We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
AUA Network member Claire Everhart will be living near Jenin in the northern region of the West Bank and volunteering with the Palestine Fair Trade Association through July.
I took a rather unconventional route across the West Bank last week. I ran 5 marathons in 5 days, or the “Run Across Palestine,” which is raising funds to purchase olive trees for farmers and scholarships for their children.
Click here to see 7 short clips on the run and cause.
From At-Tuwani to Beit Ummar to Jerusalem to Arura to Nosj Beil to Jenin we were graciously and joyously welcomed. (By the way, if you try to look up any of these villages, you will find them in several different spellings). In each village, we were given more food (and tea and coffee!) than we could eat, cultural entertainment, warm beds, and endless words of gratitude. The Palestinian people are overwhelmingly kind and welcoming.
As we entered each village, we brought with us a truck loaded with 500 olive tree saplings. We planted many together with the Palestinians. Each time, it was a celebration of hope, solidarity, and the love that the Palestinian people have for their land and the olive tree. There is no wonder why Palestine produces some of the best olive oil in the world.
Olive trees live and produce for thousands of years. Their roots go very deep. The Palestinians say their roots are as deep as the roots of their beloved olive trees. The olive tree is a symbol of their attachment to the land. Farmers name many of their trees. They say that they “serve” the tree, and you can see it in their eyes; their devotion to this majestic and life-giving plant.
I chose to Run Across Palestine because I believe the Palestinian people to be a part of my community. By planting trees, we provide sustainability, hope, and joy.
“gharasu fa’kalna wa gharsna faya’kloun”
they planted so we ate, we plant so they can eat.
When we finally finished the run and entered Jenin, where the Palestine Fair Trade Association and Canaan Fair Trade are located, we were met with a moving welcome. Villagers ran through the finish line with us, school children pounded on drums, music was played, and shouting was heard all around us. We were lifted onto shoulders to dancing and clapping. We were given a basket of Canaan Fair Trade olive products, and then – a gesture that prohibited the US team from maintaining composure – was honored with the dedication of an olive tree to each of us. Many of us thought we were simply planting a tree in our name, but no. We were each given a 200+ year old tree. We hammered plaques into the ground with our name at each of our individual trees and will receive the olive oil from our tree for the next 3 years. This is symbolic and meaningful, because an olive tree is the greatest sign of gratitude that a Palestinian farmer could give.
My internship will be close to my tree, and I look forward to visiting it often. I am grateful to have 5 1/2 more months with these beautiful people. I will continue to tell you much more about them because their true story is one often untold.