www.banksy.co.uk - adaptation by shadow

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tree Planting @ Ra'ed's Land

These pictires are from a tree planting event we did at Ra'ed's land near the village of Um Salamoneh. This land is threatened with confiscation to make way for a cemetery for settlers. Ra'ed contested the confiscation in the Israeli High Court and won a ruling that he can keep any land that he has 'developed' by December 31st this year. He has 90 dunums (9 hectares) of land. Of this, any left undeveloped will be confiscated by the Israeli state under Ottoman Land Law, which allows the state to confiscate any land left fallow for a period of 3-7 years.

Bustan Qaraaqa donated 50 trees to Ra'ed and spent a fantastic day planting them with him and his family.

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Earth-building @ Paidia

This earth-building project is part of a wider plan to develop the new Paidia Headquarters into a permaculture site - demonstrating to the kids participating in the Paidia programmes the possibilities for grassroots environmental action for land and people.

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More snaps from Tree Planting Workshops

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Friday, 20 November 2009

The Tree Planting Season has started!

The winter rains are now falling in Palestine and so, taking full advantage of the season, we have begun to plant the trees we have been raising in our nursery all year.

Fortuitously, just at the right moment, a group called Juzoor (www.juzoor.org) have come forward to cooperate with us, bringing groups of school children to do tree planting workshops at Bustan Qaraaqa.

So now we are well on the way to making a little forest across our site, producing a variety of goods and services from food to fuel to soil improvement and erosion control.

Here are a few snaps from recent workshops:

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Photos from the Olive Harvest

Here are a few snaps from the Bustan Qaraaqa olive harvest back in October. Like everyone in Palestine, we did not get a particularly good crop this year - the combined effects of 2 years of drought, unseasonal hot winds destroying blossoms in the flowering season, and the cropping cycles of olive trees made for a particularly bad year.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed the days spent in the olive grove, hunting the elusive fruits amongst the leaves, and eventually we drought in 20 kg of olives (down from a crop of 150kg last year).

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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Olive Harvest at Bustan Qaraaqa: Friday October 23rd - Sunday October 25th

Come and help us bring our olive harvest in and enjoy a few days of outside activity! We have over 60 olive trees on the site and need some extra hands to gather the crop.

Work will be starting from 9.30am onwards, to until it gets dark. Bring a bit of food for a picnic or for a barbeque in the evenings and enjoy our site!

Call us on 02 2748994 if you need directions to get here. Accomodation is available in our guesthouse if you would like to make a weekend of it. Just give us a call or an email in advance to let us know you will be staying.

Hope to see you here,

with love from

the Bustan Qaraaqa team
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Friday, 9 October 2009

October Newsletter

Dear friends,

October has arrived, bringing with it some let up in the furnace-like heat we have been experiencing over the last few months and even a little life-giving rain; and it seems that both we and our tree nursery have survived another Middle Eastern summer. Al hamdoolilah. Of course, far from enjoying the respite from the physical ordeal of the extreme heat, most of our neighbours have spent the last month fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, taking neither food nor water between sun-up and sun-down. Since the sun rises at about 6am and goes down at 7.30pm and temperatures are still topping 30˚C in the middle of the day, this is no mean feat, and one that we decadent Westerners are only too happy to forego.

The summer has passed in something of a haze, and it seems a very long time since we were enjoying eating all the spring greens and admiring the wild flowers. A lot of our time and thought since then have been used up in bringing ourselves and the farm through the water crisis, which seemed to bite even harder this year than the last. This is possibly because we have had on average about 3 times as many people at the farm compared to last summer, and also have had much greater water commitments to keep all our trees alive. Nonetheless, cut-offs have been frequent and lengthy, with the longest lasting for 26 days in July.

When there was water coming through the pipes, it did not have sufficient pressure to reach the roof tanks that supply the house, and so we were only able to fill lower tanks (meaning there was no water inside the house for more than 2 months). Episodes of water supply would only last a few hours every few weeks, and each time we would scramble to fill as many containers as possible, knowing that whatever we could store would have to last us and our plants, trees and animals for many days, weeks or even a month.

I think very few of us will ever think about water in the same way again after this summer. We will be forever flinching at taps left running for no reason, horrified by the idea of the wastage of this most vital resource. Particularly sobering is the knowledge that we are probably better off than over half of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the vast majority of Gazans. At least we have a pipeline to our house (over 250 000 West Bankers do not). At least the water coming out of it is drinkable (over 90% of the water in the Gaza network does not meet international drinking water standards).

To cope with the water shortage we developed some fairly rough and ready but nonetheless effective strategies. Our first problem was obviously one of conservation – how to use the water available to us in the most efficient way possible. On average, Americans, Europeans and Israelis use about 150 litres of water per person per day in their homes to maintain the sort of lifestyle we are used to (showers, washing machines, flush toilets etc). This water use is broken up as follows:

Toilet flush: 29%
Toilet leaks: 5%
Dish washing: 3%
Bath: 9%
Taps: 12%
Washing Machine: 21%

If we did that at Bustan Qaraaqa, we would be in bad trouble and fast. With an average of 10 people at the house we would need 1500 litres of water per day just for the people, never mind the plants (which require at least 3000 litres per week). We have a storage capacity in and around the house of just 16 cubic metres (16 000 litres), so we would not last very long (and certainly not 26 days). Fortunately, because we have a composting toilet, we already cut out about 34% of this total (toilet flush and toilet leaks). Just this one thing saved us about 500 litres of water per day, and prevented us from contributing to the huge untreated sewage stream pouring out of Bethlehem into the Judean desert to poison streams, soil and groundwater.

Just the other day I turned the first of our ‘humanure’ heaps that has been ‘cooling off’ for the last 9 months (meaning that we didn’t add anything to it, except the occasional bucket of greywater to stop it drying out). I was able to reflect on the beautiful alchemy of nature as I heaved spades full of rich, dark, good-smelling compost teaming with soil invertebrates into a heap to be used for tree planting this autumn and spring. How much better than a poisoned stream is this?

After the toilet, the next biggest water users in a normal household are showers and washing machines, at about 30 litres per person per day each. To cut these quantities down, we developed The Ultimate Bustan Qaraaqa Conservation Shower, using one bucket of water to wash ourselves, our clothes and the floors. This is achieved by the simple expedient of standing atop a pile of laundry and detergent in a large basin whilst washing so that all the water falls into the basin. Since our shower didn’t work for most of the summer due to the lack of water pressure, we would always wash with a bucket of water in any case, cutting 30 litres down to about 18. Once we had finished washing ourselves we would wash our clothes (stamping on them seems to be pretty effective), and then pour out the water to wash the floor. In our house all the water from the drains goes out to water plants via the greywater system, adding a fourth use to the list for just one bucket of water.

Thanks to a generous donation by the Chaput family and a successful fundraising party in early June, we were able to fill and shade the new cistern and install a drip irrigation system for the tree nursery, giving us greater water security for our plants and saving us a lot of water and hours of work in the nursery. This also provided us with a place to cool off during the hottest hours of the day, when staff and volunteers were frequently to be found wallowing like hippopotami in the cool green water.

