By Basem Masry
Like many Palestinians we too are frustrated by the status quo – the huge open-air prison, the checkpoints, the harassment and inhumane treatment that has become a daily routine perpetrated by Israeli soldiers and their security machine; oftentimes at the cost of life and limb – all of which we are supposed to accept passively.

A group of us began to meet to ask why we had become complacent, why do we continue to deal with Occupation as if it were a fact of life and not a daily disease that we must work to get rid of. Cancer patients put us to shame; they are more steadfast in their own personal fights than all of us collectively. We are giving up in front of our own cancer; we have accepted our prognosis – continued Occupation and the worst-ever form of racism. But the truth is that some of us are no longer able to accept the current status quo. We cannot survive and continue to live in this facade of normal life under Occupation. It goes against every fibre of our beings, and every cell in our brains is screaming for freedom.

We decided to take affirmative action. We sat down around the kitchen table and thought aloud together: “If each person in Palestine did something every day to help end Occupation, if he or she would give ten minutes of their life to help end the Occupation, then that would create the beginning of a tsunami movement that would eventually end the Occupation. Green Palestine for Rural Development (GPRD) was our attempt to give some of our time to our people and country. We invited experts from various fields to be part of our advisory council and registered our organisation as a not-for-profit entity with the PNA. Our offices are currently located in Ramallah.

We started our first project in Bilin, where popular nonviolent resistance managed to push back the Israeli separation Wall, liberating part of the land and making it possible for farmers to return to their fields. In cooperation with the village council we renovated an old house and created a packaging centre for crops and a workshop for training. A women’s agricultural centre was established to give training and support to women who wish to establish their cottage industry and learn how to do traditional food processing, such as cheese, jam, and soap making, as well as how to grow organic food.

Green Palestine trains farmers in organic farming techniques; we also package the organic produce and market it in the Palestinian market. One of our success stories is the Al Jalameh Hung Organic Strawberry Farms. Two families of farmers were trained to grow this crop in partnership with the Union of Farmers of Jenin. We were able to penetrate the market and currently are competing very well against Israeli strawberries, despite the fact that our product is sold at a price that is 20 percent higher. (The cost of producing organic food is usually higher than chemically induced crops, but it is perceived as a healthier product for human consumption.)

The Al Jalamah strawberry story is at the heart of our strategy. One of the most solid forms of resistance is boycotting Israeli products; however, in order for people to be able to commit to such a boycott, serious, solid, and reliable alternatives must be made available to the consumer. The best alternative product is local produce, and this is exactly what Green Palestine aims to do: provide the Palestinian consumer with clean, organic, fresh produce alternatives to Israeli produce. It is important to note here that Israel uses fast-farming techniques that are suspected of causing increased health problems. Organic slow farming, on the other hand, is known to be healthy and safe. However, organic farming is more expensive. To encourage farmers to adopt such techniques we are lobbying the Ministry of Agriculture and the Palestinian Authority to guarantee the minimum price published by the government before the season to encourage farmers to commit to producing a planned quota with the Ministry of Agriculture. We are asking the PNA to adopt a better strategy in support of our steadfastness. Our farmers have to compete with Israeli produce, which currently comprises 65 percent of the produce in Palestinian markets. Palestinian farmers need the proper legislative and political support in order to be able to compete.

Another realm that we are attempting to conquer is animal breeding. Our biggest aim at the moment is to develop an animal-breeding centre to protect the local gene and improve upon it. Currently we import 60 percent of our meat. This is indeed a sad fact since, historically, this land had a much bigger herd count than it does today. At the beginning of the 1990s we had an estimated 1.5 million head of cattle, and today it is estimated to be 850,000, according to Ministry of Agriculture sources.

Food security, organic farming, water recycling, alternative energy, marketing, cooperatives, funding access, research work, and policy development are just some of our other priorities. Such initiatives, and many others like them, form the first steps on the road to our independence.

To support Green Palestine, visit our Women’s Farming Centre (Beit Al Touteh) in Bilin Village west of Ramallah; come and sample some of our food and produce, or come and plant a tree and join the weekly march to freedom.

Basem Masry is a Palestinian activist who lived in the diaspora for many years. He has represented Palestine at many youth and student venues worldwide and has become an expert in parliamentary procedures. In addition, he has worked as a consultant for many Arab parliaments, and is a founding member of Green Palestine for Rural Development.