It was good to be back in Jayyous after an unplanned absence. It even rained, as though to celebrate my return. The eucalyptus, jacaranda, and fig trees lining the street on which we live, looked greener and welcoming. I arrived too late to catch the gang of olive pickers even though I left Jerusalem at 6:00 a.m. The gate was closed by the time I got here so I had to look forward to the next day to join the joyous olive harvest. The olive harvest is the very life blood of many communities in Palestine, Jayyous being no different. This year”s, however, is complicated by the presence of the "separation fence."
The next morning I went to the South gate, which is used mainly by school children who live on the other side of the fence. Since it was harvest time, some farmers were waiting for the opening of the gate there as well. The soldiers came on time on this morning but they were different. Two of them were grey-haired older men, one of whom was even wearing a pony tail which made him look like an overgrown hippie. The rest were scared-looking young kids.
This was the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the regular soldiers were on holiday. A representative from Yesh Gvul told me about some activities planned for Yom Kippur this year. Yesh Gvul is an organization of reservist officers who refuse to participate in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, many facing jail time because of their convictions. This year the plan was to go to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s ranch in the Negev in order to demand that he repent and atone for his multiple sins against Palestinians.
The reservists who were serving today, however, had some bad news for the farmers. The gate would be closed for four days during the Yom Kippur holiday. Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights told me that it was difficult to argue against the closure because Yom Kippur is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. I understand that, since we impose Christian holidays on non-Christians in Canada as well without giving the individual the right not to observe the holiday and work instead. My problem about this particular closure is that the farmers had no warning about it. The harvest is the most important time of the year for farmers, but they were given no chance to schedule accordingly. Farmers, donkeys, and tractors were forced to turn back, seemingly to observe a holiday from a faith that is not their own.
Before we headed back, my fellow gate watchers and I agreed to phone and E-mail everyone here and abroad to inform them of the situation and ask them to try to change the minds of the occupying authorities. For a few brief moments, there were some signs of compromise — a hint that the gates would be open the next day. But the news of a suicide bombing in Haifa smashed all hopes of such a possibility. That evening, my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers Don, Per Einar, and I were invited to dinner at the home of the Imam of the local mosque. Abu Sameh, the Imam, and his son were beaming with happiness. His son had just become an imam and was waiting to be assigned to his first mosque. The Imam said that this was a dinner for all the clergy in the village, the three of us all being current or retired ministers. Though we were from two religions, we were all partaking from one common dish of the delicious chicken and rice. While sharing food and laughter, there was a public announcement over the village P.A. system: all the gates would be shut until further notice, due to the military emergency triggered by the suicide bombing in Haifa. All of us fell silent.
A young woman from Jenin, a fledgling lawyer, had killed herself and many other innocent people, including young children. Pure madness and evil. Abu Sameh offered the following theory on the suicide bombings. "Sharon does not want the suicide bombers to stop so that he has an excuse to continue the military operations with devastating consequences."
Abu Sameh reminded us that the number of Palestinian casualties increases greatly because of the consequent military operations following suicide bombings. In time, the living conditions of Palestinians will become so intolerable that Sharon will be able to rid the land of Palestinians without Israel actually expelling them. Palestinians will give up hope and just leave.
"That”s why Sharon will never stop the targeted assassinations of extremist leaders, even though it has been proven that they do not stop the bombers. It is a provocation. Sharon is responsible for the deaths of innocent Israelis," the Imam continued. "Besides, where do we go? The other Arab states don”t like us. The Gulf States expelled us. Palestinians are too clever and take jobs away from local Arabs."
"I am not sure. I have to think about this," I responded. "However, we have to have hope."
On Wednesday, October 8th, many people were expected in Jayyous to join in the olive harvest, including many peace-loving Israelis. The event was to be sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights. But would the gates be open so that this celebration of people from three different faiths — Christians, Muslims and Jews — working together could go on?
Writing from Jayyous