But They Come Back to Plant: A Farmer’s Tale

I was home again, after my summer’s absence. I laid there on my bed, gazing at the brilliant green that engulfed my window and remembered another place that was green. A place that, while I stayed there, reminded me of home. A place called Beit Hanoun.

For it was like home in so many ways, with its farms and fields, quiet streets and lush greenery all round. And its people, like the folk in my own town, were very proud of their quiet corner and were deeply attached to Nature and the special solace it gave. In fact, it was there that I learned the hadeeth of the Prophet: “three things in life are a cooling to the eyes: greenery, running water, and a beautiful face.”

But as I sat beneath the grapevines eating fresh fruit and the best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever eaten, I learned how the calming, home-like green all around me held stories my rural southwestern Wisconsin never told.

Abu Wael, our white-haired host, so gentle and soft-spoken, sat with us and graciously urged us to eat more of this food he grew with his own hands. And he told us a little of his grief. And I learned more later from his son Ahmad.

I could tell from his speech (and from what his son told me) that he felt more connected to his farm than to anything else in life. The kind of person who hates to be separated from it even for a day. And so he goes there, even though he is old and even though he does not have the same strength he used to have. Because he has to go. Because that is when he feels most alive, most happy.

It was not mere sentiment only, of course. He was a father of seven. A father determined to see his children through college. A father determined to see them well-educated and well-placed in life. And the farm was main source of provision.

It used to be planted with olive trees, and a beautiful orchard it was. But then came October 2004. And it was time to collect the olives. So he went, himself, some workers, and relatives, to begin the harvest. But they never did harvest those olives that year. For Beit Hanoun was under attack by the Israeli army. And that day, as they reached the farm, they received news that a cousin, Lu’ay, was hit by a helicopter rocket and mortally wounded. So they left the farm in concern for Lu’ay and the family.

The third day after the attack, with Lu’ay dying in the hospital and nothing else to be done, Abu Wael returned with the workers and relatives to harvest the trees. When they reached the farm, however, they were met by Israeli bulldozers who began to chase them. So they tried to escape and fled the fields. And that’s when they bulldozed the land, crushing beneath their machines and metal blades the trees and their just-ripened olives.

It was the 7th of October that day. And that day too Lu’ay passed away. And Abu Wael fell ill, because of the land and because of Lu‘ay. But that would not be the last of his grief that year.

Three days later, on the 10th of October, he and his son stood on their balcony. It was 5am. An attack had just happened and they were trying to figure out what had happened. Another cousin (also named Ahmad) decided to go the hospital to see what was going on. Ahmad was in the street, only 15 meters away from Abu Wael’s house, when he was hit by an apache helicopter rocket.

Abu Wael’s own son Ahmad went down running and found his cousin badly injured and also wounded in the leg, so he carried him and took him to the hospital. But there was no chance. He was dead that same day.

It was 15 days of attack in Beit Hanoun. Five people were killed. Each three days a new martyr. And the green all round crushed into rubble and dirt. It was a terrible time. A time without hope. Each day enfolded something worse than the last. And Abu Wael did not recover from his illness for two months.

But the beginning of 2005 brought a new year and new determination. He came back to plant his fields. Because he couldn’t stay away. He planted the farm with orange trees. It was hard work. First they had to clear the farm of the rubble of the last destruction and build a new irrigation system.

But that land seems to have its own blessing. I’ve witnessed it myself. And within six months the trees were growing and growing fast.

But then came the tanks once again. And they bulldozed the orchards once again. And they banished the green once again.

But Abu Wael never gave up. He fought for his land once again. He fought back with each seed he planted that next year. In 2006 he planted watermelon. And he cared for the plants and they grew well. It was time for harvest again.

But no harvest. Over the infamous border came the bulldozers and they destroyed in a few violent moments what took so much tenderness and time to grow.

So it was that each visit of the tanks brought a loss of money and time and work, as well as sickness and more heartbreak for Abu Wael

But still he worked. And in 2008 he planted his land with many types of vegetables. This time the Israeli tanks bulldozed the farm a few weeks before harvest.

And they never stopped. For during the 2009 Massacre of Gaza they destroyed his land again. It was planted with cabbage and other vegetables. They destroyed the whole land as well as the water motor. So now the farm is nothing. They cannot plant because there is no water to plant with.

That’s how it is in Beit Hanoun. The farmers sow the seeds of wholesome provision–for themselves and their families and their people. And the Israeli tanks destroy it. So the farmers come back to plant. And the tanks come back to destroy it again. And the farmers come back to plant.

And they’ll always come back to plant.

That is why Abu Wael plans now to go to his municipality and ask for some irrigation equipment. For some trees still stand in his devastated farm. And he needs to bring them water. Even though he’s tired and even though he’s sick. Its his way to fight and his way to survive.

So that’s why Beit Hanoun is different from my town. Because Beit Hanoun’s green is cruelly razed every year. And now as I walk through my beautiful and peaceful town, I wonder what we would do if our own green was so violently snatched away from us, this cooling to our eyes.

Marryam Haleem is studying Comparative Literature and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. Her blog is called Muddled Thoughts. Read other articles by Marryam, or visit Marryam's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on September 11th, 2009 at 1:28pm #

    Marryam, your beautiful but poignant story about Abu Wael’s struggle for survival in Beit Hanoun reminded me of an equally beautiful poem by Mike Odetella that was posted on this site some time ago – the yearning for one’s homeland.


    There is an Arabic word for steadfastness, ‘samud’ I believe, which the Palestinian people possess in spades.

    Thank you.

    PS Do you still run your blog Muddled Thoughts? I couldn’t track it down and the link above is dead.

  2. lichen said on September 11th, 2009 at 2:31pm #

    This is the sort of thing that makes me so angry at the disgusting, ugly arrogance and lack of respect for life and beauty by the trashy idf. Bulldozing olive, orange, lemon trees, date palms that people depend on for life; it is tantamount to murder.

  3. sandra said on September 11th, 2009 at 4:48pm #

    The idf cannot find man el mano on the ground….. they do not have the moral fortitude .So they attack olive groves,lemons trees,orchard and thing that has life init that is not male and who cannot challenge them equally.Because they have to justify their existence in some way shape or form .

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 11th, 2009 at 6:26pm #

    When such unspeakable cruelty and sadistic viciousness goes utterly unreported in the West, due to Judaic control of our media and politics, when such pitiless fiends paint themselves as the victims and demand, hysterically, narcissistically and incessantly that only Jewish suffering matters, and that the infinitely greater suffering of their victims is nothing and is, in any case, all their fault for resisting a superior race, and when the Western mainstream political and media elite go along with this vile discourse, either out of fear or fellow feelings of racist contempt for the Palestinian victims, then you know that the Zionist poison has infected our societies too, and they are just as morally evil and insane as the Judaic Reich itself.

  5. Annie Ladysmith said on September 12th, 2009 at 8:39am #

    This is Ethnic Cleansing in action. The US gov. is also using it in Iraq.
    It is a war against the Arabs in the Middle East, you know, the people who actually own the oil and other resources, like water which they will take from Iran. The media of mass-deception has been helpful in demonizing the Arab-as-crazed-terrorist in the world, and especially in America, by their alarming and fabricated ‘news’ on this issue.
    These infuriating actions have a method; by goading the Arabs into an understandable fury over their treatment, ( Gaza, Abu Gharib, DU, and other weapons of mass destruction), they wait for the Arabs to strike back in any way and then, they have an excuse to bomb them to bits.
    The more they demonize the Arabs, the more the Arabs are vitimized and helpless to stop this insanity.