Also, you may be interested to know that the Festival has been subjected to a shameless and intense campaign by pro-Israel groups seeking to shut it down; you can read about that here.
I wanted to let you know that I will be returning to Palestine soon for the September 6th trial of the settler who assaulted me and fractured my skull this spring. I also wanted to let you know about an exciting new olive planting project in the village of Tuba.
I am so grateful to everyone who helped me recover – to all of you who helped me pay for medical care, for the excellent care I received in Palestine, and the friends who cared for me so well after the attack.
Now, as I return to Palestine, I am asking once again for your help, encouragement and support — not only for myself, but more importantly for the people there who I’ve grown to love and admire. All too often as I check Instagram and Facebook, I see the faces of people dear to me — not celebrating births or weddings, but being viciously attacked by settlers living illegally on stolen land, or violently arrested by the Israeli army just for farming and going about their daily life ON THEIR OWN LAND.
Just days after I was assaulted, settlers from the same Illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked a shepherd from Tuba village as he grazed his sheep, beating him as he lay on the ground and spraying pepper spray directly into his eyes and face. Over the summer settlers have stolen sheep, crops and land, broken, burned and uprooted olive trees, forced their way into homes, broken up furniture, destroyed personal belongings, destroyed the village’s well, assaulted shepherds and generally waged a campaign of terror aimed at forcing residents to abandon their village.
None have faced legal consequences, making it abundantly clear that it is only my US citizenship (and your pressure on our elected officials to make that citizenship mean anything) that has resulted in any charges at all against the settler who hit me.
It is especially painful for me to see that in the many online images, in the background or even holding the camera, are the children I have watched grow up and the new generation that has followed.
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO: Israeli settlers and soldiers prevent Palestinians from using their water well, located on privately owned land in the village of Tuba.
As I head back to Palestine, the new school year is about to begin in Masafer Yatta. Once again what should be a source of joy for children from Tuba and Maghyer al Abeed will instead mean a terrifying daily walk through lands newly stolen and colonized by the same settlers who have violently attacked their families throughout the summer, watched by the same soldiers who have repeatedly invaded their homes and arrested their fathers.
Students in Sfai and Jinbah will likely attend class without a school. Last spring the children of Sfai watched Israeli bulldozers destroy their school and then the tent put up to replace it. As I write this, Israeli authorities have announced that the Jinbah school could be demolished any day. Indeed, all of the villages within Masafer Yatta are facing complete demolition to make way for Israeli Firing Zone 918 and Israeli settlers who are moving so aggressively to establish new outposts.
These children need to know they and their families are not alone. As I get ready to go back, I’m inviting you to help me send that message by sponsoring an olive tree to be planted in Masafer Yatta in the coming growing season, as a practical act of solidarity, and a means of helping families to hold onto their land.
Along with friends from Tuba, I’ve partnered with the Dutch organization Plant An Olive Tree (Plant een Olijfboom) to plant a grove of trees on these lands. In this short video you can see the trees, and hear from my friend Ali on the importance of keeping the olive trees on the land.
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO (Text is in Dutch, but audio is in English)
Israeli law allows for the seizure of land as “state land” if the landowner cannot prove the agricultural use of it for three years. The planting of these trees, with international involvement, both replaces trees destroyed by settlers, and creates proof of cultivation that can help private landowners keep their land in court. Plant An Olive Tree has been working with families in Palestine for decades to replace some of the one million olive trees destroyed by Israeli settlers and soldiers since 2001. I’m grateful to them for helping us to create the Madison-Masafer Yatta Grove and send a living message of support for nonviolent resistance.
Sponsoring a tree costs 20 euros or about $24 US Dollars. You can use PayPal or a credit card. Plant an Olive Tree will send a lovely printable certificate of sponsorship by email so you can gift your tree to honor a friend or relative who cares for both freedom and the planet. If you prefer, you can send a check made payable to Palestine Partners or Cassandra Dixon and marked “Olive Grove” to 3579 County Road G, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965. You can also donate through Palestine Partners online HERE .
Finally, I also plan to visit the talented women of Women in Hebron Cooperative, and my dear friend Laila while I am there. WIH provides women in the Hebron area with a way to earn money for their families through the sale of handmade jewelry and traditional Palestinian embroidery. I’m happy to invite you to purchase their lovely products in the US HERE, or click the link below to shop for wonderful gifts for yourself or a friend, and support these hardworking and talented Palestinian women. If you’d like to offer their handmade products at an event, please contact me and I would be thrilled to bring them.
Laila looks on from the entrance to Women in Hebron’s shop as Israeli soldiers fill the streets of Hebron’s Old City market. Photo by amer_shallodi #شاهد_صور
Thank you so much for your care, support and solidarity, and for caring about these people who have become so dear to me,
PS: If you would like to donate towards the cost of travel to Palestine, you can use this go-fund-me link, make a tax deductible donation to Palestine Partners HERE, or use the links below. If you prefer, you can mail a check, made out to either Palestine Partners or Cassandra Dixon, to Palestine Partners, PO Box 8414, Madison, WI 53708.
The olive oil soap that connects Palestinian-Americans like me to home. For the diaspora community, this commodity has become a love letter, written in sun and air and earth.
