Israel Part Two

How can I leave out my images of Israel and the West Bank as I write this entry? It’s been so fascinating, beautiful, and dramatic. I’ll just stream them here as a start….

–Camels at the side of the road
–An Ethiopian Hedgehog crossing my path one evening
–Dual flush toilets everywhere–homes, rest stops, bus stations
–All newly constructed homes required to create a “safe room” which is protection from attack ( metal protected, even special window blinds)
–Eating date honey and date jam in the mornings
–Yum…almonds, figs, dates, humus, tahini, olives, pickles, meat balls, matza ball soup
–Kibbutzim, totally cooperative
–Moshavim, private homes and some with cooperative work
–Thai farm workers at large farms and Kibbutzim and Moshavim
–Security checkpoint when leaving the West Bank–because we went to a Palestinian village our car was searched and we were carefully questioned.
–Security checkpoint when entering an outdoor shopping mall
–Young male soldiers with their sub-machine guns everywhere, on buses, in stores–Guns are unloaded, but they are required to have their very large weapons with them at all times, even when on leave, in case they are called to action.
–Young female soldiers everywhere
–Searching for a voltage converter when mine broke–a terrible thing if one couldn’t be found since the voltage in Israel and Europe is 220 to 230, but delighted when finding it in a small electronics shop in Afula–then finding out that my Mac handles all volatage in the world! Still need the converter for camera, e-reader, and recorder batteries.
–visiting sacred Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sites, including visiting the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount–imagining what life was like here 2,000 years ago
–Arab cities in Israel with the Arabs having Israeli citizenship
–A huge sandstorm which blanketed Tiberias and the Golan Heights with sand and almost without visibility
–Hearing the Muslim call to prayer while in the West Bank village of Marda
–Donkeys in the road in Marda
–The variety of women’s attire, from very Western to Religious Jew to Muslim (the first ones including tank tops and short shorts and the last two with varieties of head coverings and body coverings)
–Purchasing home-pressed and processed olive oil and olives in 1 1/2 liter soda bottles
–Sima and me returning a baby swallow to it’s nest after finding it on the ground–we think it has survived
–Watching a video of Harvey and Sima’s daughter’s pre-wedding celebration in the Yemenite fashion (Sima’s parents are from Yemen, coming to Israel in 1935) incredible attire, dancing, and customs
–Coming to know my cousin Harvey (who’s from England) and his wife, Sima, and their family here–amazing!
–Feral cats everywhere
–Only place I’ve ever been where I cannot figure out the signs, ads, etc.
–Seeing the borders of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and being close to Egypt!
–Visiting incredible national parks and adding 23 new-to-me birds to my list while here

Harvey (my cousin) was nervous about me going into the West Bank on my own. He was also nervous about going in himself, but he did take me there. Even though Murad AlKhufash, my permaculture contact, assured us there was no worry, Harvey’s biggest fear was about young men stoning the car, given the recent border clashes. Plus Harvey is just a worrier. On the other hand, I was excited to go to the West Bank, to meet a Palestinian farmer, and to experience something very new.

We drove to the arranged meeting spot and Murad jumped into our car, having been brought there by a taxi. And then we drove into Marda, a small village near the very large Israeli settlement of Ariel (one of the many disputed Jewish settlements in the West Bank). Murad was born here, has always been a farmer, and the permaculture farm was once his father’s farm. We began our visit in his home, meeting his wife, Ghada, and their three lovely daughters, Sara, Halla, and Toleen. While sitting there we heard the very loud mosque’s call to prayer. I asked Murad why he didn’t stop to pray and he explained that he would do it after we left, but we were his guests and he took that seriously.

Murad’s English was excellent since he had lived in the United States for 5 years to earn money and eventually to take an extensive permaculture workshop. He worked at The Farm, in Tennessee ( which is also home to the Global Village Project, an international NGO in Summertown, Tennessee. And now his NGO, Marda Permaculture Farm (, is a partner project with The Farm and is recognized as a branch of the Global Village Institute. Contributions can be made to Marda through The Farm. According to the Marda website:

Palestine has some problems, and Marda brings some new solutions. come and see how it’s done. The farm is an oasis of green in a land that is dry, where Palestinians have lived under great hardship, yet where there is a promise of a new future. We believe that permaculture is a key ingredient in the future, not only for Palestine, but for the Middle East and the world. We’re setting out to show how it’s done.

