to have the time to really hear the answer. There is so much that I want to tell – that I need to tell. I am reminded of a Buddhist saying which one of my Palestinian friends told me – “We are called to joyfully participate in the sorrows of this world”. So, yes, my time in Palestine was full of joy.
Weren’t you afraid?
There were times when I was nervous (never really threatened), but I wouldn’t need one hand to count them. With the exception of my time in Tel Aviv, there were always people offering to help. It was very common to be walking down the road and several people would stop and offer to help me (I guess I don’t blend in well The times that made me the most nervous all revolved around Israeli soldiers and the settlers.
Don’t they hate Americans?
Simply, No (though I am sure there are exceptions to the rule...) As I was talking about this with one of my Palestinian friends, I noted that I had never felt any anger toward me as an American from the Palestinians I met. His reply was that Palestinians know what it is like to have an entire population stigmatized because of the bad acts of some, and so they know better. Overall, the Palestinians I met, young and old, were fascinated by America and Americans. Almost all of them had family in the states that “love America”, many had been here themselves or wanted to come. (And they were very interested in the election.)
Wasn't it difficult to not know the language?
In the West Bank this was not really an issue. The ability to speak English is highly valued, so there was usually someone that spoke it fluently. I am trying to learn though - It is slow going.
Do you support the boycott & divestment campaigns?
Yes. BDS is a not only a legitimate form of non-violent resistance to occupation, it is one of the few effective strategies available to the Palestinians. Most of the Palestinian civil society organizations have called on people of conscience to support the campaign and it is having an impact. It is not only felt economically, but it also sends a message to Israeli society that what their government is doing to the Palestinians does not conform to international law.
Do you support a two state solution?
I have several answers to this: there is my Utopian opinion, then there is my pragmatic opinion, and my real world opinion. Basically, the build up of settlements and Israeli only infrastructure makes a two state solution unworkable (with out major Israeli concessions). But, letting the nature of the 'end game' dominate the conversation, only diverts us from the here and now. That is people can not go to work, or school or the doctor with any kind of certainty. The wall is eating up Palestinian land, the checkpoints humiliate, and hope will disappear. Those are the things we need to focus on, for now - things that would make a huge difference for the Palestinians - then we can figure out what's next.
I do want to mention that there are a number of groups working on very creative (and interesting) alternatives to the "two state" / "one state" dichotomy. They are looking at various forms of federations. Some of them even bringing in the broader region, including Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Will you go back?
It is now 2010 and I was very blessed to be able to return for the harvest in October. It is my hope that I will be able to continue returning on a regular basis - insha'allah. I am planning to return in 2011 and am actively exploring what that involvement will look like. I love the place; I love the people; I love the work. If I could only figure out how to pay the bills in a way that let's me focus my energies there, I would be very blessed. Anyone have a job for me?
Wouldn't it just be better to send the money?
This is a question I have asked of myself, probably much more than others have asked me. So, it was on my mind during my second trip. I asked many of the people I met there for their thoughts and most replied with some variation of this: "If you send money, we can buy bandages;but we cannot stop the bleeding." You see, the internationals do much more than pick olives or participate in demonstrations. We let the Palestinians know that they are seen, (it is also important that the Israeli Government sees us), and we collect stories to take home where we work to educate our communities about the occupation. I would never discourage anyone from donating money to any of the excellent groups working for peace and justice, just as I would not discourage anyone from participating with their presence. If you can't do both, just do something - there is so much that needs to be done.