“This is my identification,” he said, clutching a hand painted picture of ancient olive trees, pointing at it, exclaiming “This is it! Without this, I lose hope!”
“Where is your identification?” shouts the heavily armed soldier. “Huwiya? Huwiya?” (Arabic for identification).
“This is my identification!” the old man repeats. This has been the identification for generations of Palestinians. The evidence of olive trees is his identity. It is what reminds him of his history.
Amidst hundreds of clapping hands, stomping feet, soldiers and children, the voice of one man rose above it all. A full six years after the building of the separation wall in the small village of Jayyous, Palestine, hope is still alive. Hope intricately woven into the landscape of Palestine. “That is my home,” he said, pointing to the land of Palestine, “that is who I am!” His hope of reclamation is what keeps him alive! The chance to harvest his ancient olive trees again.
In 2002, Jayyous farmers were given maps of how the separation barrier would cut off a full 73 percent of their land, annexing their most fertile soil, olive groves, citrus trees and greenhouses. In subsequent years, they have lost six of their seven water wells and another 13 percent of their land for the expansion of an Israeli settlement. The wall is fully erected around their village with only two access points, which are tightly monitored and infrequently opened for the farmers of this village to access what is theirs to harvest. This is a village win which 90 percent of the income came from their land; it is what sustained them. It was their hope for the future.
On Nov. 28, 2008, farmers from Jayyous, surrounding villages and cities gathered to be sure their protest is never silenced. Children who were too young to remember what the village was like before the barrier, stood tall to claim their identity with their land; elders who have survived war, incursions, occupation and poverty walked with canes to the gathering point at the gate.
It was a peaceful and passionate demonstration. Israeli soldiers at times looked bored and unsure of their purpose. What do they identify with? I thought. What is their hope? Do they hope to just make it home safely to their families? Do they hope to spark a conflict with the farmers? Or do they, too, hope the Palestinians may claim that which is theirs and end the occupation once and for all?
What I know is that both sides of this conflict are exhausted. The separation wall has been not only a barrier to the land, but also barrier to peace and hope. When this wall went up, it seemed that the road to destruction was paved.
Today, there is hope. Hope in the form of children and elders. Hope in the ability to still identify with what is familiar: the olive trees of Palestine. Hope in the form of peaceful protest and the written word. Hope in harvesting olives with the solidarity of internationals. Hope in the truth.
While many may fear the Palestinian flag or the idea of a Palestinian state, others have hope that the firm planting of this flag on her own soil may well be the hope that the world has been waiting for.
Harvey Milk once said, “Hope is never silent.” I pray in this holiday season that the voices of hope stay strong until that day of peace shall come.
A positive, fruitful New Year.