Friday, December 23, 2011

Harvesting Olives Amidst the Occupation: Christmas Eve Reflections

Oh little town of Bethlehem. After 45 years of life under a brutal military occupation, there is sadly little Comfort and Joy for the residents of Bethlehem   this Holiday Season.  After a night of song, on their way home, settlers attacked a group of Christmas carollers. The extremists reside illegally in Jewish-only settlements built on stolen, annexed Palestinian land. Heavily armed soldiers guard them. While in clear violation of international and humanitarian law, our Governments acquiesce in face of such injustice.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is a mere 9 kilometres   from the region’s other sacred city, Jerusalem. Because barbed wire, gun towers and an 8 metre-high concrete wall now separate the two, Palestinian Christians residing in East Jerusalem were forcibly prevented from attending midnight Mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.  Relatedly, Bethlehemites were not permitted to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. These are just two examples of how Israeli authorities routinely trample on Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.

I recently returned from Palestine where I joined a group of international volunteers to help with this past year’s (November 2011) olive harvest. Under military occupation, the harvest season is becoming less a celebration of nature’s bounty and one’s connectedness to God, family and the land, and more a period of fear, violence and intimidation. Settlers destroyed 8,000 olive trees in 2011. Just in October, 1,500 olive trees were set on fire.  Moreover, settler attacks against Palestinians have increased 53% from 2010 to 2011. To help ensure that violence and vandalism is minimised, we join in the harvest. Picking olives thus becomes a pro-Palestinian act of peaceful solidarity. We help resist the Occupation. One olive at a time.

Reviewing my experiences back home on the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am dismayed   by the extent of Israel’s flagrant denial of Palestinians’ human rights. Arbitrary arrests, massive restrictions on movement, degrading, humiliating treatment by authorities, confiscation of land, torture of minors by the military, widespread discrimination in housing, education and religious observance – are among the human rights   systematically being abused under Occupation.

After the Great Flood, the olive branch was the first sign of life delivered to Noah. This year, consider providing tangible hope while asserting loudly that human rights violations must come to an end! For more information on planting olive trees or harvesting olives in the Holy Land, please contact:
Baha  Hilo

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Threatened Olives Beneath the Monastery

I took a taxi from Beit Sahour. This is the sleepy village just outside Bethlehem, known by many for the Shepherds' field, where 2000 years ago the birth of Jesus was heralded by the glow of a brilliant celestial sign reprinted each year on Christmas cards worldwide.

Instructions to the site were inaccurate and only after recognizing a man on the side of the road, did I ask to be let out of the car. People were slowly gathering in a field overlooking a gorgeous valley of ancient olive trees. Nearby is the location of Cremisan, the last Catholic monastery producing wine in Palestine. Besides being a place of contemplation, the monastey represents the last open green area found within Bethlehem, as the ancient city is now caged in by Israel's Apartheid Wall. Moreover, to "protect" the nearby and ever-expanding illegal settlement, a new extension of The Separation Wall is being built around the Jewish-only colony. Referring to the expropriation of Palestinian land as a "security measure" is mean-spiritted, dishonest and self-serving. This is state-sanctioned annexation in the service of deepening Israeli colonization of Palestine.

Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party is explicit on this. From their political platform: "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.” And, “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.” Netanyahu's recent speech at the UN stating otherwise is clearly dishonest. Israeli policy towards the nullification of Palestine is spelled out clearly. His repeated call to negotiate for peace without preconditions is nothing more than a stalling technique designed to build more Jewish-only settlements, steal additional Palestinian land while at the same time, depopulating Palestine of Palestinians.

Thirty or so people gathered on the windy hillside. A card table was unfolded and covered with a tablecloth. Two candles, a chalice and Bible transformed the small table into an altar and we began to celebrate an open air mass with Fr. Ibrahim Shomali and Abuna Mario Cornioli to pray for the end of the Israeli occupation and the halting of plans to annex the olive groves lying beneath us - the place where I picked olives last week.

A group of young men nearby unfurled a large banner that proclaimed, "We live here and we are not invisible".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dinner in Jerusalem

I have just been forced by the Israeli Defense Force to stay inside the restaurant where I am having dinner - behind barricades - as the occupying Jewish Settlers are rampaging through the streets of East Jerusalem. It would seem this is just another day in Occupied Palestine. Bon app├ętit.

