From Ramallah to Jericho

Having been based near Ramallah for the past week or so, our Quaker Voluntary Action group travelled today via the Mount of Temptations, Jericho, Hisham’s Palace, and a spring near the village of Auja to the Auja Eco Centre.

It is rather hotter in the Jordan Valley than in Ramallah. And it was a fairly steep climb up the Mount of Temptations, said to be the place in the wilderness where Jesus fasted for forty days and was subjected to temptation. There is a monastery perhaps about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. I walked up the path to the monastery in silence. Inside the monastery there are a couple of small chapels. One of them is just a small cave with a low entrance. I had a few moments alone in that little cave, but was very conscious of other people wanting to follow me inside. The chapels were all rather crowded and few people were entirely silent. It was not conducive to prayer or meditation. I was reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

I have desired to go

Where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp or sided hail

And a few lilies blow.

I have asked to be

Where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb

And out of the swing of the sea.

Jericho is noticeably greener than the large bustling city of Ramallah. We found a small café/restaurant for lunch, before going on to Hisham’s Palace, which was built during the first half of the eighth century and largely destroyed by an earthquake only five years later, though it was subsequently occupied.

Our next stop was at the end of a road up a narrow steep-sided valley. The hillsides are barren, but we walked a little way on up the valley to where tall rushes were growing along a small stream. Several of us removed our shoes or sandals and found rocks to sit on with our feet in the deliciously cool water. The stream from the spring used to provide a plentiful supply of water to the village of Auja, which used to grow an abundance of melons and other fruit. Now the spring water is extracted for use, mainly for irrigation, in nearby Israeli settlements. The stream has dried up for all but a few winter months, so the land is dry and unproductive. The residents of Auja have to go and work for low pay in the nearby settlements and/or sell some of their own land to Palestinians from Ramallah or Jerusalem who can afford holiday homes.

Our base for the next two days is the Auja Eco Centre. This is a project of Friends of the Earth (FoE) in the Middle East, which has offices in Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and Amman. Fadi, the director of the Eco Centre explained that FoE in the the Middle East, which has members in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, supports the claims of the Palestinians to a viable independent state, which would require the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Fadi told us about some of the consequences of the unfair distribution of the region’s water resources. Because of excessive extraction upstream, the lower Jordan River is seriously depleted. It is also polluted by untreated sewage. Old artesian wells are becoming saline as the water table sinks. Extraction from existing wells by Palestinians is metered and controlled by the Israeli water authority. The Palestinians are allowed water for domestic use only. They are frequently unable to obtain permits to repair water infrastructure in Area C, which is under Israeli control.

Fadi told us about the Centre’s “Good Water Neighbours” scheme, which fosters cooperation between neighbouring Palestinian and Jordanian villages. In these villages there are “water trustees” who teach children about the importance of water conservation. Unfortunately Israeli settlements, which consume the lion’s share of the water, are not involved in such cooperation. This is because FoE in the Middle East has a policy of non-cooperation with people or organisations who do not recognise the rights of Palestinians.

Such non-cooperation is a classic form of nonviolent struggle or the use of “goodness-power”. (“Goodness-power” will be the subject of a future blogpost.) However, if non-cooperation also means a refusal to talk to opponents, in this case the residents of Israeli settlements, I feel rather uneasy. The sooner opponents talk to each other and begin cooperating to resolve a problem, the sooner the problem will be resolved. Not so long ago I read H. W. van der Merwe’s autobiography. “Harvey” was the director of the Centre for Intergroup Studies in Cape Town. He did much to bring members of the ANC together with members of the Apartheid administration. As a Quaker he made a point of being willing to talk to anyone and everyone.