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Holy Land Trip - girl

Day 2: For the beauty of the earth

We’re posting blogs written by Greenbelt director Paul Northup during the Greenbelt trip to Israel and Palestine last week. Today – ancient olive trees, the land, and the beauty of the earth…

Mark Thomas talked about the beauty of Palestine a lot in his Extreme Rambling show. I was unconvinced if I’m honest. Even though I had visited the region once before. Although the landscape was striking, distinctive and evocative, it didn’t really strike me as beautiful.

Until today.

Today, we clambered down centuries-old terraces through meadow-land laden with all kinds of herbs and flowers, with birds singing in trees that were coming into bud in the West Bank village of al-Walaja. Today, the smells and sights and sounds of the land made me remember the childhood Sunday School mantra about this place that I had long forgotten: that this is a land that is rich and fertile, a land of ‘milk and honey’. (We even passed ranks of hives on our way down.)

Our destination was one of the oldest olive trees in Palestine. It was difficult to get an accurate assessment of its age. But it is very old. More to the point, it is very beautiful. Today, it stands only metres away from where the Israeli government is building a brand new settlement road, together with its associated walls and fences – cutting a swathe across some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen and walked in.

As we gathered around the impossibly wide base of this ancient tree, we were joined by Salah Abu Ali, the Palestinian farmer on whose land it has grown all these years. He explained how he and all the village together with many others – peacemakers from Palestine, Israel and overseas – had campaigned and camped out by the tree in order to get the route of the road and wall changed so that it was not destroyed. They succeeded. The scar on the landscape is now relocated – albeit only 20 metres or so to the west. But he still comes to the enclosure each and every day to watch over the tree. To somehow protect it with his presence. There was something deeply holy about his quiet and determined ecological rootedness.

But this is just one tree. Hundreds of others on his land have been taken by the illegal development. And, as CAT and Volvo bulldozers and diggers dragged and stabbed at the rock behind us, sending clouds of dust drifting over us all, I was struck by just what violence and desecration this was. And the contrast between the beauty we stood in and the scar opening up before us only heightened this experience.

The little girl from the village who had followed us down to the tree seemed so happy to be with us. So trusting, as we lifted her down from terrace to terrace. I will not forget her smile and her beauty, mirroring the landscape in which she lived. And the voice of our guide made complete, utter and compelling sense: “The land is my ‘red line’. It is my blood. It is my owner. My keeper.”

There’s a video about the tree on the Guardian website here

Find out more about Palestine by coming along to a free event in London on 23 April with Jeff Halper of ICAHD. Click here »

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