The farm was initiated in 2006. The Marda Permaculture Farm is a working farm and a demonstration site for permaculture principles, techniques and strategies. Permaculture is an ecological design system that draws heavily on indigenous and local wisdom as well as cutting-edge science, to help individuals and communities maximize local resources toward sustainable production, generation and recycling of food, water, energy, housing and other resources.

The Marda Farm was founded by permaculturist Murad Alkhufash, whose family has farmed the region for more than ten generations. The project seeks to promote ecological, cultural and economic resilience in the region by developing a small scale permaculture site to serve as a model and teaching center for local farmers and international permaculture students. Farm staff will also facilitate permaculture design courses in diverse communities across Palestine.

As we were driving to the farm Murad called out to someone to deliver yogurt to his house for our much anticipated lunch. Then he stopped someone else for some parsley. Apparently shopping is a bit different here, though I do stop in at a neighbor’s for eggs. It seemed everyone knew everyone. There were donkeys tethered at the side of the road and I asked if many people used donkeys and mules. Murad answered that donkeys were prevalent but mules were too expensive. Part of our experience felt timeless, especially if you removed the cars. I felt transported to another era, and into another culture.

Murad’s farm is about 2 1/2 dunoms, which is 6/10 of an acre or 1/10 of a hectare. It’s amazing how much is being grown in such a small area. We approached via a very narrow, dirt road which wound around homes, with people sitting “curb” side, sharing stories of the day–women always donned with head scarves. The farm has a large gate into which Harvey drove his car and parked it. Right away you notice the lushness and organic feel of of the place and see the prominent and very large greenhouse. Inside the greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, companion flowers, and more were growing in abundance. Drip irrigation is used so that the small amount of water available is used directly on the roots.

Murad is harvesting rain water through channels in the town (used to keep the streets and yards dry) for his irrigation by just directing it to his and other farms, teaching others how to use it. (At his home he is using the grey water from his washing machine to water the plants in his garden.) Outside the greenhouse is the typical spiral garden, a symbol of permaculture. He has a “no-till” garden and in amongst the huge variety of fruit and nut trees and vegetables are lovely places to sit. Many abandoned tires have been used for walls and dividers, and in some cases for planters. The whole small farm is so vibrant and productive–a perfect permaculture garden. We sat in the shade of an olive tree to conduct the interview.

Murad said that he is doing this work because he likes to grow, plant seeds, and watching things grow. He likes to eat healthy food and provide it for others in his village. He also wants to build the movement to help local farmers see how productive permaculture farming is. He has a vision of building a house on the site, creating electricity from solar panels, and becoming self sufficient. He then wants the farmers in the village, after adopting permaculture ethics, to sell to outside markets, marketing the organic vegetables and fruits, bringing some economic security to an economically depressed area. His vision also includes diversity of crops so that a farmer isn’t wiped out from a disaster of one crop. Also he plants crops that mature throughout the year, helping to bring income on a more regular schedule. He does believe that his project will help create global health through teaching internationals who come to learn permaculture.

I appreciated Murad’s enthusiasm and energy and knowledge. Because his family has been farming in Marda for so many generations, he’s known and respected in town and has more of an opportunity to influence his neighbors than outside NGO’s bringing the message. We returned to his home to a splendid lunch with his family. Before we left, Harvey purchased olives and olive oil from Murad which were packaged in 1 1/2 in cola bottles.

An added event was interviewing Laithi Ghnaim, an Arab farmer living in Sakhnin (Arabic– سخنين‎), an Arab city in the state of Israel. Yonatan, from Kibbutz Lotan, introduced me to Leithi via internet and we agreed to meet. Harvey and his wife Sima accompanied me on a typical hot morning.

Laithi works with an NGO, Arasid which is based in Sakhnin. His English is great and he also speaks Arabic and Hebrew. Sakhnin is a city of about 25,000 people situated in the hills of northern Israel and is reached by driving through other Arab towns all with their beautiful mosques quite prominently displayed. We agreed to meet at the local high school where we watched the girls and boys being just like teenagers everywhere. The difference was that the girls were either bare-headed and dressed in modern pants or skirts with their school shirt uniform, or head-scarfed with the same jeans and shirt, or in traditional Arab dresses with head coverings.

On a 50-acre project, Laithi is teaching farmers sustainable farming methods based on indigenous knowledge from the area and from other parts of the world. He attended a year-long training at the Arava Institute (see previous blog) and with his university training in biology and agricultural planning, he launched into this work. The big issue facing the El Boutof valley is water. Although there’s a water channel flowing through the valley, the farmers are not allowed any of it. They are not allowed to collect rainwater either since that all “belongs” to the government. So, the project is demonstrating what can be grown with only rain, or as Laithi says, “it’s rain-fed farming.” Laithi is clear that he considers this discrimination by the Israeli government towards Arab farmers.