Another problem we had to overcome was one of water quality. Storing water for days on end in tanks that stand in the sun and are not completely sealed to incursions by lizards and birds at least places a question-mark over the wisdom of drinking the water without any form of treatment. Boiling the water is one way to ensure that it is sterile, but this takes a lot of energy (electric or gas). So instead we used the power of the ever-present sun to cleanse the water, laying it out on the roof in clear bottles for a day. A combination of the heat and the ultraviolet rays passing through it kills pathogens and renders it safe to drink.

Building on this idea of using the sun’s energy, Tom and Julian spent several weeks designing and constructing a solar oven, using mirrors to focus the heat through a glass panel and into an insulated box. After some trial and error we found that this oven could reach a temperature of about 150°C during the hottest part of the day and was excellent for slow-cooking casseroles or roasting vegetables.

In August we were proud to participate in the first ever Occupied Palestine and Golan Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) volunteer camp, hosting groups of youths from all over the West Bank to learn about the mission of Bustan Qaraaqa and participate in green building activities with us; helping us to construct beds out of old tyres stuffed with rubbish and covered in cob in one of our empty caves. Hopefully this project will be completed soon and we will add another dormitory to our sleeping accomodation, in time for the Olive Harvest influx.

Throughout the summer, we have continued to work with out good friend Abed Rabbo on his land in Al Wallaja, rebuilding water catchments around the trees and cutting back encroaching weeds. Unfortunately, Abed’s situation has worsened recently, with increasing attempts to expel him from his land by Israeli authorities. Abed has been arrested several times in the last few weeks and held at the police station in Talpiyot for questioning. It turns out that Abed’s ownership of his land is not in question, since he holds deeds stretching back to the time of the Ottoman empire. However, since the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem have been changed, the land is now classified as being inside Jerusalem despite being on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. Therefore it is now considered illegal for Abed to go to his land without a permit, which he does not currently have.

Legal aid is being sought, and we are trying to support Abed by maintaining a presence at his land as much as possible to protect his trees and his possessions from interference, and to witness any violations of his human rights. We intend to continue to support him in developing his site, and hope to install a rainwater harvesting system before the winter, as he still lacks any piped water supply. We are currently seeking support for this project (we need about 3000 shekels or £500), so if you would like to help, please check our website (www.bustanqaraaqa.org) for channels of donation.

And so having come through the summer, we are looking forward to our most exciting season yet. After we have harvested our olives in October/November we can begin the work of planting out the 2000 trees we have raised in our nursery this year. We plan to use approximately half of the trees on our own site to begin to establish a unique food forest, and to plant the other half with our partners in the local community, holding workshops with local schools, restoring degraded land, establishing community gardens and a number of other projects. We can also then begin to reseed and expand the nursery so that we have even more trees to plant next season.

Bustan Qaraaqa will also see some staffing changes in the next season as our co-founder Steve and his lovely wife Rania will be leaving for the UK, where they will continue to network and work to support the farm. Our permanent staff on the ground in Palestine will therefore now consist of Alice, Tom and Roman (as ever) and new team member Lyra, who has rashly agreed to manage the guesthouse for us. We are also excited to welcome Daniel as a long-term volunteer for the coming year.

As ever we have to thank our multitude of volunteers and supporters for their generous contributions to the project. In particular we thank the Chaput family, Imogen Bright, the British Shalom Salaam Trust, Phil Olive and M Hussein for their kind donations; Julian for funding and designing the solar oven; Adam for his continued work on the website; Phil and Mary for running around administering the project on the UK side; and Jared, Faith and Baha for their help with the fundraising party.

That’s all for now. You can keep up with us in the coming months by checking our website (www.bustanqaraaqa.org) and our blog (www.greenintifada.blogspot.com) for news. We wish you all joy and light wheresoever you may be and we warmly invite you to join us at Bustan Qaraaqa for the coming season (it’s the Olive Harvest in October!).

With love from

Alice, Lyra, Nick, Roman, Rania, Steve and Tom

The Bustan Qaraaqa team
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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Solidarity Demonstration in Beit Ommar

The staff of Bustan Qaraaqa first became interested in the work of the Palestinian Solidarity Project (PSP, linked above) in Beit Ommar because of the organic farm projects being conducted by the locals of the village with the support of PSP.

We went down to meet them on Wednesday 19 August to compared notes on their cistern and our recently built cistern. They displayed an impressive commitment to organic farming techniques, and we made plans to return on friday morning to see the land confiscation issues that they were currently facing. We were interested in seeing firsthand the difficulties the local farmers are facing with recent settlement buildup nearby.

Four members of Bustan Qaraaqa's staff joined the group in the most recent Green Intifada action. All told there were about 40 demonstrators there including members of international NGOs, Palestinian Nationals, and concerned Israeli Citizens alike.

Beit Ommar is a suburb of Hebron that is being chipped away at by a settlement which continues to creep closer to the houseline of the village. The fence that surrounds the houses in the settlement is further surrounded by a security fence that cuts directly into currently used Palestinian farmland. The security fence is now less than 100 meters away from the nearist Beit Ommari house.

Every friday the families of the farmers gather at the gate to the security fence where the children fly flags, and the men of the families who have all been arrested many times argue and raise their voices when the first dusty Hum Vee with state of the art suspension screams over a rocky hill and skids up to the gate.

Technically you can't be within 50 meters of the fence on the palestinian side, further adding to the frustrations of the farmers whose farms not only reach right up to the edge of the security fence, but are also partially located on the other side. Farmers who want to work their land on the other side of that fence have to go through a lengthy permit process which disables them from adequately maintaining their crops.

Touching the fence is cause for live ammunition against Palestinians, though not internationals. This doesn't stop the old farmers from grabbing hold of the razor wire each friday while he prays and wails about what has happened in front of the soldiers, and our little crowd. But he backs off early, in fact none of the Palestinians stay very long at the gate itself when the settlement police join the soldiers at the gate.

But the settlement police bring a harsh tone to the demonstration. These are angry men who are ideologically committed to the settlement and scream absurd obscenities about the white internationals being part of the holocaust. They even manage to lighten up the soldiers mood a little bit by being so off the wall. But they are not joking, and they have the key to the gate.

Last friday we backed off the gate before they managed to unlock it, and retreated to a safe distance. However as soon as the settlement security officer unlocked the gate the soldiers pursued us at a quick trot down the dirt road up to the edge of the village. An older soldier grabbed a young local beit ommari boy by the arm, but he quickly slid away with a twist and bolted away with remarkable determination and speed.

We were trying to get between those soldiers and the Ommaris when they grabbed one of our staff, seemingly out of nowhere.

An Israeli friend on the scene told us later that our staff member was singled out because he had untwisted a bit of tangled up razor wire, and did not stop when the four original soldiers apparently told him to. He writhed and fought and tried to run as best as he could while the other demonstrators helplessly watched the struggle unfold, but there were too many of them. They eventually carried our staff member back up through the gate one soldier for each limb before binding him hand and foot with those little plastic ties that lock into themselves and must be cut to be taken off. As they carried him off, one of the soldiers who thought our staff member was a Palestinian national declared that he would now serve a two year sentence for what he had done.

