Planting virtual tomatoes
4 May 2006
On May Day, three of us went to help plant tomatoes at the village of Um Salamuna, south of Bethlehem. The South Bethlehem villages had planned to come together for the first time, in an action in solidarity with a local farmer who is threatened with the loss of almost all his land through the projected building of the Wall. This is very fertile land, in spite of being so stony. It is described as some of the best agricultural land in the region - well terraced and growing grape vines, stone fruit, chickpeas and barley. The family have lived there for hundreds of years – Mahmoud (not his real name) told us his grandfather had been born in the cave across the valley. Generations before him had lived in the caves and cultivated that land, amounting to 300 dunams – about 30 hectares. Now the large Israeli settlement of Efrata – started about 25 years ago - is encroaching over the hill tops opposite. Of course the Wall will expropriate a lot of extra Palestinian land round the settlement. This in spite of Mahmoud’s 1980 document from the Israeli High Court, confirming his ownership and saying that the land was to remain his. Many other farmers are facing the same problems.
Mahmoud’s house, near the road, is rather isolated. Settlers have come and invaded it several times, so he now lives in the village, and only comes there in the day time. Sonja, a surgeon who lives in Bethlehem, and comes to CPT as an intern for Sunday and Monday nights, knew many of the villagers and has been going to some of their meetings leading up to today. She drove us in her old car – a luxury for us not to take the minibuses for once, and we arrived very early, as there were no delays at checkpoints, which we always have to allow for. By ten thirty there were about 40 people there. It turned out that there were no tomatoes! One person said it was too early to plant tomatoes, while another said they weren’t suitable for planting between the grape vines anyway. Sonja had brought some packets of sunflower, squash and other seeds which were said to need very little water to germinate and grow, but sowing those didn’t seem to be what they wanted to do either. Eventually, when there had been much socialising, and reporters had been shown the maps and the line of the Wall, we all headed down the hillside and set to work pulling weeds, and clearing larger stones to the sides of a terrace. No settlers came over, so the morning passed off peacefully, ending with the villagers boiling the billy for us all to have some sweet mint tea under the shade of the trees.
We didn’t plant any tomatoes, but the day sowed seeds of nonviolent joint action. The village organisers plan to take the pictures from the day round to other villages to enlist more support. We can expect to be out there in solidarity with them again.