The Malleable Landscape

Greetings from the illegally annexed and militarily occupied East Jerusalem. The olive picking program is now over. I have met fabulously resilient and very kind people who are, as can be imagined, forced to live in a very strange, Orwellian world, where the political landscape they inhabit is ever-changing under the guise of the expanding Jerusalem municipality boundary - which now seems to have gobbled up nearly half of the West Bank. Farmers need permission to enter fields they had cultivated previously for generations, as suddenly they are in a "closed military zone". Reason? Another settlement is expanding onto their land and the colonizing inhabitants, who are now residing on stolen land, apparently need a protective zone around them. If that land contains a three hundred year old Palestinian olive grove - well it's OK to vandalize it with impunity to show
them that it's their god-given homeland. Picking the olives thus becomes an important way to express ones solidarity with the Palestinians' quest to retain their fundamental right to .... well, stay alive on their land while, steadfastly holding on to their culture.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Olive Trees Amidst the Occupation

The olive trees remain steadfast and are thriving this season in the West Bank, even thought they too are forced to endure life under the brutal military dictatorship. This means the farmer can be arbitrarily prevented from tending to his trees, as he must enter his field this year through a military checkpoint. In the ever changing political landscape here, this means that the continual land grab by the Israeli governance marches on. Municipal boundaries are expanded to incorporate traditional Palestinian land into areas previously having been designated as belonging to Israel. Water for the trees are highly restricted under military orders, in order that the illegally occupying settlements in the hillside above the farm - also on expropriated Palestinian land - have unlimited water for their exclusive enjoyment. The amount of time and number of people permitted to pick the olives are also heavily scrutinized. The harvest has been recast as a security risk.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Olive Harvest Under Occupation

For generations Palestinian families have rejoiced during the olive harvest season. With the deepening of the military occupation, farm land has been continually confiscated to make room for ever-expanding illegal and racist settlements. Trees on Palestinian-owned land are uprooted to be replaced by Jewish-only housing projects, or else for the equally illegal Separation Wall. Joy borne of an abundant harvest is replaced by the trauma of life under military rule. Internationals are needed to prevent settler-mediated violence, and of course to help with the olive picking itself. The work is at times hard in the blazing sun. The deep appreciation received for our small efforts is enormously gratifying. Showing the people that they are not forsaken by the world and that in spite of governmental inaction, civil society is united in solidarity with them is vital in countering the hopeless that comes from decades of massive human rights violations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tintin and Snowy's Worldwide Adventures

Tintin and Milou in Canada

Tintin and Snowy in Mexico

Tintin and Milou in the Amazon Rainforest

Tintin and Snowy in Indonesia

Tintin and Snowy Planning a Trip to Tibet

Tintin and Snowy on the Roof of the World

Tintin and Snowy Explore Africa

Tintin Falls in Love in Hungary

Tintin and Snowy in Jurassic Park 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome to the Global Pilgrim Project

By bringing the attitude of reverence to the ordinary, I attempt to discover the sacred within the secular. Travelling the world in this manner occasionally allows me a brief glimpse into that which pervades and connects all of life.

Walking at altitude amidst the mountains - cold and fatigued, I found myself playing a mental game in the hope that it would inspire me to carry on. I was limping, getting discouraged, and that night's campsite was still another four hours away. Impressed by the grandeur of the landscape, I mumbled to myself, "The light shimmering on that rock face is God." Later the phrase, " I too am that rock face", came to me. Stumbling along, "That steep, narrow and dusty path is God" . Again another voice intoned "And I too am that dusty path." "The tiny delicate flower is God. I too am that flower."

The Hindu sacred texts speak of how each person's Inner Soul is mysteriously also the One Self . The spark of  the Universal Divinity that we all share  is beautifully expressed in the Nepali greeting:


 I honour the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells.

 I honour the place in you which is of Love, of Light, and of Peace. 

When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me...

We are One.

  ---  Ram Das

This is an ongoing project. As I continue my journey and in turn encounter thoughts and images that I think are worthy of sharing, I will post them. All text and photographs are copyright by the author. Photographs attributed to others are identified as such. My interest is in the transformative power of travel and how mindful travel can foster psycho-spiritual growth, which in turn propels us to work towards social and political change. Once we experience that we truly are our “brother’s keeper”, we have no choice but to create a world that reflects that value. That’s the GlobalPilgrim Project.

Thanks for walking with me.