The project is incredibly impressive. The crops include cucumbers, okra, zucchini, figs, olives, tomatoes, beans, watermelon, and other melons, wheat, barley, and pomegranates. One farmer has tried pecans, citrus and peaches, but that hasn’t been successful. There are some grape vines that appeared to be doing well. Laithi said the grape leaves were a bigger income producer than the grapes since stuffed grape leaves is a big part of the Arab diet. The 14 farmers he’s working with are young and eager, though there are some older farmers as well. The growing season for wheat, barley, sorgum (for animals), chickpeas, and beans is November through July. The rest of the crops are planted in March and harvested in July. Already the ground was parched and cracked and Laithi said that by July the cracks would be huge chasms. They are hoping to make owl habitats so the owls will eat the rodents in the fields and, if successful, will eliminate the desire by farmers to poison the rodents.

When asked about why he is doing this work, which does not bring financial rewards, he responded that even though they couldn’t change the political reality, they could create new economic ways to support the local communities here. He said that the people are connected to their land, to the valley, the land is part of their life, and so to help make a way to earn a living from the land without irrigation, was a dream made into reality, and the people are eager to participate.

His vision is beyond agriculture, it’s about sustainability and how to bring needy families from the valley to earn a living from the land. They led a workshop for poor women to learn to make Arab pita bread from the wheat grown on the land. The women then make money selling the pita. This is a long-term project to bring self sufficiency to the area. They are also beginning to work with youth at risk, bringing them to the fields to learn farming, and want to do much more, culturally. He feels they’ve made a small change in their reality.

He added that sustainability is beyond not using pesticides or chemical fertilizers–that it’s about people being able to live from the land and to be self-reliant. They didn’t get some funding from the government because they were told that it seemed their vision was to economically separate from the government. But Laithi pointed out that the Arabs are not really part of the government anyway! His vision is to have the valley be an organic valley and that this is a model project for the area and sees the model as a good one for a global vision of sustainability. He hopes that Arabs and Jews and all others will see the valley as a chance for supporting both people and nature, since sustainable agriculture is gentler on the environment.

Laithi’s dream is to be a full-time farmer, but he can’t afford it. He doesn’t receive money for the work with the project and instead earns money as an agricultural planner. That helps support his wife and son and the daughter on the way. From our short time together I have great confidence that he will help make this project a great success.

An added treat before leaving Israel (in addition to all the sightseeing my cousin planned for me) was the invitation to come talk to the kindergarden class where my cousin’s granddaughter, Adi, attends, at Moshav Keshet, a “religious” moshav. The class had recently won an environmental award for their creative re-use zone. Members of the moshav bring their cardboard, plastics, paper, and glass and the class uses the materials in their work. What makes this so special is that only plastic bottles can be recycled in Israel (though I was told this is beginning to change) so the children were saving much from being tossed into landfills.

On the grounds of the school were various creative areas where interesting bird feeders had been built as well as a sculpture of recycled materials for watering birds. They composted the food waste, had small plots for growing grains and vegetables and even a couple of strawberry plants. All over was evidence of the use of reused materials even for a percussion section, and small “rooms” where children were active in make-believe fun. When it was my turn to share with them, I talked to them about “pre-cycling,” the plan to reduce waste entirely and showed them my cloth napkin and set of utensils and cup that I take every where. The children understood just what I was talking about.

Adi’s mother, Mel, served us a delicious lunch and we played with their five children. It was a great cultural experience to be amongst the religious Orthodox Jews. I was drawn to the strong sense of community and related to Mel and her husband Elad’s desire to raise their children in a religiously supportive environment. This family had a strong environmental ethic and searched for ways to re-use goods. Elad built their kitchen cabinets from discarded pieces of cabinets from construction sites. It felt a lot like being at home!

I am so grateful for this experience to visit Israel and the West Bank. One, to connect to family I hadn’t seen before, and two, to meet such inspiring people who are really creating models for a new world. My cup runneth over.

About ruahswennerfelt

I am searching for a global vision for a sustainable, resilient world in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability.
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2 Responses to Israel Part Two

  1. Ken Lawrence says:

    Thank you, Ruah. It is so nice to learn about real people living in a part of the world that we only hear about on the news when something bad happens.


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