Yesterday I spent the day picking olives from an olive grove right near Nablus. One of the local volunteers, Akil, had invited all the international volunteers to come to his olive grove to harvest his olives. The trees that we helped him to pick were over 200 years old. It was really nice to spend a day outdoors, although I definitely got a bit sunburned! Akil gave us a tub of the olives that we had helped him pick to bring back to our flat, and today he came over and we crushed these olives and they are soaking for the next 3 days, then we will pack them in brine and in 20 days...we will have our own olives to eat!
Olive picking is a very important part of the local economy for many palestinian families, although this has become increasingly difficult for many people becuase of the presence of Israeli settlers in certain villages. One village, Yanoon, is an example of this. The settlers who have illegally built houses in Yanoon make a concerted effort to prevent palestinian families from harvesting their olives, which in turn deprives them of financial resources that they depend on from selling olives and olive oil. The settlers attempt to use this to make life difficult for local palestinians in the hopes that it will eventually completely force them from their land. The settler outposts near Yanoon are renowned for being particularly violent towards palestinian farmers during the olive harvesting season, sometimes attacking villagers with weapons, and destroying their farm equipment and the olive trees themselves. For this reason it is important that the villagers around Yanoon have the protection of international volunteers around the clock during the harvest season. Just having international volunteers on site serves as a deterrent for the settlers, who want to avoid having international volunteers bearing witness to these acts of violence. My roomates and I have volunteered to go to Yanoon in groups of 2 or 3 people for the next week to provide 24 hour "supervision" while the villagers harvest their olives. I will be heading to Yanoon on thrusday, and two of my flatmates left for Yanoon this morning.
My friend SImon and I are going to Al-Askar refugee camp tomorrow afternoon to start our English lessons with a group of young boys. I am really looking forward to meeting this new class. I really love this city, it's also nice to be settled in here enough now to go wandering around the city on my own and explore the markets and try to discover the most delicious baklava, or the best fresh squeezed juice. I started working with a group of young girls this morning who are part of the e-pal program that I am helping with. Most of the girls were from Al-Askar refugee camp, but they were driven to our office in order to use the computers in our computer lab. They seem quite excited to start chatting with their new Canadian "e-pals."
Maybe it's something that I had already partially decided before I even arrived in Palestine, but the longer I am here, the more it is confirmed. I will definitely return to Palestine. This country is so beautiful and the people are so resiliant that you cannot help but fall in love with everything and at the same time feel heartbroken about the daily reality that the occupation has created for the palestinian people. At the same time, you are constantly reminded that you cannot possibly understand what this really means for palestinian people becuase they are quick to remind you, "if something goes wrong here, your government will bring you home, but we are always here and cannot leave." I think that is an important thing to keep in mind when working here as an international volunteer, not to try to think or act as if you can relate, becuase you can't. You can only learn from what people tell you, and the feelings they decide to share with you. But the hope is still there, which is really amazing after 60 years.