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The Green fight to save Palestine's land

Mashjar Juthour

4th August 2014

An ecological project has taken root on an abandoned olive grove outside Ramallah. As well as restoring the land itself, its deeper aim is to nurture the ancient links between the Palestinian people and nature, and rebuild a culture of steadfastness in the soil of their native country.

Resistance and the inherent right to rise up against Israel's violence to our people and our land - this is what can never be taken away, and why we're still here.

We are passionately enraged that Palestinians have to endure Israeli military bulldozers tearing down homes, fruit trees, forests and groves of ancient olive trees - the acts of atrocious men sitting in offices in Jerusalem playing destructive Gods.

We're enraged that we must fight to salvage our lives, heritage and identity. And we are full of love for our land. Force us to fight and we will - but we'll do it the Green way. We will grow, grow, and grow more.

Our name is Mashjar Juthour - Arabic for 'a place of trees' and 'roots'. The place of trees is a few miles from this computer, and the roots in question are Palestinians on every patch of their land, from the river to the sea.

We started as a community organization in the West Bank of Palestine one year ago, when we poured our life savings into the purchase of 10 dunams (2.5 acres) of heritage land atop Thaher al Oghda, a hill on the outskirts of Ramallah.

Withering olive trees, crumbling walls ...

It was a crucial space, overlooking the centuries-old Palestinian village of Ein Kinya. Views extend to the illegal Israeli settlement of Dolev, all the way to the cityscape of Tel Aviv, a pillar of the enormous power structure that Israel maintains through a regime of fear and the wipe-out of Palestinian villages and histories.

It had been 18 years since the land had been cared for: withering olive trees were overgrown with root suckers, taking nutrients and water from the fruit-bearing branches and rendering them barren, while what little fruit remained was stolen.

The centuries-old stone walls that sustain the terraces were crumbling, stones falling away with every passing goat - and the goats more numerous by far than people with a heart and spade to care for the land.

Ramallah itself lies in Area A, an enclave or 'Bantustan' under Palestinian Authority civil control - so long as Israel chooses not to invade. But Area A Palestinian cities are so tightly enclosed within their borders that green space hardly exists within them.

Juthour is no exception. The Oslo Accords allocated Juthour to Area C - under complete Israeli military jurisdiction. But yet the existence and survival of this land gave us hope. The land was unspoilt by building or other development, and with hard work and dedication it could be restored.

Sowing eco-activism

But so long as it was run down and empty, it was vulnerable to being grabbed by a settlement, or turned into an illegal 'outpost' to further hem us in, and cut Ramallah off from its surrounding countryside. We felt we had no choice - we had to assert our own Palestinian ownership and sovereignty on Thaher al Oghda.

But what could such a small measurement of ground do for the Palestinian community? We thought about how we are made to live every day through the plant and land that has been seized and taken from us under the Occupation.

Mashjar Juthour's Green Dream for Palestine from Mashjar Juthour on Vimeo.

Thus we eat Israeli produce whose purchases support the military infrastructure. Our our orange trees in historical Yaffa confiscated and become Israel's 'Jaffa oranges' so popular in export markets. We learn the names of plants indigenous to Palestine by their newly-endowed Hebrew name - that was the ultimate insult.

We are barred from our homeland with checkpoints, our families in Gaza are bombed, our olive trees ploughed and and torched. But no less terrible, Israel is re-rewriting our history so that we know our joys, horrors, and wildlife only through the colonizer's lens.

Reclaiming our land, culture, language and history

So we say: that is a kaykab tree, that spice on your bread is called za'atar! And we are going to grow these trees, fruits, crops and spices at Juthour and remind our community about their unending, myriad uses.

So many of our native plants and wildlife have the word 'Palestine' in their names - the Palestine buckthorn (Rhamnus Palaestinus), Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinus), the Terebinth (Pistachia Paelestina) the Mastic Tree (Pistacia Lentiscus), the Palestine gazelle, etc. Their names mark their place in our heritage and we must make them ours once more.

Not only will we re-establish in our community's heads the names, hues, smells, tastes, touch, but it will be done through the spirit of activism, insisting on a sustainable future for our people and land.

We must emphasize Juthour's method of 'education': as a reminder that the flora and fauna are inherent to our people, our identity, our struggle.

Environment is, understandably, put on the back burner in the scale of human rights issues concerning the Occupation. But Juthour proclaims that land and people are inextricable from one another.

Resistance and the inherent right to rise up against Israel's violence to our people and our land - this is what can never be taken away, and why we're still here.

Surrounding the tenderness, innocence, playfulness and hard work of families - children scampering up and down our rocks, mothers sinking their hoes into our dirt, fathers working in groups to hoist rocks onto terraces - is the fierce refusal to witness our land being confiscated.