The soldiers were young, and not unfriendly. They had the air of people who were doing their jobs. One of the soldiers asked if our staff member wanted a hat to get out of the sun. He kindly provided a wide brimmed green military cap. This enraged the the settlement officer who became immediately furious, and began to scream at the soldier. Before long he was beet-red with anger and ripped the cap from our man's head.

He was taken to Kiryat Arba where he was charged with being in an illegal area, and destruction of a security fence.

Eventually our staff member, an American from Brooklyn (not a Palestinian national), was released under the condition that he did not go to any other Palestinian district except Bethlehem for 15 days.

Internationals recieve a slap on the wrist. That's why we stood between them and the Beit Ommaris.
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Monday, 3 August 2009

Searching for rural bliss in Palestine........

July 18, 2009 by jordanpilgrim

…. which would be a rather hopeless search if by bliss you mean that idle idyll which we townies sometimes yearn for till the hard economic facts of country life dispel the dream. And you do not have much harsher economic facts in farming than in Palestine, with its walls and barriers and water controls. But what I was looking for was hope in the land itself: that it could for the future provide a worthwhile living for its people, sustaining them both materially and in their struggle to keep the spirit of their nation alive.

So I started in a city – Nablus

I’d been a few times before and sometimes wondered how to encourage the citizens to grow more of their own food. Now I am seeing gardens everywhere, in nooks, in corners, in the courtyards of the grand old houses with their carefully designed doorways and arched passages and shaded cool spaces. I’m wondering what the women would have wanted to see by way of planting as they contemplate the scene from their upper-floor windows.

I go back to the city later in the week and discover a youth club where they are crying out for someone to teach gardening. Social and Therapeutic Horticulture better still. But there is only one of me, I plead, making my escape; and I don’t think you can afford to pay me. Then they told me about Ali in Jenin, who has against all the odds set up a gardening business: with the special angle that it is all about roof gardens. I’m tempted to tear up my schedule and go to track him down. But the youth club has a set of students doing media studies: maybe one of them could do it, as an assignment, a story to trace and an article to write.

Half an acre of hope

Wild pigs are a headache for Murad – more than a nuisance, a pest he must defend against with stout fencing and thorny branches. The night before I arrive they breached his defences and rampaged across his land, destroying his experiment of growing three layers of crops from the same patch of ground: tall maize, mid-height beans, and melons, squashes or cucumbers along the ground. The pigs neatly picked the almonds off the tree. Shoot them ? Not allowed guns. Round them up and herd them into a truck and sell them for meat ? But who eats pork around here ? “An enemy hath done this”, as it says in the Bible. It’s not hard to share his suspicions.

From Murad’s brother’s house where I am staying, at the southern edge of the village, it’s but a stone’s throw to a row of red-roofed, detached and quite swanky houses: Ariel, one of the largest of the illegal settlements. If you look at a map of the West Bank you will see it as a dagger-shape salient well inside the “Green Line”, almost cutting in half the northern part of what was supposed to be the territory of a Palestinian state. Marda, the village of Murad and his extended family, nestles against a steep slope. The Ariel houses squat on the crest. Just a few hundred metres of rock, thorn and olive in between. But there is also a brash new road up to the settlement, and a chain-mesh and razor-wire fence, and street lights. These alien structures dominate Marda’s life – or would if the villagers let them. They turn their backs on the hill, go about their daily work as best they can, ignore the night-time sounds of partying.

Murad tells me that as a boy growing up here in the 1970s he and his brother used to go up the hill after school. It was their job to look after the family’s herd of goats. Beyond the hill crest there is another, and between the two a piece of fairly flat land where he and other boys from the village would play football while keeping an eye on their herds. In 1979 they began building the settlement, taking away the football field, the care-free after-school activity, the pastoral complement to village agriculture.

With his half acre Murad is practising permaculture, aiming to grow as much as possible for himself and his family and his neighbours; but always thinking long-term, trying to build up the fertility of the soil and its ability to hold water. He has left space for a cistern, to catch water from his polytunnel and from the neighbouring hillside and from village springs and from the training centre which he hopes to build. Every scrap of vegetable matter has a use, either for compost or strewn over the soil as a mulch. He has planted a wind-brake on the west side, on a bed raised between stones gathered off the land itself and a row of tyres: cactus and acacias and olives and citrus trees.

We come down to the site in the evening as it’s too hot to work during the day. In his polytunnel we plant cucumbers, to be joined soon by lettuces and onions. As it grows dark we walk back by another way. Donkeys pass us laden with straw, led by women up narrow paths behind a mosque to a quarter of old tower-shaped houses. Murad’s mother lives in one such house, along with daughters and son-in-law and a dozen of Murad’s nieces and nephews. We sit on a roof-top, enjoying the cool and the view and the chat of the day and the children at play.

My thoughts are running around like this: if we are to survive we have to feed ourselves from the one planet which we have; and that will not be possible unless we learn these permaculture ways of cherishing our soils and the water which feeds them. And if Palestine is to survive it has to re-connect its people with its lands, and the two or three generations which have been alienated from it will need the example of people like Murad, his expertise, his self-confidence (trained in America in the ethos and techniques of permaculture), his new knowledge added to old knowledge, above all his persistence and patience. With his family holding a respected place in the village any success from his methods will inspire his neighbours. If he did not exist we would have to invent him.

Next morning we start at 5 a.m. and finish work by 8.30 – a rhythm which makes perfect sense in these conditions. Breakfast ? Melon, naturally.

From Shepherds’ Fields to Tortoise Gardens

Beit Sahour, merging with Bethlehem but self-consciously distinct from it, has attracted pilgrims for centuries on the strength of its being the place where shepherds heard news of the birth of Christ in a nearby stable. It is a long, uphill walk to the crib.

I am walking down hill, to another permaculture project, this one peopled mainly by internationals. It is in a wadi overlooked by large new villas and it is called Bustan Qaraaqa (بستابو قراقع), Tortoise Gardens, after the many such beasts which emerge in spring. (They have the habit of hibernating during the cold months, and equally wisely disappearing into holes and crannies during these long hot dry spells.) I am noticing the way the wadi sides have been terraced, as is normal in these hills, and the ledges planted with olives. But also a series of crescent-shaped ridges in the bottom, not more than a metre high; and I see vines and shady apricot trees and a tube of sacking to shade a building at the head of the wadi.

This Bethlehem region, just south of Jerusalem, has lost its pastoral surroundings in recent years. It is ringed by illegal Israeli settlements and choked by walls and fences. Eighteen percent of its farm land was confiscated for the wall.

I do a series of working, walking and talking tours with my hosts. What I see is the fruit of not much more than a year of their occupying the site. The crescent-shaped ridges are “swales”, their purpose being to dam the rain-water which comes in downpours on just a few days in the year, relying not only on this moulding of the land but also on building up a succession of drought-hardy, deep-rooted vegetation on the banks of each “swale”; and all the litter from these trees and shrubs goes towards building up a richer soil which itself will hold more water. The building at the head of the wadi is a cistern placed so as to catch all the run-off from the road above; and the road itself catches most of the rain from the steep valley sides. The composting toilet runs on sawdust not water, and everything else that rots goes into compost bins. Every tree and shrub, it seems, has a plastic bottle guiding water to the roots. The terrace next to the house has lines of vegetables, sunflowers and shrubs held within gently-curving banks so none of the water we give them in the evening escapes.

