Mou’ness, a part-time farmer and veterinary student, talked about farming in Sabastiya and his organic farm where he grows orange and olive trees, plus a variety of vegetables in a greenhouse. He is also a bee-keeper and the bees are attracted to the orange trees which give their honey a distinctive flavour. Mou’ness explained that farming is seen as a part-time job by most young people who can earn more working in towns or in Israel, so farming is seen as supplementary to that income. However, village farms help people to be self-sufficient in terms of food and, most importantly, guard the land against annexation. Some farmers now have sheep, and the village produces its own yoghurt and cheese which can be sold to other villages.
Elizabeth Scott from the Northampton Al-Bireh (Palestine) Friendship Association (NABPFA) talked about a new gardening blog available in both English and Arabic, a project created by volunteers of NABPFA. It enables gardeners from the UK and Palestine to share ideas and is also a way of linking people and increasing awareness about the struggles faced by Palestinians. Elizabeth is keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in posting on the blog.
Mou’ness confirmed that the seeds used on his organic farm were of Palestinian origin. Abu Yasser spoke about the importance of lemons in Palestinian cooking and how every family has at least one lemon tree in their garden.
We discussed how we might help farmers to stay on their land. Abu Yasser was clear that the focus needs to be on what the farms need rather than the farmers. Greenhouses, fencing, and water are expensive. Although Sabastiya is better off in term of water resources than other villages, thanks to natural springs, in summer there can be shortages and water tanks have to be bought.
This raised the importance of developing a grey water recycling system in Sabastiya. Qabiyah village near Ramallah is now re-cycling 60% of its water. Abu Yasser informed us that there is a project afoot, by a German company, to start a grey water system which will support 7 villages including Sabastiya.
The remainder of the evening focused on discussing the documentary film Jaffa, the Orange’s Clockwork by Eyal Sivan, which we highly recommend.