Self determination through traditional agriculture : the example of Khan al Lubban

by gilbertglad

I first read about Abu Jamal’s farm last Saturday. I stumbled upon his facebook page and immediately arranged a visit for the next day. On Sunday we made the trip down to Khan al Lubban for the first time. We were very well received by Khaled “Abu Jamal” Daraghmeh. He showed us his plants, his Ottoman era stone house and treated us to tea, coffee, and figs from his trees. Like so many men in the region he quickly launched into a monologue about politics, both Palestinian and regional. He was just getting around to the secrets behind 9/11 when visitors interrupted our conversation.

At the top of the driveway five cars had appeared. Three were civilian SUVs and two were military vehicles. Khaled went up to speak with them and we followed when his youngest son came out of the house with a video camera. The civilians were archeologists and representatives of government. In military uniforms there was a high ranking general and the usual cohort of gun wielding teenagers that have come to symbolize the military occupation of the West Bank.

While Khaled spoke with the higher ranking members of this unexpected party, an archeologist tried to explain that all he cared about were the old stones, not who lived above them. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he had come surrounded by a dozen armed men or that archeology is used as a tool for ethnic cleansing across the occupied territories. He maintained he was a “neutral archeologist” and I pictured the Tel Aviv like fantasy world in which he probably spends his days.

The civilians requested access to Khaled’s well and house on the grounds that they are an archeological site that they must survey. He refused and they threatened to arrest him. According to Khaled the presence of two foreigners with cameras deterred them, this time. Seeing that Khaled would not budge they got back into their white SUVs and took off. The soldiers remained on the scene for a few more minutes which they spent asking for our passports and trying to intimidate us.

Once the soldiers had left we returned to our corner of shade for more tea and figs. Khaled explained that he receives visits from settlers, soldiers, politicians, archeologists and the civilian authorities on a daily basis. What bothers him is that no one from the Palestinian National Authority cares to make the twenty minute trip up from Ramallah to show support. The Israelis spare no effort in trying to get him off his land. They have offered him money, permits to enter Israel, and other material bribes in exchange for access to his half destroyed stone structure. He will take none of it. All he wants is to cultivate his land and protect it from settlers. Were it not for his presence, the settlers would have already connected colonies from the Jordan valley all the way to the green line. His centuries old ottoman barracks and his fifty or so dunums of land are the one and only major obstacle to this plan. Along with the generous spring that sits by his house, this explains the persistence of the Israeli authorities.

He is a hard man to buy because he has little need for money. He grows his own food and sits on a spring that never goes dry. Whatever money he makes he uses to buy more land. The only things that could take him away from his daily routine are imprisonment and death. He has been threatened with both so many times that he no longer fears either one. On an another occasion last week, we visited him on the eve of a court date. He had to report to a military court near Ramallah and faced possible imprisonment : “It would be a vacation for me, if I didn’t have to worry about my family and my land”.

Khaled doesn’t trust Israelis, which is understandable given the interactions he has with them on a daily basis. He doesn’t trust the Palestinian Authority because they have never done anything for him. He has some hope in internationals because he believes getting the word out to the world is the best way of fighting Israeli propaganda and rhetoric. Unfortunately internationals come and go. They can’t afford to come check on him every day as the settlers do. Although his story has gotten some media coverage, on most days he faces the harassment alone, with only his young sons filming the incidents. Recently his camera was out of service. The hard drive on it was full and he doesn’t have the computers and skills to solve the problem alone. Last Monday settlers came and attacked his wife. They were unable to film the incident. Filming such incidents is the only protection he has. On one occasion the settlers claimed he and his oldest son had attacked them. Only when he produced footage showing that the altercation took place inside his home did the court accept that he had acted in self defense.

His fellow villagers are afraid of helping him in his fight against the settlers. It takes a special brand of courage to stand up to the occupation army and it’s thugs. After the settlers poisoned his horse he had to plow his land by hand. No villager would bring a tractor up to his land as they feared retaliation or confiscation. Recently a European NGO gave him a tractor. He went to the village council and told them “I will go up to the village land by the settlement and plow for free. All I ask is that someone stays in my house to defend it”. They refused, “Are you trying to start a war?” is what they replied.

Although his courage and determination are exceptional, his lifestyle and activities are as traditional as it gets. In this he shows the way to Palestinians who seek to resist the occupation. In the quest for self determination traditional agriculture, respect for the land and fearlessness in the face of the brutal military occupation will likely prove more effective than all the western funded aid offices in Ramallah.