We cannot blame it all on the Occupation

In Palestine, indigenous as well as foreign powers have abused our natural resources. Yes, Israel is confiscating natural areas, springs and farmland to raze for illegal settlement, running sewage into our farms and dumping their waste in our valleys.

But before they came, the Ottoman empire destroyed the oaks of Palestine to build railways. And even today Palestinian authorities are failing to prevent the dumping of construction waste to the detriment of trees, farms and river beds, and offenders go unpunished.

Many people in Palestine today see nature's value only for its economic outputs, for example, fruit trees. Thus it makes sense that the remaining oaks are often cut down for firewood, leaving only the olives and other fruit and nut trees to serve our needs.

If we do not educate our community, the little nature left to us-especially native trees like oaks, kaykabs, carobs, maples and pines-will be relegated to history. In learning the importance of conservation and sustainable living, we will begin a shift in our community's sense of responsibility to nature and its trees, and thus contribute to ensuring our futures.

As Muna Dajani and Sami Backleh wrote in an article on environmental innovation in Palestine, "It is clear that the attack on the epitome of our identity has wreaked havoc and destruction on the land. Furthermore, it is clear that we are not completely helpless in stopping this attack but are, in many ways, becoming complicit in it."

A green vision for a future Palestine

Through workshops, lectures, parties, hikes, volunteer days, day camps, and more, we invite families, university students and primary schools, local artisans, craftspeople, and all members of our community to become activists for the land.

Our vision is a nature reserve, highlighting the native trees of Palestine, where people engage and become activated for environmental justice - hiking not only around the grounds, but also the 'green belt' which we are working towards, connecting Juthour to a network of ravines, rock paths, olive groves, and a bounty of native botany.

And so we keep our methods local, organic, green, sustainable. We collect ash from local restaurants and bakeries to use as a natural pesticide, we buy organic goat manure from a local farm and we plant fava, alfalfa, legumes as 'green manure' for the land.

We compost from a local restaurant's green waste and we use rain water harvesting. Our grey water recycling system allows us to water gardens with the water from our showers - and we hope it will show others how to grow fruit and vegetables in home gardens, instead of being forced to buy Israeli produce.

Every Saturday, Juthour volunteers lead guided tours of Thaher al Oghda, the hillside that is Juthour's home. The tour allows visitors to experience nature, learning about native trees, plants and wildlife in this part of Palestine - as well as see the effects of harmful practices on the environment in and around Juthour.

A Bedouin tent, and the stories it tells us

On a more intimate scale is the Bedouin tent on the lower level of our land, like a frond of history over our heads. Intimate because it represents the intersection of a rich past of woven stories - of able hands brushing against coarse material, of close communities sitting in a circle on the ground that had always been theirs.

And it evokes a painful new history in the making, the eradication of the Bedouin people especially in the Jordan Valley in the south of Palestine. But despite that pain, we must remember - because it is only through our memories, our knowledge of what is ours, that we shall ultimately prevail.

Can you picture yourself in this tent with some families, shaded from the sun, staring up at the tight woollen blanket, the past humming over your head? The great human instinct to hold on even though it might disappear - that's Juthour.

Gaza and beyond

We cannot comprehend the pain of Gaza at the moment - they have all of our hearts. Atrocities and violations of our rights, to our people, encourage us to be radicals even more on our land.

We believe we carry the community values of the great anti-colonial insurrections from the 1936 revolt to the late 1980s in Palestine with the First Intifada and to the present.

While Israeli tanks rolled through our towns, when curfews were enforced and schools and medical centers forcibly shut down, every Palestinian door was swung wide open, and the community became subterranean, grassroots, and vibrant. Life did not stop because the occupiers said it must stop.

Lives will continue to be taken in this great struggle for justice and dignity, but they cannot eradicate us, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, in historical 1948 Palestine, in the entire diaspora.

Juthour embodies the unyielding hope that Palestinians have hung onto for nearly seventy years: that a just peace will be achieved with a triumphant return of all land and civil rights, that we can live free of the threat of the gun, the bulldozer, and the rubber-stamped paper which excludes and alienates.

We are still here because of our Sumud, our 'steadfastness'. This has become our major Palestinian national trait. That's Juthour right at this second, and forever: nature, trees and people rooted to the land of Palestine. Perseverance. Holding firm. Sumud.



Please visit our website:

Check out our Indiegogo campaign - please donate and share!

Mashjar Juthour is an environmental non-profit based in Ramallah, Palestine. It was started in 2013 by Saleh Totah and Morgan Cooper.



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