Conversations in Khuza’a

An elderly farmer from the southern Gazan village of Khuza’a called us first thing this morning. Would we accompany him to his fields? The Israeli army might shoot him if he attempted to sow wheat with his family.

The four of us — a Brit, an Italian, another American and myself — jumped into a shared taxi and head down south. By the time we reached Khuza’a, it was 11 a.m., and the farmer thought it was too dangerous to farm, as the Israeli army was shooting all morning.

So instead we had a cup of tea with the family and some neighbors in a cozy tent they set up in their front yard. The women took a break from processing the wheat outside and shook our hands. One of them noticed the mendhi on my palm leftover from last week’s henna party in Beit Hanoun.

“Henna,” she exclaimed and proceeded to talk very slowly an in short sentences so I could understand her Arabic.  “I do that for weddings. It’s from India. My mother taught me.”

Inside the tent, three men and several women sat on flowery mattresses and explained to us the violence they faced from the Israeli army when they attempted to reach their wheat fields.  Silvia, who had worked with these farmers in the past, explained to me that their land was near the school where the Israeli army had shot at the two of us a couple of weeks ago.

Then one of the young men attempted to show us photos on his phone of the Eid al-Adha celebrations — including the ritual slaughter of a cow — last week.

“How could you be so inconsiderate,” a man  dressed in a traditional jellabiya and white cap yelled to the young man in rapid Arabic. “Can’t you see she’s Indian? Why are you showing those pictures?”

The young man sheepishly pulled back his arm as the British woman sitting next to me turned away — and then whispered the translation of what went down. Our entire group — except for me — was vegetarian.

Grinding the wheat in Khuza'a

After we finished our tea, the family showed us how they turned wheat into bread, and one of the women asked me of I had a kuffiah, that ubiquitous Palestinian black and white scarf.  When I said no, that I didn’t have one, she brought me one from the house and draped it over my shoulders, and gave me several plastic black and white bangles to match. I felt bad, taking from people who had so little — Israel had bulldozed their orange, lemon and olive groves ten years ago — but there was no saying no.

I’ll be joining the farmers bright and early tomorrow in my yellow fluorescent vest. To be continued . . . .

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