A local supporter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign writes about his poignant encounter with a beekeeper on a recent trip in the southern Khalil hills in the West Bank of Palestine.
J looks troubled at the bar this afternoon. She had an accident in the car a few days ago, and needs to pay a heavy penalty for the damage. A day before the accident she had been held for three hours with a Palestinian friend taking photographs of the landscape near the apartheid barrier. She tells me she is sure she will be banned from entering the country again, as the soldiers had taken down all of her details. They had also joked in a macho way, asking if she had a date for Valentine’s Day.
She wants to travel south of Al Khalil [Hebron] to take a picture she plans to publish at the end of a book she is working on about the apartheid barrier. Her plan is to take a series of photographs of the landscape with the barrier in the background along its entire route from the north of the West Bank to the most southerly point. She invites me to travel with her.
my thoughts keep turning back to the bees, returning with their nectar from across the barrier, from flowers planted by the occupiers
We drive south of Beit Lahem [Bethlehem] onto road 60, which connects the illegal Israeli colonies to occupied Al Quds [Jerusalem]. It is starting to rain, and ‘Jana’, the anticipated storm, is approaching from the north and west. Dark clouds and thick fog gather on top of the hills. From time to time the clouds break and allow a ray of sun and a hint of blue skies. The sun rays make the recently pruned vineyards and fruit trees look golden. The lush grass is splashed with yellow, purple and white wild flowers. Almond trees are dressed in glorious pink and white blossom. I feel at home.
We eventually arrive at the top of a hill we think leads to the checkpoint we can see on the horizon, which is near the end of the part of the barrier J wants to photograph. She parks the car at the side of the road near an entrance to a Bedouin encampment, and we walk in muddy, rugged terrain a few hundred metres, the icy wind in our faces. A dog barks at us and from one of the three structures making up the encampment two women emerge. A man covered from head to toe with the a’baya – a traditional Bedouin gown – follows the women and approaches us to ask what it is that we need. We tell him our purpose and ask him if there’s a way to get to the barrier – which at this point of its route is made up of a patrol road with metal fencing – without having to pass near to the checkpoint and its watchtower. He tells us the only way to see the barrier is from where we are standing, so J takes her photographs there, and the man invites us for tea.
We enter the structure, which is built from low stone walls and a tarpaulin roof, covered on the outside with black goatskin. Inside it is warm and cosy. Two wide open eyes stare at me from the floor of the home where Nour – a one year old toddler – sits. Nour means ‘light of the prophets’, A’mer, her father, tells us. There are two single beds, and a stove in the middle of the small room, the floor covered with rugs. The older woman tells J the young woman is her husband’s daughter, and asks where we are from. A’mer tells us they have been on this land for 60 years, and that their grazing grounds are shrinking because of the closed military zones the Israeli army keeps extending. He tells us that the army destroys most of the structures the family tries to build.
We walk back to the car feeling pleased that we made it without facing harassment from settlers or soldiers, as we know some of the most extreme colonies are situated on these ancient hills. Just before we reach the car, a hooded man asks us if we can give him a lift to a nearby town. Salem is returning home early from a working day in construction on the other side of the barrier, which – not having a permit – he crosses every day away from the eyes of the soldiers. He tells us love is the most important thing in life, and education is essential for his children, for whom he feels the need to earn his living. He tells us he studied agricultural engineering in east Africa, where he met his wife. He is returning home because of the coming snowstorm and he wants to help his wife look after one of their children, who is recovering from illness.
Salem has a beehive in the village and made one tonne of honey last year. He tells me proudly that his bees fly across the barrier to Israel to suck the nectar from the blossom there, an act of resistance by the bees in defiance of the barrier that doesn’t allow the humans in the West Bank to cross without a permit. He asks me if I can help him in finding out what the immigration rules for Canada are, because he wants to travel there to secure a better future for his family. Salem asks me what I do here, and tells me about a family he knows whose land “has been eaten by the barrier”; they are now separated from their olive trees and unable to access their land.
After we drop Salem off, my thoughts keep turning back to the bees, returning with their nectar from across the barrier, from flowers planted by the occupiers, enjoying a freedom not possible for their human keepers, to make the honey of resistance to benefit the occupied. I regret not exchanging numbers with Salem so we can later take up his invitation to visit his house, meet his family and taste his honey, but we are in a hurry to reach home before the weather worsens.