From Volunteering to Donating, There are Many Ways to Support Opportunity for Palestinians
In the late 1970s I spent two and a half years volunteering in Palestine, drawing on my professional background in agricultural pest control to help support farm and garden projects. I had worked on a farm growing up and later studied biology and earned a master’s degree in entomology so I was able to make use of those experiences while in Palestine.
Through the Church of the Brethren, I first volunteered in a vocational school on the outskirts of Jericho in the West Bank. The school was in the Akaba Jabr refugee camp, which was set up right after the creation of Israel in 1948. It helped boys orphaned by the war and later expanded its mission to help other underprivileged boys.
I arrived there in April 1978 and got involved in the school’s horticultural efforts. I helped the boys manage the garden plots, growing fruit and vegetables. For instance, we grafted our sour orange seedlings onto other varieties of citrus.
I took Arabic lessons in Jerusalem although most of what I picked up came from hanging out at the school. Playing a lot of UNO and chatting with the students in the evenings really helped my Arabic!
Eventually I left the school to work at an agricultural cooperative that worked mostly with farmers in the Tubas area who’d lost their lands and needed a place to grow vegetables. During the winter months, they moved to the Jiftlik area to grow vegetables as a cooperative.
Our coop relied on sustainable drip irrigation systems. In Jiftlik, there was an open canal that transferred water from a spring. With Anera, we tried to arrange for it to be upgraded to a closed canal that would minimize water loss. Unfortunately politics prevented that project from happening. As I understand it, the Israeli authorities blocked it. So the coop only had limited access to the water. But I understand that Anera was successful in bringing many similar agricultural projects to fruition elsewhere.
I left Palestine in late 1980 to attend to issues at home in the U.S. I returned for a visit in 2017 to try to go back and meet the people I lived with again.
One of the things I noticed on my return was how much harder it was to get anywhere. Traveling around the West Bank was much easier back then. There were sometimes security checkpoints, but nothing like now. Getting from Jerusalem to Bethlehem used to be much faster and simpler for instance.
The land has changed a lot too. When I went back in 2017 to the cooperative I had volunteered at, the route to Jiftlik was completely transformed. The area has been extensively developed by Israel. Nothing looks the same. Back in the 1970s, I used to borrow a bicycle and ride out to the cooperative — now the extensive Israeli settlements and agricultural plots would make that impossible.
When I returned, I found that Mahmoud and Hamda, the Bedouins I had lived with, had moved. I hadn’t been in contact with them since I left in 1980. By divine coincidence I asked a young man about them and he actually knew of them! So I was able to track them down and we reconnected.
Back in the 1970s I wasn’t a person of means, so I didn’t donate much to Anera. After leaving Palestine I continued to do mission-driven work, including more stints abroad. My wife and I worked for several years with the Mennonite Central Committee in West Papua, Indonesia, for instance.
I now work as an agricultural consultant, advising on raising table grapes in California. And my wife became a kindergarten teacher. With our higher income we have been able to support Anera and other causes.
Anera has always been at the top of our list of nonprofits to support. I feel very confident supporting Anera because I know first-hand that they do good work. Their publications report their activities and that makes me feel even better about supporting the organization. I even turned my brother on to Anera.
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