The architects of this transformation are renting on a five-year lease, but doing everything as if they and their descendants will be here forever. They are a collective who live simply and as nearly without money as possible: guests pay a small contribution (about 15 dollars a night) towards the rent. They too work to a rhythm set by the demands of nature rather than 9 to 5. In the filtered light of a hessian awning Julian, with a little help from me and other volunteers, toils away in the afternoon improvising and adapting re-used materials to make a solar oven. (“It will never fly ! No, but it will bake cakes. Let’s just hope it does not look from the air too much like a rocket-launcher.)

Autumn and spring will be the busiest times. Much of the work will be to try and diversify what they see as a monoculture of olive and wheat: ploughing between the olives to sow the wheat makes a hard pan of soil crust just below the surface, not conducive to water conservation. They have a huge nursery of tree seedlings, grown from seeds collected from all over the world, aiming to re-populate the hills and valleys of Palestine with the natural vegetation known in ancient times but eliminated later. Some of this wealth they will use on their own land, planting up steep slopes where the terracing has collapsed; some they will sell; some they will donate to community groups or others, so long as they know the people concerned will look after the young trees.

They too, like Murad, aim to show by example. They do not have his advantage of being already part of the community. Their ways may be as alien to the local people as are those of the surrounding settlers. But they are continually refreshed by new people, new ideas coming from overseas. And unlike the settlers they are determined to be genuine neighbours – to share what they know and their faith that this knowledge is the way of the future.

Tent of nations

High above Bethlehem, some 600 feet above the Tortoise Gardens, is Dahar’s vineyard – named after the grandfather who bought the land in the early years of the twentieth century. It too is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. From time to time the settlers or the State, with infinite resources, require the family to prove that they own the land – and they have to go to whatever expense is required of them, as in such matters, with the courts subservient to settler interests, Palestinian landowners are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. They now also face the threat of a high-voltage power line. If this were in Britain it would be enough to provoke howls of protest: in such a landscape its intrusion would be ghastly. More sinister still is that if it goes through they will insist on 150 metres width along it as a security corridor – with the side effect of slicing through a swathe of Dahar’s vineyard.

To combat these threats Daoud, present-day head of the family, has instituted the Tent of Nations – a camp for people from all over the world to come and work together on the land. And not just to learn to work with each other but also to support Daoud in his efforts to involve young people from the locality. For despite the city’s proximity to the hills of the West Bank, children in the refugee camps around Bethlehem (there are three) and their parents have had no access to land since their grandfathers were driven off in 1948. So now Daoud and the people from Bustan Qaraaqa are getting together to swap seeds and seedlings, and organise joint events and above all to teach the new generations: what the land gives, how to care for it, how varied and wonderful the many species of plant life are.

We inspect caves where older members of the family used to live (cool in summer, warm in winter) and make a detour to the row of olives where one of the trees was “bought” by Ewa and me in 2004. We break off sprigs of the wild mountain thyme with its heady fragrance. Bees buzz. We admire the view westward across ridge after ridge to the coastal plain and the blue Mediterranean. Rural bliss, I’m thinking. But Daoud cuts in with a description of how the jets in the recent war came screaming above this very hillside, turning to go back and strafe Gaza. Again.
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Friday, 22 May 2009

'FABULOUS!!': Monthly textile observer

Pleasingly, this post follows on from the last quite well. Almost as if it were planned... almost. I’ve compiled 2 events into a kind of irritating story-with-a-moral that reviewers lazily refer to as ‘compelling romps’. This romp was a 30km walk east from the vicinity of Bethlehem down and down to well below sea level at the Dead Sea, past Mar Saba and across the width of the Judean desert.

The Qaraaqa staff awoke with confusion and anger at upsetting o’clock; with much head shaking and mouthing ineffectual syllables, they congressed with the others – including the Piadia staff. The marauders lumbered away only encouraged by the promise of a barbeque and drinks after the hitch back. Apart from the odd band of curious children and a shepherd chasing his donkey down the mountain then up the next,
things were fairly uneventful until the Kidron at Mar Saba.

To continue, the river had to be crossed. The water courses are astonishingly polluted around the West Bank due to under-development of waste-treatment infrastructure. In fact, chlorine levels in the Kidron are 223ppm rather than the permissible peak for safe drinking water 4ppm. So the monks at Mar Saba would be unlikely to survive another 1700 years had they continued to rely on the Kidron as their water source.

A short, sharp climb later and the desert proper loomed. A 100 strong convoy of camels, young in tow, loped across the dunes and sauntered aloofly past.

Miscreants in jeeps hollered, ploughing through dust, photographed by giggling girls. At one point a roller leapt from a stone next to the sulking river and swept away in a shimmer of blue. It glided along the saddening polluted scar in the land that led across the desert towards journeys end. The stench and sheer quantity of rubbish seemed to stir something in the band. All of them lamented the obligatory flushing their inferior toilet designs necessitated. The staff of Bustan were pleased! Pausing only to fuel themselves with sundry items tenderised by the walk, the line of exploring misanthropes snaked east. The cliffs down to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, opened a surprising view towards Jordan. The walk had been at or below sea level for the past few miles and still worlds opened up below. The Dead Sea squatted across the width of the valley, its extremity vanishing south towards the Red Sea. The view of the mushrooming currents of effluent trudging out of the desert into the Dead Sea 10km south of the tourist resorts offered a real visual no amount of lectures and education could substitute.

The descent down the final cliffs went without a hitch and the bbq was actually inspiring! Thanks to Jason and Sarah for that!

On to this past weekend. Friday saw the Ertas lettuce festival preceded by a walk and talk by Ertasi farmer and activist Awad Abuswai. Internationals and locals had congressed in considerable number. Laughter and Dabka should have drawn the eye; the scuttling Lizards, the – all too rare - crystal clear spring or the impressive ‘Solomon’s pools’.

Instead, the eye gravitated to the rubbish caught in the foliage, trampled into the ground and floating through the pools of cool water emanating from clefts in the rock.

The walk went past rusting, disused pump-houses full of stern cylinders, depressed in their dysfunction. The same ilk of harrowing and sad tales - as is familiar to those who have spent time here – were recounted to shocked ears. The group was rallied at a spot visited last year by some of the Bustan staff. Where once, 58 apricot trees had stood, now was rubble, a road and a large storm drain/sewage outlet.

The nearby settlement of Zayit – part of the Gush Etzion bloc - perched imperiously on a hill; the outlet to serve it and upstream settlements and deposit their untreated sewage in the uppermost extent of the valley in which Ertas nestles. Ertas, currently the envy of much of the surrounding area for its springs, faces an uncertain future. As the community congregated at a stage for speeches and dancing, our friend – Abed – was waiting for us to come and finish the project we had started.

