Eight years ago this month, the International Court of Justice ruled in an advisory opinion that “the construction of the wall, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.” While neither the state of Israel nor the corporations like Elbit Systems Ltd., which profit from the wall, have heeded the advice of this ruling, Palestinian communities’ resistance continues to grow in both scale and creativity.
I recently had a chance to visit several such communities as part of a Grassroots International program visit, along with Salena Tramel. On our first day in the field, we met a number of women’s groups that have been organizing as part of the Women’s Empowerment Project of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a Grassroots partner. There could not have been a better introduction to the realities on the ground, including both the harsh conditions Palestinians have to endure as well as the inspiring examples of how communities combine courageous resistance with vibrant resilience.
In the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Nilin, just outside of Ramallah, we met with 30 women who had started beekeeping projects earlier that year. They all agreed that the project was important to each of them, their families, and their broader communities. They spoke about the economic benefits – their families used the honey they gathered, and the women were able to sell the extra honey that their own families did not need. This added income also gave the women more decision-making power in the home, something they certainly valued. However, the women were also clear with us that the economic impact of the beekeeping project was not nearly as important as the social impacts – these projects created a way for women to work together, support one another, and defend their communities.
What makes this possible? Two of the women we met with, Susana and Femiya, explained the importance of their structure, and differentiated themselves from another beekeeping project which gave two boxes to each individual to take care of on their own. The UAWC women’s projects decided to organize themselves as collectives, keeping all of the hives together in one place, and distributing responsibility for taking care of the hives. This process prioritizes the importance of good communication, sharing knowledge and experience in order to lead to better outcomes for the whole. And it has worked! The women proudly shared the fact that they have seen their number of hives and production of honey increase more than their neighbors’ individually focused projects.
In addition to successful production, this model has allowed the women to build relationships that create a solid foundation for broader organizing and resistance to the occupation, which has had a devastating impact on the villages of Bil’in and Nilin. The women explained that two-thirds of their villages’ farmland had been stolen by the Separation Wall. The villages hold weekly demonstrations against the wall in coordination with Stop the Wall, another Grassroots partner. Together with their broader community, women risk injury and arrest simply for these acts of nonviolent resistance.
One village member described how two of his family members (his sister Jawahar Abu Rahman and his brother Bassam) were killed by the impact of tear gas bombs and effects of poison gas, which are used by the Israeli military against demonstrators. When we went to visit the site of the demonstrations near the Wall, several of the women collected empty tear gas canisters that remained there after the last weekly demonstration. They explained that they had collected 10,000 canisters so far, and were planning to build a tree out of them, commemorating those who were killed as a result of destructive forces with a sculpture that symbolizes life.
Standing at the plot of land where the women keep the beehives in Bil’in, we could see the Wall just a few hundred meters away – close enough that the women believe that the Israeli tear gas has been a major contributing factor in causing the sickness and death of seven boxes of bees at the beginning of the project.
But the women know how important it is to hold onto their land and their beekeeping project. Under Israeli law, if the Israeli government can show that land has been out of production or vacant, it is even easier to take that land away. For that reason, placing beehives in a specific area of the village is a strategy to directly resist further expropriation of that land. “We have to protect our land,” explained UAWC beekeeper Salwa Hasan, “and putting these beehives here is how we do it. We are developing ourselves, and we are challenging the occupation.”
UAWC women have since given the bees medicine and treatment to recover from the affects of the gas, and their conditions have improved – they have more bees and honey now than ever. Reflecting back on their work, it was inspiring to think of how completely appropriate and meaningful it is that Palestinian women’s leadership resists the Wall in part by nurturing these hives, which in turn are led by female leadership and play a vital role for all living creatures.
Grassroots is proud to have supported UAWC’s Women’s Empowerment Project since 2008, and we look forward to all the ways that this work continues to blossom in the future.