STORIES OUR MOTHERS TOLD US
By Pauline Collins
THERE WAS an air of excitement as we arrived and drove into Beit Fourik. It was my third visit to our SE London Linked Village in the West Bank.
The old checkpoint had been demolished and had been replaced by two concrete pillars. I think a “sweetener” to the world while the land grabbing, collective punishments, deaths continue unabated.
The soldiers stopped our mini-van and Jamal told us to say that we were going to a “celebration”. We were let through. The old checkpoint has always been desperately commented about on previous visits: the constant closures, the impossibility and/or delays getting to the hospital, the pregnant women giving birth, the deaths. The new one still a checkpoint controlling the village, denying access in and out arbitrarily at a whim.
I did not recognise entering Beit Fourik A new tarmac road had replaced the old stony one. People were walking up and down it celebrating. We got out of the mini bus and entered the Municipal Building and met the community leaders. Fouad, our community representative, was there to meet us.
It took a while for us all to settle down together, we were taken into another Municipal Building newly refurbished since my last visit and eventually we all began talking about the village and the people within it.
We were introduced to Maheeda, the newly elected woman councillor for the Municipality, which was wonderful and I was proudly told about her appointment by Fouad, taken onto the roof of the building and in the village space music and dancing filled the night.
We were all taken to a Beit Fourik wedding, men’s night. The women were on the roofs of the houses cheering and laughing and the men in a giant circle dabka dancing. We were given Arabic coffee to drink. It was joyful and will live in our memories. The “celebration” sent a message to the lights in the hills from the Settler watch towers, the illegal settlements and the vicious settlers within them: “You will not defeat us, we will resist, we will overcome and gain our freedom; we will dance in spite of you all.”
A barbecue followed. Wonderful meats, salad and rice all cooked by the men and we smiled at the universatility of the “man at the barbecue” occasions. We met Safia who is going to come from Nablus/Beit Fourik on the Project visit to Britain from Palestine next spring.
There was some confusion as we were told to split into groups of “how many” two, three, fours to go to our families who were having us to stay. Laughter and doubts spread as we could not make head or tail of what was what and I was told “don’t worry, don’t worry” as I anxiously with Christina and Jane went with Yoher to Marina’s house. In the morning everyone said they had a wonderful time in their accommodation. The families they had stayed with had taken some of them to their extended families and they had revisited the women watching the wedding.
It was great seeing Marina and family again. Her family was well and she talked about how she wanted to start a health project looking at diet and exercise with the women of the village because they suffered from diabetes, heart problems, extreme stress. She said that the Red Crescent medical clinic had closed. There was no funding for Municipalities that had officials that were Hamas. There was a new mayor he had replaced the Hamas mayor. We wondered if this was why.
The next day we were taken up into the hills. Marina and Maheeda came with us. We could see the watch towers and settlements all around and were shown the hillside where the farmers’ land had not been farmed for years and their fig and olive trees were unattended because it was too dangerous. The settlers had harassed, injured and killed people who were olive harvesting.
We walked amongst the sublime rolling, rocky, milky, brown rich earth. The sun was shinning, small plots of land were being tilled with small ploughs and donkeys. We became aware slowly that the seemingly isolated landscape was filled with activity. The colours the farmers were wearing blended into the earth. New modern tractors, carts passed us intermittently and we were told that the agricultural “Park” scheme supported the village.
High in the hills there was a “sanctuary” where the villagers could pray, stay the night; a spiritual place and Jamal said that “he loved coming to Beit Fourik”. It is a magical place.
We were taken to meet a farmer and his sheep. He had built a shelter for them. I noticed with such pleasure how the sheep, who were all woolly and fluffy with brown faces all looked to him as we came to the opening it reminded me of a “father with his children”. A shepherd and his flock. We were taken to see the bee hives. Members of our group went amongst the sheep and looked closely at the bees in their hives.
We washed our faces and hands in the cool clear stream of water that flowed from the hillside.
It was curious how the occupation, the viciousness of the settlers, receded during this time. We were told how there is a severe water shortage, reminded of the danger of farming the land and land lost. We were overlooked all the time by the watch towers, no doubt photographing everything we did, and yet the beauty of place, of people, of nature was greater and for a little while together we were able to be free in our minds and enjoy.
We were taken to a family (I am so sorry I forgot to take their names down). Their son had been shot by the Israeli military. He had been a university student in Nablus and the family’s house had been demolished. This meeting symbolised to me the resilience, resistance of the Palestinian people confronting daily the horror of the illegal Israeli occupation.
The villagers of Beit Fourik had clubbed together and rebuilt the family house and we were sitting in a beautiful home, drinking Arabic coffee in a community that looked after each other; that were providing rights for themselves where they had had all rights taken from them even their son. The father talked about his son’s death quietly with dignity and his mother sat gently beside him. We were welcomed and introduced to the tragedy of their lives and for a moment we entered into it with them in solidarity.
We were told that the whole extended family was in effect under open house arrest. Collective punishment. That they could never leave their village, never travel; the Israeli authorities would be punishing them all for the rest of their lives. We said our goodbyes, got in our mini bus and drove back to Abu Dis.
Thank You Beit Fourik you are not alone or forgotten and we will tell your stories.