Women in Palestine are under two types of occupation: occupation by Israel, and occupation by the patriarchal society. Aida Shibli, longterm Palestinian peace and freedom worker in both fields, founding member of GEN Palestine (to come), and the Peace Research Village-Palestine (to come), found that creating ecovillages and autonomy on the land is a way to freedom under both occupations.
“My soul gets wings when I see you live a life of freedom. I cannot live a free life, I am under many layers of occupation, but you are my sisters. Your freedom is my freedom. Seeing you like this gives me the faith that one day we in the Westbank also will live such a life.”
These were the goodbye words from Mona Taneeb from Tulkarem, Palestine, when we were about to leave the checkpoint and go into the desert for vision days. She could not come with us due to the restrictions under the occupation. We had been with Mona and her family for almost a full month of working on installing sustainable devices on the organic farm that belongs to her family. A farm that has been destroyed 3 times over the last 12 years. Each time, the family became even more dedicated and determined to turn it into a purely organic farm – a center that shows the potential of hope and freedom to Palestinians.
Mona actually is the main engine behind the vision. She is the one who cooks the food, but also works on the men around her. Her husband, Fayez, is a very well known political activist. Lately, in the middle of a live TV programme, he started to cry. When the interviewer asked him: “to whom do you owe your success?”, Fayez answered, “to my wife Mona, without her I won’t be here in this moment”.
Her four sons were born in a different stage of the occupation, and each has his memories of how difficult the movement of a Palestinian is. Yet Mona is always able to dream and to create a vision.
Mona is a prime example of a Palestinian women: they do not have the privilege of losing hope.
I know what this means. When, 13 years ago, I gave birth to my daughter I was taken on a path to reconnect with my ancestors. Not only the very ancient ones, but also the ones who lived only 50 years ago. In this process, I connected to my grandmother. As most Palestinian women, she hangs a huge door key on her nick. As a child I did not understand what it meant. I remember she always would touch it and cry. When I asked what is it for, she would dry her eyes and look away to the garden and stay silent.
At some point I stopped asking why she kept crying with that huge key. When I became a mother I asked again, this time I insisted that I wanted to know. My grandmother had become very old by then and maybe she also was finally ready to speak. For the first time she told me about the massacres they went through in the war of 1948. How many beloved ones she lost. We spent a week of writing down and documenting the pain when finally my grandmother spoke.
I asked about the key and she said it was the key of the gate of their huge “hosh”, the external gate that led to a family property that was destroyed. The door was made of pure cork wood, and inside each hosh a full life took place.
Remembering all the details, my grandmother was crying and weeping. “You know what the most thing that I cry for?” she asked. “It is the huge land that we used to have. There, we had almost all that we needed to eat. We could grow nearly everything, and the things that we did not grow, our neighbors did, and so we could exchange. Now we are like chickens, we eat the seeds that they give us. We have to pay for everything? If one day the grocery shop closed, we all will die. This is like being a slave. For this I cry.”
I know that Mona also carries such a history from her last generation. Mona says: “we have to make Palestine green, without this we will never be free. The painful past is a motivation to create the future that we want”.
Together with Mona and her family, we created a vision to make their farm an example of hope. The political situation had taken the farm to an extreme state of existence. The separation wall, built 10 years ago, took 75% of the farmland away. On the other side, the Israelis built 11 chemical factories that are polluting the air and the soil.
We – a group of peace workers in training, together with the initiative Global Campus – wanted to support this farm to become a reminder of the life that my grandmother and her mother used to live. A place where the big cycle of life can be present. In new words, we would call it an holistic system.
It took us a long preparation time until we found all the elements that we needed – man power, funds and carriers. But after all this time we could start, in cooperation with Lush, with the University in Tulkarem, and with GEN. A full month of building projects on the farm – solar dryers, biogas systems, water harvesting, raised beds, compost toilets and more – has left the farm as an oasis of hope for food and energy sovereignty. And the main thing was, and still is, that a group of 25 young Palestinian participants, men and women, understood for the first time what community means; what it means becoming free from a system that turns people into slaves and commodities.
Among them, there was a small group of young Palestinian women who wore the full head covering hijab. Normally, these women learn to be shy, small and soft. However, suddenly, working with the land, we started to see their true power, digging, sweating, and moving the earth.
One of them said: “I could feel that all my life I was carrying a face that it is not mine. Now, working with the land in such a direct way, I had to leave all these masks behind.”
This group could see the vision of becoming free, even under the occupation. Suddenly, by building an ecovillage together, they regain their power. They understand that they actually can harvest water, plant food, produce energy, and step out of any system if they want to. A new freedom has started within themselves.
On this new farm, the old roles and statements between man and women of their generation were gone. They were looking at each other in full size. The person of the ‘other gender’ was actually another coworker to green Palestine.
We want to make this learning example possible for more men and women in Palestine. We will continue this work in April, and hopefully combine it with the foundation of GEN Palestine – while our friends in Israel will found GEN Israel. Maybe in the end, the reconciliation will not happen on national levels but on the level of villages. Ecovillages.