I previously wrote about the wadi separating Wallaje and Gilo. While still beautiful, it is starting to crack and wilt in the heat, the annuals panicking and throwing out their seed. ‘Rex’ - the normally friendly dog lay dejected, having been assaulted by 7 wild dogs the previous night. The time spent at Ertas had seen the Israeli contingent of activists that work Abed’s land beavering away at what looked – to us – glorious: a structure that was mere hours away from being a fully functioning compost toilet.

We made walls (a sprite tarpaulin), a roof and a floor. The sprite logo on something designed to accumulate human waste seemed somewhat apt and made us very happy - to the point where we laughed (we don’t have a television).

We had only to hang the door and it could be launched. It came to be and now you can go and crap on Abed’s land and you’ll be doing him a favour.
We have preached about the issues of waste in the west-bank on this site and may others. Any human with half a brain knows the importance of water. But the past week had realised it for me. This simple structure, made voluntarily by people doing favours in their time off, built primarily with reclaimed materials is a symbol of the power of simple and affirmative action and the pride and freedom it can bring. Through 3 Fridays, we had managed to make Abed’s land easier for his visitors as there was a toilet built to cope with crowds, reduced the environmental damage and risks of downstream eutrophying effects and we had given Abed a large source of organic nutrients with which to supplement his land. That’s one down, 5 million to go! Actually, we should be aiming for the whole earth as your toilet wastes on average 30 litres of drinking water a day. A bedou family of 3 in the Jordan valley survives on less than that! This has struck a chord with some of our friends who now make the effort to use our compost toilet - if they can - to save this country valuable water and to donate their lovely, nitrogenous packets of happiness!

OK, it was neither ‘compelling’ nor a ‘romp’ but at least it’s over!
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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Water of life!

Unless you’ve been composting your head in recent years, you will probably be aware of some of the manifestations of climate change and man’s general mismanagement of resources. Both of these, combined with over-population, have compounded the problem of water. 2 million people die of water-borne disease a year and 2.5 billion people have no access to sanitation facilities. These problems are quite clearly manifested in the West Bank and amplified due to the Israeli occupation. The Israeli authorities control the water supply, so whilst Israeli citizens are guaranteed a water supply, 10% - 20% of Palestinians are not connected up to any water infrastructure. Those that are have to make do with a fluctuating supply where the access decreases steadily as the summer progresses even though they pay 3 times the rate the settlers pay for their water.

Due to the check-points, the price of tanker-borne water has quintupled. As a result of this, many of the poorer and more rural populations take water from the badly polluted springs – contaminated by sewage and illegal Israeli factories not hampered by Israeli emission laws due to their location in the west bank.
One of the biggest issues we are trying to address with Bustan Qaraaqa is that of water security. This is valid not only for the West Bank but everywhere as global precipitation patterns change in distribution, intensity or just stop altogether. The site we have is actually a powerful tool as we are located in the lee of the ridge line occupied by Bethlehem and Jerusalem. So we get little rainfall here even compared with sites less than 10 miles away: Beit Sahour is nicknamed ‘little Jericho’ as testament to its dryness and heat. Although it’s not an ideal site for farming, it is an ideal site for establishing techniques for ‘worst-case scenario’ conditions.
As the planet warms and the Hadley cells elongate (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9229-global-warming-stretches-subtropical-boundaries.html), these kind of conditions will become far more widespread and people will be forced to migrate or find coping mechanisms. We are ideally placed to pre-empt this and to try and find workable solutions.
The practical actions we can take are re-foresting the area, increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil, selecting drought tolerant plants and rainwater harvesting - the latter of which we have been working furiously towards.
At the head of the land, down in the olive grove, we selected a site to build a water storage cistern. Generally only the richer Palestinians can afford to build them. We were looking for cheaper means than the concrete pouring that is generally employed these days as not only is this an ecologically unsound method, the costs are pretty prohibitive. We had 2 alternatives to produce a genuinely water-tight structure: traditional stone-building (dry stone walling in the middle-east) with a lime-skim or a concrete-skimmed breezeblock structure. We opted for the latter due to time constraints.
In the summer, work started aiming to be finished in time for the rains. There was much whip-cracking as unfortunate volunteers were worked mercilessly digging a hole to place the cistern. Thankfully a neighbour took pity and bought along a tractor to finish things off saving the staff and volunteers from a sweaty death. Left with a pit, Alice was promptly thrown into it by a malevolent olive tree during the olive harvest and was rushed to an exciting interaction with Bethlehem’s doctors.

After Christmas, we had had enough guests to be able to afford to start. Work started on the actual construction with the floor, which was poured concrete. (video) After some hilarious shouting contradictory instructions to the lone unfortunate wading around in concrete laying the floor, we had a water-proof floor. Construction halted here while we waited for the revenue from the guesthouse to amass enough again to buy materials for the walls. The rains started in earnest, the rains slowed down and finally we had enough cash. The bricklaying began. Successive waves of volunteers helped immensely; working, performing as orators, feeding us or singing; so thanks to you all! Children from the surrounding houses came to offer their expert advice and practical skills. Eventually we got to skimming the interior and, despite some dissolved body parts, to our joint relief finished that. Now we have waterproofed it and need only to fill it and put a fence around it.
So, yes. Annoyingly we missed the rains. It is still worth us filling it from the mains. Although this isn’t the rainwater-capture we had hoped for, we have a lot of trees that need irrigating and the mains are getting less and less generous. We also plan to keep Tilapia in the cistern as a source of dietary protein for ourselves and a nitrogen source for the trees. Additionally, we didn’t use the most sustainable and cheapest method. However, as they say ‘time is money’ and as there are only 3 full-time staff here we couldn’t afford to spend all our time scouring for rocks and carrying them around. However, the breezeblocks that we used massively decreased the quantity of concrete used. So we saved 12,000 shekels from the 20,000 shekel estimate for a fully concrete structure and the accompanying ecological impact.

So the trials and the tribulations of the cistern are pretty much over. When we have filled it, we will have a ‘Pool party’ complete with bbq, cocktails & floating. We’re planning on using this event as an awareness raiser as there is a possibility of a grant on the horizon to build water-storage in refugee camps. For this we’ll need workers. It’s been a long-time coming this cistern so personally I’ll be glad to have the nightmare over. I found the sheer frustration of not being able to work on such a vital part of the project for so long due to financial constraints pretty trying. At least we had the option of building this without a demolition order being slapped immediately on it though so there are blessings. We’ll keep you updated as to the timing of the pool party and if you’re in a part of the world where you can reach us: you’re invited. At the moment, the date is pencilled in for the afternoon of the 6th of june. We will keep you posted as to a definite date via the blog, Bethlehem Bethlehem, Ramallah Ramallah and the website www.bustanqaraaqa.org

Thanks again to all those who put so much literal blood and sweat into creating the cistern!

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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Gaza is still the issue

Four months on from the end of 'Operation Cast Lead' and it seems Gaza is off the international agenda. The hail of missiles that wrought such havoc and caused so many deaths to the civilian population (over 1400) is at an end, our televisions are no longer filled with harrowing images of mutilated children and disturbing stories of food warehouses and hospitals under fire.

