This article appeared in Haaretz about the pleasures of baladi [or, authentic home grown from the countryside] vegetables from a Palestinian West Bank village near Bethlehem.

Of note: the vegetables have to be smuggled past checkpoints to get to Jerusalem.

Sometimes, they are confiscated.

Without further comment, here is an excerpt from the Haaretz story:
Since the village was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, its farmlands have been shrinking. This was a natural process through the generations, as in the feudal estates of medieval times, when the laws of inheritance reduced the area received by each family head. In the 20th century the problem was compounded by complex geopolitical developments.

The Israeli army captured the village at the end of the War of Independence in 1948 and it became part of Jordan in the armistice agreements. In 1953, the villagers fled to refugee camps after an Israeli reprisal raid. For 20 years, they would sneak back to their fields to continue working them, until the Israeli government allowed some of them to return to their land – occupied by Israel following the 1967 war.

Since the end of the 1980s, 9,000 of the farmers’ 12,000 dunams (4 dunams = 1 acre) have been appropriated by Israel in order to build the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city-settlement of Betar Ilit.

The intensive construction of the city’s neighborhoods not only brutally wounded the natural ridgeline; it also hemmed in the vanishing valley from its eastern side and is blocking the natural runoff of rainwater to the village springs, which are, as a result, gradually drying up.

Only by adhering to ancient village traditions has Wadi Fukhin (population: 1,200) been able to preserve the enviable patterns of working the land that the whole world is now trying to emulate. This is small-scale agriculture, using ancient seeds of fruits and vegetables indigenous to the region, chemical-free. The traditional fertilizer was and remains the organic compost of goat droppings – most of the fellahin were in any case too poor to buy any other fertilizer.

The Friends of the Earth organization, which took the village under its wing in genuine admiration of the undeclared and vanishing nature reserve, taught the villagers additional techniques of ecological and organic farming. Those who love the earth are easily persuaded to keep it clean; some of the villagers have become true zealots not only of traditional farming, but also of “modern” organic methods.

The village’s vegetables were long famed in the markets of Hebron and Jerusalem, and fetched very high prices. But the only market currently open to produce from the village is in Bethlehem, where, the farmers complain, prices are lower.

The villagers could make a living from the burgeoning market for organic produce in Israel, but a checkpoint blocks their way…

“The residents of Tzur Hadassah, the rapidly growing Israeli bedroom community that abuts the village to the west, were the first to buy from the villagers, paying a fixed weekly amount for fresh seasonal produce and a promise, based on trust, to refrain from spraying. In October 2007, a young Jerusalem woman, an activist from one of the city’s most famous intellectual families, came to the village. Until then, she had been engaged in projects involving organic vegetable gardens and clean farming. Before she started to market the village’s produce directly to homes in Jerusalem, she was aided by ground- and water-quality tests carried out by Friends of the Earth. “I fed all the leftists in Jerusalem, who are already a vanishing breed, so I had a definite interest in not poisoning them,” she says with a sly smile. She bought a rickety old pickup and started to smuggle baladi vegetables through the checkpoint to 12 Jerusalem families. Within a year she was supplying dozens of families in the center of the country, and they visited the village for tours and communal meals. The weekly order of vegetables was supplemented with goat cheese, olive oil and village-made soap.

As long as they got by the checkpoint with a few crates of vegetables, the business, which was never meant to rake in big profits, ran smoothly. But a van loaded with produce seized at the crossing landed the group of young volunteers – who organized additional alternative markets for vegetables from the West Bank in the Jerusalem area – in very hot water.

But when they wanted to take the fruits and vegetables through the Tarqumiya checkpoint in a Palestinian truck, the villagers objected. They wanted to continue the direct, intimate relationship with the Israelis.

Some of the clients – those who had become addicted to the taste of the fine produce and those who understood that the crates of vegetables were a key source of livelihood for families who had made a living for generations from tilling the soil – also refused to forgo the original system. In the end, they split into six small co-ops, each of which found a way to go on receiving the weekly shipment, most of them by picking it up from the village on a rotational basis” …

The Haaretz article on baladi vegatables and checkpoints, including some nice recipes, can be read in full here.

It reads well together with a commentary published in The Guardian by Ben White today, which says:
It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been ‘occupation as normal’, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall. For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous [n.b., in the mid-northwestern West Bank], a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings. Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as ‘state land’. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten …

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty …

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves … For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza“.

Ben White’s commentary on the situation in the West Bank can be read in full on The Guardian website here.

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