www.banksy.co.uk - adaptation by shadow

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!
Read more!

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!

Read more!

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?
Read more!

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
Read more!