Yet in Gaza itself the tragedy goes on. Israeli journalist Amira Hass recently visited the Strip after several years of absence and wrote of the ongoing tragedy and destruction there: Life among the ruins in Gaza; Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza.

The truth is that Israel is continuing its strangle hold on the Gaza border, preventing reconstruction after the abject carnage that has been wrought there, a nightmare of shattered infrastructure and destroyed buildings; and preventing basic necessities from getting to the beleaguered and traumatised population.

At the beginning of this month, Palestinian human rights organisations banded together to issues a statement after a conference in Sharm el Sheikh at which $4.5 billion dollars was pledged to aid the reconstruction of Gaza, calling on international aid agencies to address the issue of Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza, and ongoing violations of human rights (see full statement here...).

The unfortunate truth is that simply throwing money at the problem will not make it go away, not unless that action is backed up by serious attempts to hold Israel to account for abuse of human rights and violations of international law. It will not work because in the first place the aid will be ineffective as reconstruction materials are impounded on the border and the money will be wasted, and secondly, in a couple of years, the reconstructed infrastructure (supposing it ever gets reconstructed) will very likely be destroyed again, and the international community will be called on once again to foot the bill, with no repercussions for Israel.

During the crisis, as I watched in horrified disbelief merging with resigned disgust, I wrote these words:

Open a window in your soul for Gaza.

Sometimes it is more frightening to be numb than to feel.

Sometimes it is more terrible to see than to be blind.

But if they can bear the terror, the least we can do is to look with steady gaze into that holocaust and let the horror in.

And ask ourselves why?

What is Gaza and why is Gaza?

How did this tiny strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea come to be a place of such great suffering and pain?

I see a road shining darkly from Auschwitz to Gaza, fruit of the same bitter tree.

Terrible irony we say, that people who had been abused as the Jews were abused in the Holocaust could inflict such carnage on another people.

Terrible irony I think that Europeans could have watched the Holocaust happen, failed to intervene or actively participated, sacrificed Palestine to their guilt, and then stand in silent complicity watching the tragedy of Gaza unfold across the decades.

Gaza, so small a place to bear such troubles as mankind has made there, crumbling under the weight of its own tragedy.

Gaza, where one million refugees languish, children of the Holocaust as surely as the Jewish refugees who fled to Israel are.

Gaza, where the very water is poison, where there is not food, where sewage chokes the land, a festering sore on the conscience of the world, a living sacrifice to Holocaust guilt.

What solace for Gaza, where hope lies shattered beneath the rubble?

If there is hope, it does not lie with Israel, Israel which has reduced Gaza to the status of a population on life-support and is now turning off the machine.

Israel, where 90% of the population support this war.

Israel who will tighten the border controls following this onslaught if they are allowed, so that the suffering will only intensify.

Israel who have been choking the life out of Gaza for 40 long years of military occupation and 2 years of economic siege, sentencing its people to a fast death or a slow one, a short life of suffering or a long one.

What solace for Gaza now?

A ceasefire, though desperately needed, is only the beginning of ending the horror that has been created there.

Are we not proud of our creations?

Israel and Gaza.

Will we be silent now, watching from the sidelines while tragedy spreads its dark wings over these victims of circumstance and birth?

I see a road shining darkly from Auschwitz to Gaza: we are all walking on it.

Open a window in your soul for Gaza, and do not be silent.

There are other roads and we can do better than this for humanity.


Now, just a couple of days after the 61st anniversary of the Nakba, these words come back to me. Will we watch in silence while this tragedy continues?
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Bustan Qaraaqa Newsletter - May 2009

Dear friends,

As spring turns to summer here in the occupied West Bank and the vegetation turns from a carpet of luscious green herbs to a thicket of spiky thorns, Bustan Qaraaqa has just passed its first anniversary (May 1st). So we thought it time to share with you our jubilation at still being here, and our thanks too all of you who have helped make this possible.

It is four months since our last (quarterly!!) newsletter, which left us struggling to continue our work in the midst of the horror of the Gaza invasion, waking up daily to the sound of fighter jets in the sky and going to sleep to the distant echoes of explosions that left over 1300 Palestinians dead.

Even during this difficult time and in spite of the feelings of despair and powerlessness that seemed to hang over everything like a miasma, we continued to move our project forward. We were able to raise enough money from Christmas guesthouse revenues to begin work on our rainwater cistern, pouring the cement base on New Year’s day in a clear statement of our commitment to take practical and positive measures to tackle humanitarian and environmental problems even in the midst of tragedy.

During January we also tightened our ties with Abed, a farmer from the village of Al Wallaja who is resisting land confiscation by Israeli authorities; living permanently in a cave on his threatened land, without running water, electricity or sewage infrastructure. You can find out more about Abed’s situation by visiting his new website: www.abedland.com.

Together with Israeli permaculture activists, we are supporting Abed in developing his site into a model for sustainable living, demonstrating that with a little imagination Palestinians can take care of their own needs, such that access to infrastructure and resources need not be a potential weapon against them.

We felt particularly privileged to be able to come together with Israelis and Palestinians in this way during the Gaza crisis, working together to tend the land, planting trees and building, supporting Abed in his struggle for justice and demonstrating our commitment to working for a better future.

As winter turned to spring, we were relieved to see the end of a two month drought which had lasted through December and January (normally the wettest months), as the rain began to fall again. Wildflowers began to run colourful riot across the land, the almond trees came into flower, tortoises awoke from hibernation and began to wander in the valley once more, migrant birds began to appear, and seeds that had been lying dormant over the winter in our tree nursery began to germinate. Almost every species we planted (over 100) came up and we now have representatives growing up in the nursery to be used in agroforestry experiments on this site or future projects with the local community. This is the only tree nursery of its sort in the Palestinian Territories, and we are very excited to see it develop.

We worked hard to plant vegetable crops through the late winter to early spring season, developing companion planting systems and growing lettuces, cabbages, onions, potatoes, radishes, caulifowers, broccoli, beetroot, spinach, strawberries, broadbeans, sunflowers, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, melons, pumpkins and courgettes. Fortunately we also discovered (thanks to our landlandy, Im Samir) that our land is awash with edible weeds during the spring, and we were rich in delicious greens (Hubeze, Ahwera, Lofetta and Jarjiya).

In February, work began in earnest to finish the rainwater cistern: building the walls, backfilling behind them with soil and rendering them with cement and waterproof paint to prevent leakage. This entire process took somewhat longer than we had anticipated, and we only finished building at the end of March (not quite in time for the majority of the rain!). However, we now have a 90 cubic meter cistern all ready to be filled, which we hope will allow us to both irrigate trees that we intend to plant this year as part of our agroforestry system, and also to farm fish (tilapia) to supplement our diets.

Meanwhile, on another part of the site, work on the illustrious ‘Chicken Palace’ (a partially collapsed cave that we have converted into a bird house) was finished and we were able to visit the livestock market and acquire residents. The Chicken Palace is now home to a collection of guinea fowl, pigeons and chickens which we will integrate into our system to provide us with food, manure for our crops, pest control and preparation of soil for planting.

