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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Starting the New Year in hope and despair

What a way to start a year. Our days are dominated by the drone of Israeli fighter jets in the sky, on their way to bomb Gaza, their trails writing messages of death amongst the clouds. Occasionally our house is shaken by the force of the explosions happening 50km away, and sometimes at night as we sit around our fire we hear the sound of them carried to us on the still air.

Unimaginable carnage in Gaza - its darkness touches all of us, hovers behind everything we do and say at this time. The only hope we can have is that this time the world will look - truly look - at Gaza, and demand a better future for her people than the hell they have been subjected to for years.

Do look, if you can bear it. Flinch and look away by all means, but look back again and understand that those people need much more than a ceasefire to restore to them the norms of human dignity that we all expect as our rights.

This 'unilateral' ceasefire that has been declared is fragile and may not hold. Even if it does, it seems that, left to their own devices, the Israelis will only tighten the border control, holding up the desperately needed humanitarian aid, hampering development, intensifying suffering.

It is for the international community to intervene now, to come down on the side of human rights for Gazans, to demand and enforce conditions which will allow development in Gaza to go forward. We would urge anyone reading this to agitate for change, write to your politicians, demonstrate - whatever you feel you can do and whatever it takes to get the human rights of Gazans on the agenda, beyond the ceasefire. We suggest that peace and security will follow easing of humanitarian suffering much more surely than they will follow from the kind of hideous, murderous onslaught that Israel has unleashed over the past few weeks.

Well, besides watching, horrified, distraught and helpless from the sidelines as this horrible situation has unfolded, we have been busy at Bustan Qaraaqa this month. We started the year by sealing the floor of our rainwater cistern and are now working on the walls. However, at this stage it seems certain that this year will be an even worse drought than the last - which was the worst in 26 years. Rain is not falling in Palestine, water resources are not recharging, and we fear for the people and the environment, particularly the vulnerable communities who do not have regular water supplies - over 200 000 Palestinians in the West Bank are not connected to the water network and over half the people do not receive full coverage (constant supply).

Nevertheless, we have been planting crops. We are developing a companion planting system with many commonly grown food crops such as spinach, radishes, potatoes, lettuces, cabbages, strawberries etc. grown alongside various herbs and flowers (we will post a more detailed outline of this soon). We have also been planting trees in the nursery, especially drought tolerant native species which we believe could make good fodder crops for livestock. This is particularly important as overgrazing and soil erosion are huge problems in the West Bank and we hope to be able to do some work to remediate the degradation of the Eastern Slopes presently.

We have also been attending work-days in Al Wallaja at the weekends, working alongside Palestinians and Israelis to help our friend Abed develop his site and resist land confiscation.

Abed lives very close to the Israeli settlement of Gilo, in a cave on his family's land. His parents moved to Dheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem many years ago, but retained ownership of their land in Wallaja. However, in recent years, due to settlement expansion, their land has been threatened with confiscation. So Abed has gone to live there and farm, managing without electricity or running water, working with the support of Palestinian, Israeli and international friends who support his right to stay on the land his family have owned for generations. Absurdly he now faces an Israeli demolition order on his cave, but is fighting it in the courts.

We have been helping Abed to plant trees, build a water catchment and make a space for volunteers to sleep if they want to stay with him on his land.

We too have been lucky to have the help of many volunteers this month - Roman, Grace, Abby, Les, Amelia, Matthew, Avi, Noam, Vita, Osan and Frederick - and we look forward to new arrivals in the near future.

As ever, our funding situation is somewhat precarious....at the end of February we will no longer be able to pay living allowances to our long-term staff, although thankfully the rent is payed on the site until the end of June. If you would like to support our work please do get in touch with us (info@eag-palestine.org).

A small donation can go a long way in buying materials for the tree nursery and for the cistern (we think we need around 3000 shekels to finish the cistern, and about 1500 shekels for the nursery). Also, if you would like to support us on a monthly basis with a small amount, it could be very helpful to develop a steady income stream - any amount is gratefully received! If 100 people gave us £10 a month we would never have to worry about living allowances again :)

Well, dear readers, that is enough new from us for now. We will post more stories soon, and we hope to also have a proper website in the near future, with detailed information about the Bustan Qaraaqa project, its work and its goals - we will post the address when it is ready!

Stay tuned for more stories from the Tortoise Garden...............

1 comment:

swilko said...

Hello to everyone at the Tortoise garden. Here, at Positive News we're about to set an article about you guys into the Spring edition of the newspaper, thanks to Jan Marttin Bang, who wrote a little piece about you all. Just wondering, as I start to work with his editorial and lay the words into their columns, how you're all bearing up during this difficult time?

My thoughts are with you
Sarah Wilkinson,
Positive News