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A Quick and Snarky Guide to Food Security in Palestine

Quick and Snarky

Picking olives at an olive picking volunteer day the author attended with the Sabeel organization. (www.sabeel.org).  Volunteers accompanied a Palestinian family to their olive trees and worked alongside them to harvest their olives near the illegal 'Separation Barrier' in the West Bank. The family was afraid to go by themselves in fear of harassment by the Israeli military and police. Photo by David Hosey.

By David Hosey*
Here is a quick guide to food security in Palestine.
Question #1: Can you get to your land, yes or no?
If yes, go on to the next question.
If no, then you are in good company. Farmers and shepherds in places like Jayyous, Bethlehem, At-Tuwani, Bil’in, Ni’ilin, and many other cities, towns, and villages throughout the West Bank have been cut off from land and livelihood by the Wall which is being built by the Israeli military. This Wall, which was deemed illegal by a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, runs almost twice the length of the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank. It cuts through Palestinian land and Palestinian neighborhoods, confiscating land and denying movement and access rights to thousands of Palestinians. According to the World Food Program of the United Nations, the "West Bank barrier construction is isolating thousands of people from their land, dividing communities and restricting access to essential services."
Even if your land hasn’t been confiscated by the Wall, it is likely that you can’t reach it for several other reasons. For example, your land might have been expropriated by the Israeli government and used to build illegal Israeli settlements, in violation of Geneva Accords conventions against transferring civilian population into occupied territory. Or, it might just be near a settlement, in which case attempts to reach your land might be met with violent attacks from the local settler population. Or, you might be cut off from your land by one of the hundreds of restricted access or settler-use-only roads, built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Or, your land might be close to a military base, or in use as a firing or weapons testing range by the Israeli military.
Question #2: If you can get to your land, are the trees that you’ve tended your whole life still standing?
The Israeli military has uprooted thousands of olive trees and fruit trees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in order to clear or confiscate land. Settler groups have also vandalized, burned, or cut down olive trees throughout the West Bank. Many organizations, including Israeli organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights and international organizations such as the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program, have documented the destruction of Palestinian olive groves and have participated in efforts to replant trees that have been destroyed by the occupation. So if you are lucky enough to be able to get to your land, you might find that you don’t have anything left growing on that land.
Question #3: Even if you manage to harvest your crops, perhaps with the accompaniment of Israeli or international activists or faith groups, is there an accessible market for your crops?
Movement and access restrictions cripple the ability of Palestinian farmers to bring their crops to market. Checkpoints, settlements, restricted access roads, and the Wall make it next to impossible to sell your crops outside of a limited region. Again, the World Food Program reports, "restriction on internal movements within the West Bank is contributing to the collapse of an already fragile economy and is threatening the population's food security."
Question #4: Do you live in the Gaza Strip?
According to a recently released statement by the World Council of Churches, 80% of Palestinians in Gaza are now dependent on food aid. The December and January 2009 attacks on Gaza, christened Operation Cast Lead by the Israeli military, caused some $2 billion in infrastructural damage. Meanwhile, the ongoing blockade and siege of Gaza contributes to rising malnutrition and a crippling reliance on humanitarian aid, which in turn is limited by Israeli control of crossing points into Gaza. Gaza has its very own Wall, a physical symbol of the devastating siege maintained by Israel’s control of the sea, air, and land around Gaza.
If you answered no to the first three questions and yes to the fourth question, then you do not have food.
What threatens food security in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem? In short, a 41 year old policy of military occupation funded and supported by the U.S government and by U.S. citizens.
What can we do about it?
Last winter, I participated in a demonstration, organized by Israeli activists, at the Erez crossing point into Gaza. The goal of the demonstration was to accompany a convoy of humanitarian goods into the besieged Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Palestinians from Gaza held a rally on the other side of the wall, and although the two groups were prohibited from meeting face to face, speeches from both sides were broadcast to the other via cell phone. The humanitarian convoy was not allowed in. How, I wondered, can we build walls so high and so strong that they can keep friends from reaching each other, and keep food from reaching those who need it? If Israelis and Palestinians gathering on either side of the Gaza border to express solidarity and goodwill towards each other is not enough to ensure justice, peace, and security, then what is?
The answers to my questions are uncomfortable, because the blame lies largely at my own feet. Whether I like or not, I have helped to build these walls. The U.S. government gives about $3 billion in military aid every year to Israel. This military aid, most of which is used to buy weapons from U.S. companies, assists the Israeli military in its ongoing military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. 
Meanwhile, U.S. and multinational companies profit from the occupation. Many companies profit from the construction of the Wall and settlements, and products from these companies are used to destroy olive trees or otherwise violate international law. Just a two examples include Caterpillar, whose militarized D-9 bulldozers and other pieces of equipment are used to destroy Palestinian houses and olive groves and to construct the Wall and settlements, and Motorola, whose fully owned subsidiary company Motorola Israel produces surveillance equipment for use on the illegal Wall as well as communications equipment used by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories.
So, as U.S. citizens, we can call on our government to end, reduce, or severely condition military aid to Israel as long as such military aid is used against Palestinian civilians and otherwise used to maintain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
As church members, we can push our churches to follow its own morally responsible investment guidelines—by informing companies that we are invested in of our concerns for the ways in which their products are used in the occupied Palestinian territories, and by freezing investment or divesting from companies that refuse to respond to these concerns. Instead of investing in these companies, we can positively invest in companies that support human rights and international law, and positively invest in the Palestinian economy.
As purchasers, we can refuse to buy products made in settlements or made by companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. And we can positively purchase products that support fair, just trade, such as Sindyanna of the Galilee and Zatoun, which sell Palestinian olive oil products.
And as global citizens, we can participate in olive harvest delegations (such as the YMCA/YWCA's Joint Advocacy Initiative), in accompaniment programs (such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program or Christian Peacemaker Teams), or in educational delegations (such as those hosted by Interfaith Peacebuilders or Sabeel Ecumenical Center) to the Palestine and Israel. 
As primary funders of Israel’s military occupation, we have a responsibility to work for change, not only to guarantee food security for Palestinians but to encourage the true security that is to be found in peace and justice for all people of the holy land.
We can, and—if the walls separating Israelis and Palestinians from a just, secure, and peaceful future are to fall—we must. 
*David Hosey is a Mission Intern whose international placement was in Israel/Palestine. 



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