And that just about brings us up to date. Of course, throughout all of our time we have hosted many visiting groups and individuals on our site, including Palestinian students, youth counsellors, womens’ groups and farmers and many international visitors and journalists; leading tours of the site and talking about environmental issues in the Palestinian Territories and grassroots environmental activism. You can hear a radio broadcast of interviews with Bustan Qaraaqa staff and volunteers by visiting this site: http://flashpoints.net/index.html#2009-04-23 (it is the broadcast on the 23rd of April).

We are looking forward very much to the summer, when we expect to have many volunteers coming to work with us. Major projects we hope to get off the ground include Aquaculture (farming fish in our cistern), Green building (we were lucky enough to have an architecture student as a volunteer for a while who has drawn up extensive plans for an eco-building on our site built almost exclusively with recycled materials), setting up simple mushroom growing systems in caves, and expanding and strengthening our Green Intifada campaign (find out more by visiting www.bustanqaraaqa.org/al2/web/page/display/id/15.html).

We are also proud to announce that we have a new website now: www.bustanqaraaqa.org, where you can find detailed information about our projects and partners, as well as permaculture resources to help you set up your own initiatives if you feel so inclined. We are still developing this site, so if some of the links don’t work right now or there are pages missing, please be patient with us!

As ever we are deeply indebted to our supporters and volunteers for their generosity and hard work. We have been blessed with many helpers this year, hosting over 60 people at the farm in addition to our regular Friday and Sunday volunteers (thank you so much to all of you and sorry that you are too numerous to be named!).

We are also very grateful to Ed Hill and Bristol Computers4Palestine for the donation of 2 computers, Davy Jones and Meg Ryan for the reams of compost matting, Mel and Roman Gawel for the beautiful pair of guinea fowl and the solar lights, Adam Haunch for setting up our website, Erika Benson for designing us an amazing building, Mazen Qumsieh, Imogen Bright and the Sydney Family Trust for generous financial contributions, our major sponsors the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Foundation, and to Phil and Mary Gray for keeping things ticking over on the UK side.

Of course, it would not be a newsletter if we did not pathetically rattle our begging bowl at some point and say that all contributions, large or small, are needed and deeply appreciated. All the achievements of our first year (April 2008 until present) where managed on a total expenditure of £25,000 including all project expenses and staff salaries (4 full-time staff employed all year). Be assured that your money will not be wasted if you donate to us, but will be used directly for project expenses or to support the living costs of the people who make Bustan Qaraaqa work.

If you would like to become a regular contributor, please write to us at info@bustanqaraaqa.org and we will forward you our bank details. If you would like to send a cheque, please make it out to Bustan Qaraaqa and post it to The Old School, Lydfords Lane, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 4NJ, UK. If you would like your money to be used for something specific, you can find a ‘wish list’ of things we need on our website, on the Get Involved page.

That is enough begging for now! We wish joy and light to all of you wherever you may be, and hope to see you (again!) in Bethlehem – please do come and visit us if you are in the area.

With love,

Alice, Nick, Rania, Roman, Steve and Tom

the Bustan Qaraaqa team
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Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bustan Qaraaqa has a new website....

Our new website is now up and running - please go to www.bustanqaraaqa.org to check it out. There you will find detailed information about our project and also useful links for learning more about permaculture and Palestine. Please bear with us if some of the links don't work yet - the site is a work in progress and we are building it up as and when we can...

We will continue to use this blog to post stories and reflections from Bustan Qaraaqa staff and volunteers.

Many thanks to Adam for setting up the website for us :)
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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Compost Toilet Building Event this Friday

This Friday (April 10th) Bustan Qaraaqa staff and volunteers will go to help build a composting toilet at our friend Abed's farm in Al Wallaja.

Abed is living on his land close to Gilo settlement, resisting attempted land confiscation by Israeli real-estate developers. His site has no running water, so it is important that a well managed composting toilet is installed there to make life easier.

Composting toilets have other benefits too: 90% of sewage in the West Bank is discharged untreated into the environment, poisoning soil, water courses and threatening the underground aquifer that is the source of all drinking water in this area. In addition, on average every person flushes 30 litres of drinking water down the toilet every day. Given the ongoing drought in the region, this is profligately wasteful and environmentally suicidal.

Action by individuals like Abed, whereby waste is treated onsite and no water is wasted can help change this situation.

Also, there will be a farmers' market on the same day - a chance to buy fresh organically produced vegetables directly from the farmers of Al Wallaja.

If you would like to come, we will be leaving from Bustan Qaraaqa at 1030am on Friday - or join us when you can at Abed's place, close to the Malha checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem. It is easily accessed by taking the beautiful road through Cremisan monastery and then taking the track to the right into the valley - call us on 02 2748994 for more detailed directions if you like.

All the best and hope to see you on Friday,

the Bustan Qaraaqa team
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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Tree Planting Event this Thursday

This Thursday (March 26th), we will be holding a tree planting event at our friend Abed's place in Al Wallaja.

Abed is a Palestinian farmer whose land lies very close to the Israeli Settlement of Gilo. He is currently facing problems with threatened land confiscation and so has decided to live permanently on his land in a cave. The authorities are now threatening to demolish even this basic home in an attempt to evict him from his land.

The place has no running water or electricity, and Abed lives by farming his land to feed himself and generate some income.

The event on Thursday will consist of planting olive trees, and also laying the foundations of a composting toilet to serve the site.

We will meet in Soukshab in Beit Sahour at 10.00am if anyone would like to come. Alternatively, call 02 274 8994 or email info@eag-palestine.org for more information.

If you are coming, please bring some food to share for lunch and we will have a picnic.

Hope to see you there!
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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Food for free!

lufeta, ﻟﻔﻴﺘﺔ, hwera, ﺃﺣﻮﯿﺮﺓ, halawlaw, ﺣﻠﻮﻟﻮ, khubeza, ﺧﺒﯿﺰﺓ

As I am typing in the cold house a ploughman and mule toil under the olives. The ploughman guides the shear through the thin soil of the narrow terrace, weaving between the twisting trunks, slicing the sward of pink and yellow flowers, folding the herbs into to the furrows, exposing the pale dry earth.

The terraces built on the valley sides of Judean Hills were first constructed as long as eight thousand years ago at the drawn of agriculture. Ploughing is a long established in dry land farming. In theory the exposed tilth caps the soil reducing the rate of loss of soil moisture. Not to plough would result in a faster rate of soil moisture loss through the transpiration of herbs. It is also feared that the herbs when dead and dry provide habitat for scorpions, snakes, and spiders, and could constitute a fire risk.

Minimum tillage, (not ploughing) conserves soil structure essential for permeability to water and gasses. The plant roots bind the soil together resisting the water erosion (drop impact and runoff) and wind erosion. Soil erosion carries the organic particles and fine silts down to the Dead Sea were no one can use them, impoverishing soils and contributing to desertification. In the Judean Hills soil erosion of 50tonnes/hectare/year is the recorded average (wadis (flood plains) are far more erosive environments). Failing rains, over grazing and ploughing result in soil erosion threatening the future of agriculture regionally. Combining minimum tillage with soil water conservation techniques such as drip point irrigation, mulching and shading by trees could not only conserve soil moisture and fertility but even improve them whilst providing a variety of foods for the table.

