Holy Land, Travelogue

Day Four: Aboud Awakes to a Nightmare

At first impressions, Aboud is a sleepy Palestinian village nestling in the beautiful landscape of the hills that rise gently from the distant Mediterranean. Donkeys, olive groves, grape vines, ancient stone walls and historic churches: the place has charm by the bucketful.

Then your eye catches the line of a metal fence in the distance, and bare land clear of the olive groves and almond trees that dot the rest of the village’s agricultural land. These are none too subtle clues that Aboud’s sleep has been disturbed. The village has been dragged into the conflict that dominates so much of life in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Though some 4 miles to the east of the green line, the nominal border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the seperation wall is to slice right through Aboud’s agricultural land. The current fence marks its future path.

An Israeli military officer came to the village in October 2005 and handed the villages’ landowners order for the confiscation some 3,500 dunum of their land.

We were told the story of Aboud by Fr. Firas Aridah, the Parish Priest at the Church of Our Lady Mother of Sorrows in Aboud. He points across the land and explains “they cut down 2000 olive trees for security reasons. They offered us compensation of $25 for each tree, but each tree can produce up to $200 in olive oil per season. We didn’t take the compensation. It was an insult. It would be like agreeing to this.”

Fr. Aridah has taken Aboud’s story to the US Congress .He addressed a House sub-committee on human rights last summer. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the seperation wall is illegal, but none of this has helped Aboud.

A dynamic man, along with speaking out Fr. Aridah has started an olive soap project to help generate income for Aboud’s small farmers who have lost land.

“They say that they are taking the land for security reasons. It is not for security but for water and the land for the Israeli settlements, “ says Fr. Aridah. Just west of Aboud are the Israeli settlements of Bet Aryeh and Ofarim. They will sit on the western side of the future separation wall.

Bet Aryeh is clearly visible across the now barren fields. To reach it you would walk along what the village calls the water road, though control of their water source, vital for village life and agriculture, their two aquifers has been removed. They stand on the other side of the separation wall.

Surprisingly, Fr. Aridah says that he and villagers have a good relationship with the Israeli settlers. “The settlers say that they don’t want the wall. They know the people of the village and they want relations to go back to what it was like before the second intifada.”

The group spoke to one of Aboud’s farmers who has lost land to the Israeli confiscation. Abdullah Sharqawi is growing old and he worries about his family’s economic future. No longer able to work on their farmland, his oldest son travels to Ramallah to a low-wage job.

“Tell them in America that we are Christians here”, he says. “Can they help us to have a better life or can they take us somewhere else,” he asks.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Towards the end of the day, the group had the privilege to meet with Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is an office that has existed since 1099 and effectively serves as the Archbishop of Jerusalem.

“Our Palestinian towns, cities and villages are big prisons,” he says. “No movement means very limited economic development and this is why we need groups like Catholic Relief Services.”

These are troubled times for the Patriarch, the first in the history of the office to be a Palestinian. He explains that it is precisely because he lives in troubled times that it is so important for the Church to give his flock morale support, to behave as Christians.

He says that Christians in Palestine complain to him that no one helps them. He says “the love of Christ cannot be limited to Christians alone, but is also to Jews, Muslims, everyone.”

The Patriarch smiles when he talk about parish life in Palestine. “We have parishes that are very alive”, he enthuses. “It is only in the parishes that people feel alive, free and secure.”

It has been clear to the group that spiritual life is alive and well for all faiths in Israel and the Palestinian territories despite the climate of blame and fear. The shadow of the conflict looms over so much of life here, but the light of faith is alive and well.

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One Response to “Day Four: Aboud Awakes to a Nightmare”

  1. Bryan Von Hagel Says:

    Mr. Backe

    I’ve read an article about the turmoil in the Holy Land and how so many countries claim rights to it. This organization is set up to resolve those problems. I was wondering how much progress has been made in terms of polotical and relegious peace. I was also wondering how much further there is to go before the people that live in places such as Aboud can live normal lives without worrying about having their livelyhood taken away.

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