The Ongoing Nakba: My colleague and friend, Fareed Taamallah-part three

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

For the Palestinians, not only is land a source of food, but it also stands for resistance, freedom and sovereignty, while farmers are considered defenders of the land.

—Fareed Taamallah


June 30, 2019, Sunday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City

Fareed Taamallah with Maryam Abdallah Abu Lateefa and her great granddaughters, in Kalandia refugee camp
With Mustafa Mahmound Abu Awwad in Tulkarm refugee camp

Returning to Ramallah yesterday [June 29, 2019], we stopped at an organic farm Fareed had learned about on Facebook (I constantly remind myself that Fareed and the Palestinian woman from Gaza who I’d worked with on water issues more than 15 years ago, Amani Alfarra, had inspired me to begin my own feeble FaceBook career.).

Fareed is adamant about boycotting all Israeli products (a mark of his integrity in my view) and using Palestinian products whenever possible. Other Palestinians (and perhaps even some Jewish Israelis) do the same, a tough practice while Israeli products dominate the Palestinian economy. He explained that at the outset of watermelon season about a month ago (I ate my own watermelon last week in Ramallah, unaware of the source, assuming local—my big mistake), his kids pestered him for watermelon. Unable to find locally-sourced melon he took a chance. Is this Israeli or Palestinian? his kids had asked. I hope Palestinian was his answer. But now, we’d discovered a certifiable source of local melon, both green and yellow, along with zattar, cucumbers, sunflowers (for the beauty and bees), etc.

The farmer showed us the seed packet—from the USA, specially bred for a non-salty environment like this region of Palestine. Fareed asked me to photograph him with the staff and include the farm and a giant melon, posing smiling, proud—like a sports fisher with a prize fish freshly caught.

Fareed with his certifiably organic watermelon

During the long drive we compared notes about Palestine, the Israelis, our families, what we read, and our hopes. He was very interested in my report about the Israeli-organized Shurat HaDin’s 3rd Annual Law and War Conference I’d attended in Jerusalem, the first person I’ve spoken to about this, in some detail.

As the director of public relations department of the Central Elections Commission-Palestine, he reads less now, mostly history and politics. About 1 book per month, he claims. His college-age son reads a book a week. Most Palestinians do not favor reading, he explained. Rather, vocal storytelling is the primary means for conveying knowledge. When I asked about his experience during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 (after I’d read Mike Merryman-Lotz’s moving account of his own experience in Ramallah then, the city nearly destroyed and under curfew, a response to suicide operations) Fareed at length and yet cogently told more his own story.

Graduating from Birzeit University with a masters degree in international relations, journalism and political science in 2000, he then worked for a governmental agency, maybe the Palestinian Authority, as a journalist and lived in Ramallah during the week and with his family in Qira (his home village, in his father’s house) on the weekends. At the beginning of the Second or Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000 he was able to maintain this routine for awhile, but the expanding number of travel restrictions like road blocks (which we experienced again yesterday, unannounced, unexplained, unrelated to security, as is usual) and checkpoint mushroomed until he could no longer maintain this regime.

Checkpoint, Hebron, 2008 c. photo by Skip Schiel

Examining for explosive belts, Harawwa, West Bank, 2007

He then, giving up his journalist job, lived exclusively in Qira and worked in freelance journalism. His daughter Lina was born during the first year of the Second Intifada, 2002. To get his wife to the hospital in Nablus, they had to arrange multiple ambulances and drop-offs, which meant she’d need to walk from one ambulance to the next, pregnant and about to deliver (this all a precedent for her later harried trip with an ill Lina to the hospital 6 or so years later, another story—Fareed said both stories are online, I’ll search for them.) To support his wife during Lina’s birth, he walked thru the mountains, in the rain, I believe at night, to be with her in the Nablus hospital. That story sets the stage for the later one, equally telling and dramatic, about Lina’s kidney transplant. He calls this the most terrifying period of his life.

Explaining his love of farming, he considers himself primarily a farmer and activist, or an activist farmer. He uses farming politically, as in his story about the local watermelons. His mother was his guide, silent (Holy Silence). That is, she never verbally instructed the young Fareed, simply worked with him in silence. She felt silence was most appropriate while in the field with the plants, a holy moment. Even tho now with his kids who are all very conversant with farming, knowing plants, etc, they talk while they work. He suggested that after I’ve finished with my refugee project I return to photograph farming. He promised me many contacts. This I will consider, tho not at this point seriously—since I can not imagine the end of this Ongoing Nakba photo project. Too much to do, too little time remaining. To entice me, he reminded me how observable the topic is—plants, water, weather, earth, people, planting, cultivating, harvesting, selling, eating. Appealing altho not yet compelling.

Farm in the Jordan Valley, photo by Fareed Taamallah

He also expressed a wish to tour the United States and give talks about activist farming. He has contacts in Europe and has apparently previously given talks in some European countries, but the USA would be a new audience. I promised to help, requesting first a synopsis of his background, mission, and themes he’d deal with. I mentioned the American Friends Service Committee and Tree of Life as 2 possible organizations that could work with him. Also Jewish Voice for Peace but they tend not to sponsor speakers, unless directly related to their organization, like Brant Rosen on his book tour.

Of course, traveling between the West Bank and the United States, requiring exit and reentry permission from the Israeli and the United States governments—the U.S. now not overly friendly to Palestinians (and most people from Arab-Muslim regions)—can be daunting. Same for traveling locally, meaning to the city of his father’s birth, Haifa. Israeli blocks him from entering Israel, as it does most Palestinians in the occupied territories. Paradoxical because Andrew Haddad, who I’ve also profiled in this blog, a Christian Palestinian Israeli living in Haifa, can visit Ramallah to visit family.

For all this I paid, as agreed, $150 or 600 shekels for a full day’s work. Three interviews plus the day with my good friend Fareed.

Skip Schiel and Fareed, 2019

Witnessed in May 1950 by a woman in a kibbutz in the south as Israeli soldiers unloaded Palestinian refugees from trucks at a camp, quoted in Benny Morris’ 1993 book, Israel’s Border Wars: 1949-1956. (Incidentally, Israel may have by now excised these original documents from its archives.):

We were waiting for a hitch beside one of the big army camps… Suddenly two large trucks arrived, packed with blindfolded Arabs (men, women, and children). Several of the soldiers guarding them got down to drink and eat a little, while the rest stayed on guard. To our question ‘Who are these Arabs?’ they responded: ‘These are infiltrators, on their way to being returned over the borders.’ The way the Arabs were crowded together [on the trucks] was inhuman. Then one of the soldiers called his friend ‘the expert’ to make some order [among the Arabs]. Those of us standing nearby had witnessed no bad behavior on the part of the Arabs, who sat frightened, almost one on top of the other. But the soldiers were quick to teach us what they meant by ‘order. The ‘expert’ jumped up and began to…hit [the Arabs] across their blindfolded eyes and when he had finished, he stamped on all of them and then, in the end, laughed uproariously and with satisfaction at his heroism. We were shocked by this despicable act. I ask, does this not remind us exactly of the Nazi acts towards the Jews? And who is responsible for such acts of brutality committed time and time again by our soldiers?


I consider Fareed, the activist farmer, a visionary. As well as anyone in the West Bank, he understands climate crisis impacts on Palestinian agriculture and here makes recommendations to address the problem.

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