Problem becomes a solution
Waste becomes resource
The weed becomes food

All that is necessary is a shift of perception

Seeing these delicious herbs turned into the earth I’m thinking how beautiful are their flowers, what diverse life they support through the brief spring season, how they will shade the soil from the burning summer sun, but most of all I’m thinking how much I want to eat them.

I first became aware we could eat the weeds when the neighbours asked to collect the hwera growing under our olives as they had ploughed under their trees. I’ve since noticed bunches of common weeds for sale in Bethlehem souk.

Here’s how we prepare these herbs in the Bustan Qaraaqa kitchen. (Thanks Im Samir!)

All herbs are best collected before they begin to flower. Prepare the food the same day you collect it. One kilo is a good quantity if you intend to feed a few people.

All these herbs can be eaten raw.

lufeta, ﻟﻔﻴﺘﺔ , halawlaw, ﺣﻠﻮﻟﻮ, khubeza, ﺧﺒﯿﺰﺓ

Wash the leaves and stems thoroughly and chop finely.
Melt butter in a large saucepan with a lid and add chopped onion and black pepper.
Fry the onions gently for five minutes then add all the greens and replace the lid. Turn the heat down as low as possible.
After a couple of minutes stir the greens, replace the lid and turn off the heat.
Juice one lemon to add the greens before serving hot or cold (much better hot).

Alternatively, make bread dough, after the final kneading spread the dough thinly like a thick pizza base and then spread the hubeza/lufeta/halawlaw, over the dough. Now roll the dough like a Swiss roll and bake in a hot oven.

hwera, ﺃﺣﻮﯿﺮﺓ

Hwera is prepared differently.

Wash the leaves and stems thoroughly and chop finely.
Place the chopped leaves in a basin add cold yogurt and a pinch of salt. Leave over night in a cool place. Serve covered in olive oil with plenty of fresh bread. Zaki!

text and photos by Tom
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Monday, 2 March 2009

Plant of the Week

This week the plant of the week is...........

Leucaena leucocephala (Wild Tamarind)

Leucaena leucocephala is a native tree of the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico. It is an upright, leggy tree that can grow up to a height of 18 m. It has grey bark and bipinnate leaves of up to 35 cm in length. It produces numerous cream-coloured flowers in globose (spherical) heads.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Leucaena was known as the ‘miracle tree’ because of its worldwide success as a long-lived and highly nutritious forage tree, and its great variety of other uses.

Leucaena is in the Fabaceae family, and is a leguminous tree which forms associations with nitrogen fixing mycorrhizae, and so improves the fertility of the soil it grows on. It is a fast growing tree and can be used as a fuel-wood and to make high quality charcoal. It is excellent fodder for ruminant livestock, and parts of it can be eaten by people as well (young seed pods and young shoots). It is also the most frequently used tree in alley-planting systems, and has proven to be highly compatible with many grass crops.

Alley-planting is an inter-cropping system where hedgerows of trees are created along the contour line of a slope, providing wind-break, erosion control, soil enhancement (in the case of leguminous trees) and shade. Crops are planted in between the hedgerows.

Leucaena is a drought tolerant tree and can survive up to 7 consecutive dry months in the year. It does best in precipitation zones of over 600 mm per year, but has become naturalized in areas with rainfall as low as 300 mm per year. It prefers calcerous, neutral to alkaline soils and is somewhat sensitive to frost damage.

It is very well suited to the temperatures and soil type at Bustan Qaraaqa, but will probably require a small amount of irrigation in the late autumn and early spring.
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Sunday, 22 February 2009

Funding Appeal

Bustan Qaraaqa is running short of funds! As a small and recently established project, we are heavily reliant on grassroots fundraising to keep our heads above water. If you admire our work, please consider supporting us - either by making a personal contribution or by fundraising for us.

Cheques payable to Bustan Qaraaqa can be sent to The Old School, Lydfords Lane, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 4NJ, or if you prefer to make a transfer direct to our bank account, please contact us for our details (info@eag-palestine.org).

We are a very low budget project, so small amounts can make a huge difference to us. A breakdown of our monthly costs is shown below:

The exchange rate currently oscillates between 5 and 6 shekels to the pound, and 3.5 to shekels to the US dollar. So the total budget (12000 shekels) is £2000-2400 and $3000-3430.

Any excess money we have can be spent on community projects. Any shortfall is made up by cutting living allowances for staff and the materials budget.

Ideally, we would like to bring more staff onto our team (a Field Worker and an Environmental Education Coordinator), but at the moment this is not possible – another 4000 NIS per month would cover it.

Fundraising can be good fun, and can serve the dual purpose of raising awareness about the Palestinian environmental crisis.

Some ideas for fundraising:

Organise a party or music event, either in your own home or at a venue. Advertise it as a fundraiser for a permaculture farm in Palestine, charge a small entrance fee and have information available in the form of a photo exhibition or leaflets that you hand out.

Organise a film showing or lecture about Palestine and Palestinian farmers and collect donations from the audience.

Organise a Palestinian themed evening, with Palestinian food and music and charge a small entrance fee.

Sell Palestinian merchandise. Particularly if you are coming out to Palestine and returning home, invest in some nice olive wood carvings, key-rings and t-shirts and sell them for a small profit.

If you would like to fundraise for us, please be in contact (+972 2 2748994 or email info@eag-palestine.org), and we will forward you a support pack.


Small donations can go a long way! If you feel you would like to contribute financially, cheques payable to Bustan Qaraaqa can be sent to The Old School, Lydfords Lane, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 4NJ, UK.

Better yet, become a regular contributor. If 400 people gave us £5 per month, our budget would be completely covered, and we would be in a stable funding situation. If you would like to support us in this way, please be in touch (info@eag-palestine.org) and we will forward you our bank details.

Thank you for your interest in our work! We appreciate all the help we have had in the past and all the help we are receiving now. Your support makes our work possible!
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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Plant of the Week

This week, the Plant of the Week is........................

Annona Cherimola - the Custard Apple

The custard apple is believed to be a native tree of the inter-andean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, and has been successfully cultivated in Israel. It is a dense, fast-growing, evergreen tree, erect but low branched and somewhat shrubby or spreading; ranging from 5 to 9 m in height.

The tree bears fragrant flowers with three outer, greenish, fleshy, oblong petals and three inner pinkish petals. The fruits are 10-20 cm long and about 10cm in width, with a sub-acid flavour. Mark Twain called the cherimola fruit “the most delicious fruit known to men”.

The cherimola is sub-tropical to mild-temperate. It can tolerate light frosts, and prefers dry environments with long, dry summers, although it grows best at an annual precipitation range of 1250-2500 mm. It prefers soils of pH from 6.5 to 7.6, and is somewhat calcium demanding.

It is well suited to the calcate, limey soil of Bustan Qaraaqa, and the temperature range, but will require some irrigation from the early spring to the beginning of summer.
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