Sunday, April 21, 2013

Organic Farming in the Shadow of the Wall

Organic farmer Fayez Taneeb

Fayez and Mouna Taneeb are farmers who are making a difference.  When we caught up with them at their organic farm on the outskirts of Tulkarm, Fayez was preparing for a month-long trip to Europe.  There he will give workshops on “One Million Trees,” a project that will educate the Europeans on the difficulties faced by Palestinian farmers, while raising money to plant trees to replace ones that have been uprooted by wall construction and burned by settler violence.

A long-time peace activist, Fayez is a leader in Palestinian Popular Struggle, an organization that works to find creative, non-violent ways to demonstrate the difficulties faced by Palestinians.

But, first and foremost, Fayez is a farmer.  The 53 durhams (a durham is 1,000 meters by 1,000 meters, or about ¼ of an acre) where his organic greenhouses sit is far less land than his ancestors farmed for generations.  He inherited the land when his father died in 1985, but was in jail (for his activism) at that time, so the land sat vacant.
Mouna Taneeb in "Mouna's Garden"

In his absence, the Israeli army moved into an abandoned (formerly British) army camp next door and began to use the farm as a sports field.  When Fayez and Mouna married in 1986, they decided to farm the land.  But the soldiers’ play damaged irrigation pipes and destroyed plants, and the Taneebs struggled.

Fayez was arrested again in 1987, at the start of the first Intifada.  As is all too common in Palestine, he spent a year in prison with no charges ever being brought against him.  He returned to farming.  “To be a farmer is like starting to smoke – there comes a time when you can’t turn back,” he says.

A chemical factory abuts the Taneeb farm
But at the same time Fayez and Mouna began farming, a chemical factory was being moved from a village on “Israeli side” of what would later become the Wall, to property adjacent to the Fayez land (because residents of the Israeli village where the plant had formerly operated had complained about the smell!).

“One day (in 1989), I went to the fields and the ground was white.  There was this white powder everywhere,” Fayez says.  “In one day, the plants died; in a week, the young trees died.”

“I went to the Israeli court, (as did the Jewish farmers to the west of me),” he said.   Because Israeli citizens were being negatively affected, the chemical factory was ordered to shut down production on those days that the wind was blowing to the west (40-50 days a year).  “The farmers to the east, they still have a problem,” he adds.
Organic strawberries

At that point, Fayez took classes in new farming methods, determined to make his produce organic to further reduce chemical risks.  Most of his crops are grown in greenhouses, eliminating problems with airborne pollutants, and the soil is regularly tested to be sure that no pollutants are leaching into it.

Today, the Taneeb family, which includes four sons and one daughter, all work on the farm – the almost-grown children when they are not in school, Mouna almost daily and Fayez daily when he is not traveling for his activist work.  They grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries and lettuce.  
Askadnia trees grow in the shadow of the Wall

They also have an orchard called “Mouna’s garden,” in tribute to Mouna who had wept over the damage to the land.  Trees with askadnia (a small, sweet yellow fruit), apples, oranges, and lemons  flourish only yards from where the Wall snakes its way across the back of the Taneeb property.

 Surrounded on three sides - by the chemical factory, the Israeli army camp and the Wall - the Taneeb family continues to farm.  They market their produce in Tulkarm and Nablus, and their message of peace to the world.  “We believe in having our freedom and having our (own) state.  As long as the Palestinians have a state, it will be for both sides (Israel and Palestine),” Fayez says.  “Both have the right to live – and to live in peace.”

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