[permaculture] Palestine - Farming on the West Bank Story of Permaculture on the West Bank

Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Wed Dec 30 11:38:26 EST 2009

Palestine - Farming on the West Bank
30 Dec 2009
As a means to counter the creeping expansion of illegal Jewish 
settlements in the occupied West Bank, a permaculture farm might not 
seem like the obvious approach. But for Murad al Khofash, who runs 
Marda farm in the northern West Bank, it is the natural choice.

Squashed between some of the largest and most powerful settlements, 
Mr al Khofash's three-year-old eco-friendly farm is a Palestinian 
template of how to grow-your-own resistance, from the roots upwards.

"There are many ways to resist the occupation," explained Mr al 
Khofash, who has just returned from the climate change summit in 
Copenhagen where he demanded the international community put the 
Palestinian Territories on the environmental map.

"Some resist with weapons and violence, others choose the path of 
negotiation. My way is to encourage Palestinians to grow trees, and 
to encourage them not to leave their land."

Permaculture - an organic, holistic and sustainable system of working 
the land - is Mr al Khofash's preferred weapon at a time when swathes 
of Palestinian land and water resources have long been appropriated 
or contaminated by Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are 
illegal under international law.

Marda, a picture-postcard village lined with ancient olive trees, 
nestles at the foot of a rugged green mountain range that ensures a 
healthy supply of underground water. But, as is the case in most 
parts of the West Bank, Palestinian villagers at Marda - which has a 
population of around 25,000 - are not permitted to dig wells and 
instead have to rely on a temperamental supply of water from the 
Israeli authorities.

According to a World Bank report published this year, Palestinians 
receive only a quarter of the water that Israelis have access to - a 
particularly cruel irony given the fact that much of this water comes 
from the West Bank in the first place.
Meanwhile, the population of Ariel - one of the largest Jewish 
settlements in the West Bank - shows no qualms about releasing sewage 
water into the villages below, flooding the soils, poisoning lands 
and choking olive trees.

Earlier this year, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem released 
footage showing how the Palestinian village of Salfit, near Marda, 
has for years suffered from the free flow of sewage water from Ariel.

The organisation reports, more widely, that "tens of millions of 
cubic metres of wastewater flow freely in the West Bank, from 
settlements, from Jerusalem and from Palestinian communities, greatly 
damaging the environment. In many settlements, the wastewater 
treatment plants are outdated and cannot treat the load currently 
placed on them; other settlements have never built plants."

Israel has made the building of Palestinian sewage plants conditional 
on them serving the settlements as well, a legitimising clause that 
the Palestinian Authority continues to reject.

On top of which, Mr al Khofash points out that a nearby industrial 
settlement pumps toxic chemical waste into the Palestinian landscape.

There have been media reports of Palestinian children falling sick 
after swimming in streams polluted with untreated water from 
settlements, while Palestinian livestock has fallen victim to the 
same fate.

Mr al Khofash, dubbed the "Palestinian with a green thumb", is 
picking up on a permaculture project that began in Marda in 1993 but 
was shut down by the Israeli army at the onset of the second intifada 
in 2000. The Sustainable Development Centre, in Marda, was initiated 
by Australian permaculturists and involved dozens of villages in the 
Salfit district. It ran training courses in water management, 
composting and other aspects of organic, sustainable farming that 
were attended by thousands of Palestinians, but was a target of 
nearby settlers who would burn trees and vandalise farm property 
before the Israeli military closed the centre completely in 2000.( 
the military attacked the Center with Tanks and fired on the 
Permaculturists as they sent SOS to the world for help destroying a 
Center and Gardens where Jews and Palestinians worked and trained 
together ) Now, locals say, the military use the building to question 
Palestinians that they have detained in the area.

The farm begun by Mr al Khofash in 2003 utilises all the skills he 
learnt while working a four-year stint at the centre, and during a 
remote-study permaculture course. The farm, which is a member of the 
UK Permaculture Association and the Global Ecovillage Network, is a 
blooming tract of land, on which everything is sown with careful 
consideration to the principles of permaculture.

Mr al Khofash is energised with enthusiasm and ideas as he bustles 
around the robust-looking farm, pointing out patches of aubergine, 
chilli, potatoes, beans and onions. Demand routinely exceeds supply 
for his vegetables.

"The methods we use in permaculture are some of the same methods of 
traditional Palestinian farming," said Mr al Khofash.

At the farm, the stones that are a ubiquitous feature of the soil in 
this part of the territories have been used to build walls. Stacked, 
discarded car-tyres make borders and also double up as flower beds: 
tyres attract dew and therefore provide a microclimate for plants.

Trees are planted according to their capacity to emit nitrogen or to 
proved shade. A clump the of sweetly-fragranced Louisa bush is 
utilised to detract fruit flies. Acacia trees act as a windbreak and 
feeding ground for the honeybees Mr al Khofash plans to bring to the 

There are other plans too: to rear farm animals; use methane gas as a 
power source; run permaculture courses; and start recycling and 
composting projects to deal with the rubbish that despoils the 
Palestinian countryside. It all depends on securing funding and 
investment - and the idea is to share knowledge and to spread this 
model to other villages as well.

"If I succeed in getting Palestinians to grow their own food, in a 
few years' time we will be self-sufficient," Mr al Khofash said. "If 
[the Israeli authorities] put us under curfew again, we will cope 
because we will have everything we need. And we won't need to depend 
on the Israeli market - not for work and not for food."

Ever since the West Bank and Gaza strip were occupied by Israel in 
the 1967 war, Palestinians have become a captive market for Israeli 
products and were also the source of cheap labour until the second 
intifada. On top of which, trade agreements between Israel and the 
Palestinian Authority have deepened Palestinian dependency on Israeli 

Mr al Khofash is aware of the farm's vulnerability, located so close 
to imposing and powerful settlements. "Yes, they could come and take 
my farm and land away anytime, if they wanted to," he says. "But 
should I just sit here idle because of that? No. Our roots are here 
and we will stay here. We will do our best to keep our roots firmly 
in the ground."

  The National

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