Building peace by picking grapes
Written by Claudia from Italy
After years of working at home or at the office during the pandemic, this summer I felt the need to reconnect to the international activities of SCI, and to its core purpose: creating peace through volunteering. So I decided to go on a workcamp, and I chose one that would connect many dots in my life: my roots, growing up on a farm in a rural village in Italy, my studies and passion in human rights and international humanitarian law, and my volunteering and job experience with peace education and international solidarity.
The workcamp was at Tent of Nations, a family farm in Palestine (in the occupied West Bank) turned into a centre for peace-building and non-violent resistance. The land where the farm is located belongs to the Nassar family, a palestinian-Christian family who has owned and worked the land for more than 100 years. However, the land has been under threat of confiscation by the Israeli military force for more than 30 years.
The work itself was to participate in the grape and fig harvest of the farm, but the project involved much more than that. The mere presence of volunteers is very valuable for the farm as it provides a form of protection and volunteers can be witnesses to the situation and bring awareness back to their countries. Then on top of the farm work, our group (seven people from different European countries) was discussing various topics related to peace and non-violence, together with Daoud, our host, and we visited different realities of occupation in the surrounding area. But most of all, sharing the daily life of the farm meant that I could have a first glimpse of understanding of what it means to live under occupation in Palestine.
For example, the farm is not allowed to have connection to the electricity grid or running water, so the family needed to find ways to be more and more self-sufficient in terms of resources, with solar panels, rainwater collection and water tanks, sustainable ways of farming, compost toilets, … Volunteers at the farm need to be conscious of this, adapt and optimise their use. While we were there, part of the farm caught fire, and I could witness the dilemma of choosing between using precious water to stop the fire, or wait for the fire to hopefully die down on its own but sacrificing some trees. This is just one of the many examples of everyday challenges and injustices that the farm and our hosts have to face.
If on the one hand we could see and learn about the injustices that the Nassar family are subjected to as palestinians – restrictions on access to resources and on freedom of movement, personal attacks, destruction of their property, bureaucratic nightmares, the presence of settlements all around them – on the other hand it was so incredible to witness their way of working and interacting with people, with such inner peace, dignity and clear vision for their farm.
The highlight of the experience was getting to know Daoud, Daher, Amal, their mother Meladeh and her grandchildren: our hosts, the Nassar family. Learning about their story of peaceful resistance and sharing a little bit of their daily reality at the farm was very meaningful for me.
I learnt about the Tent of Nations’ motto “We refuse to be enemies” and how it is extremely powerful and significant, all the more so in the context in which it is practised. In a land that is imbued in conflict – armed, ideological, political – not to harbour hate seems to me such an impossible achievement, and yet the Nassar family took an active decision to practise non-violence, for the sake of others and their own integrity as peacemakers and Christians.
“We want to use our frustrations and disappointments constructively; to transform this into energy we need to do things positively, rather than becoming a seed-bed for anger and bitterness.”
Their example of finding creative ways to respond positively to the reality of oppression that they live through is truly inspiring and I felt empowered to find ways to act for a positive change in my own reality. This is the true value of this workcamp and the international solidarity that it represents: it is a real exchange where everyone benefits from the encounter.