May 30, 2015:
Question: How many Palestinian farmers does it take to plant an olive tree?
Answer: Just one. But only if ten volunteers will watch
This is not a joke. And in fact the farmer had several members of his family at his side. But the farmer and his family can only plant if non-Palestinian activists accompany them. When they plant alone settlers from the illegal settlement above the orchard drive them off. The settlement stands on land belonging to the same group of Palestinian farmers.
This week Ta’ayush, a partnership of Israelis and Palestinians, sent ten of us here to show the settlers and the Civil Administration that the farmers are not giving up. Three other volunteers were on their own for a long day of backbreaking work in another part of Hebron; a few more accompanied shepherds, and we watched the farmers. Some of us helped out a little, but mainly we watched.
We enjoyed the view, we explored caves, now deserted, where the farmers used to live or store their grain
and the former sheepfold
We watched the farmer drawing water from an almost dry well.
We almost forgot that we, the watchers, were intended as the show. At first our audience was small, only one soldier. In the game of watching we led ten to one.
There did not seem to be much to do, so I set my camera down and asked a farmer what I could do to help with the work.
The answer was “you just make photographs,” and I assumed it meant something like ‘nothing. Go play.’ But as I turned to do just that, he motioned and called me back.
“No. I mean look. There. There are more soldiers. You must photograph.”
To me my photography seemed fruitless. But the farmer had a vision of what could be accomplished with my camera. I do not know whether he had photographs in mind as an end product. But he understood better than I that the practice of photography is a form of extended, intensified watching. Photographic watching can be terrifying to those on the far side of the lens. They imagine that the camera sees farther than the human eye and that its image will live to testify about what it saw. Meanwhile those on the side of the watchers acquire courage. This happened today. Another farmer, who owns land nearby that he has neglected for years came to ask Ta’ayush volunteers to help him reclaim it.
He fears for his life, he said, if he tries to work it alone. His visit drew more watchers.
and probably more uprooted olive trees.