The author’s mother holding a bar of Saboun Nabulsi. (Photo courtesy of the author)
In every small Middle Eastern store or international grocery we walk into at home in the San Francisco Bay Area or anywhere across the country, my mother and I search for Saboun Nabulsi. We weave through narrow aisles packed with cans of fava beans and jars of pickled eggplant, past the giant plastic tubs brimming with olives, the bags of pita bread spilling from the bottom shelves. If we are lucky, we find the most treasured import: the saboun (soap), wrapped in waxy white paper stamped with the fading red camel, blue barcode, the bright Arabic script that stretches across each side of the rough cube, always a tiny bit askew. We are careful shoppers, but for Saboun Nabulsi, we will pay almost any price.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, a man who learned from his father, who learned from his father, mixes virgin olive oil pressed from local olive trees with water and an alkalizing sodium lye compound. He stirs it with a wooden paddle in a massive stainless-steel vat. Days later he and his team pour the thick boiling liquid into a large wooden frame spanning the factory floor. The mixture sets, and the men step across soap to mark a grid of lines across the top. They bend at the waist, cutting along the lines with a long wooden stick fitted with a sharp blade. They squat on the surface with embossing hammers, swiftly stamping the top of each cube, like xylophone players performing in a concert. They stand on stools to stack the soap in circular hollow towers so the air can circulate around each bar. The soap hardens and cures for weeks until being packaged, sent away.
Since the 10th Century, zaitoun — olive — has been transformed into these creamy bricks of castile soap. For the diaspora community, this commodity becomes a love letter, written in sun and air and earth, enveloped in history and ritual and resilience, traveling to us across great distances.
In my shower in California, I scrub the soap against a rough white cotton washcloth and move the towel across every limb, every birthmark, every scar. I have never set foot in the Palestinian territories in my 36 years, but the land and its people — my people — anoint my skin daily. Like eating my mother’s zaatar manoushe (flatbread) or knafeh Nabulsi (a cheese and phyllo dessert), this ritual physically connects my body with my roots. My mother has used Saboun Nabulsi since she was a child growing up in Damascus after her family fled Nablus in 1948. This bar of soap was their shampoo, their stain remover, their laundry detergent. She and her siblings would shred the soap into paper-thin shavings and place them into the small stainless-steel basin of their hand-wringer washing machine.
The suds are now her memories, seeping into my skin.
My mother has not returned to her ancestral home since 1967. I close my eyes and imagine her as a girl, 17 years old, sleeping on the bottom bunk at her boarding school in Ramallah waking to the thrum of engines. It is Monday, the beginning of final exams week, just days before her high school graduation. Outside, lines of yellow buses wait like convoys to take them all away. The Six-Day War has begun.
Inside a cotton pillowcase, she places her passport, pajamas, underwear, a change of clothes, slippers, a notepad. You don’t take much when you think you will one day return, she will tell me decades later. She takes the bus that heads north toward her grandparent’s house in Tulkarm, where her mother was staying to attend her graduation. They wait in the house, trying to decipher radio announcements over the static while their bodies rattle with each explosion cracking in the distance. After two days, soldiers arrive and herd them like livestock into maroon pick-up trucks. The trucks eventually stop in the middle of nowhere and dump them all on the side of the road. They walk for hours. They don’t eat for days. Dead bodies start to appear in the margins of the fields. Everywhere, stones stained in sweat and blood. They sleep in the damp soil under olive trees, using the tree limbs as pillows.
I see those same trees in the iconic 2005 image of the Palestinian woman in a bright pink cardigan embracing an olive tree — an image now embossed in our minds like a family photo. Two soldiers look down at her as she wraps her arms around the tree limbs, her eyes closed, her mouth open in a wail. She looks like she is losing a loved one. She is. Since 1967, Time reported in 2019, more than 800,000 olive trees in the West Bank have been uprooted, damaged, cut. From August 2020 to August 2021, more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank, and Palestinians are being denied access to the groves they have cultivated for generations, the groves that form the basis of their economy, their livelihood, their cultural memory. Around 90 percent of the Palestinian olive harvest is used to make olive oil, with the rest used for table olives, pickles and soap.
Palestinian Mahfoza Oude, 60, cries as she hugs one of her olive trees in the West Bank village of Salem, 27 November 2005. Mahfoza and other villagers lost dozens of their olive trees after they were chopped down by Israeli settlers from the nearby Elon Morei settlement. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)
“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them,” the late Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish famously said, “their oil would become tears.” I stand under hot water after scrolling through more devastation, after absorbing news of another massacre, another explosion, another picture of a weeping family wrapping the body of their child in a white cotton sheet and carrying them to be buried. I clean the tears on my face with the tears of my people as the soap becomes smaller every day.
My mother is 73 now. A wispy cloud of short white hair frames her angular face, her fair skin still smooth and tight except for the lines indenting the margins of her smile. If friends or strangers ask how her skin still looks so good “for her age,” they inevitably end up getting a history lesson as she talks about Saboun Nabulsi and proudly explains she is bint al Nakba, a daughter of the catastrophe. When each bar of soap dissolves to a sliver, she collects each fragment, places them into the cut-off foot of a pair of old pantyhose, and ties it shut. She will lather with this pebbled lump until nothing remains.
In the late 19th century, almost 40 soap factories were in production in Nablus. After natural disasters, including a massive earthquake in the early 20th century, and multiple military incursions into the historic quarter, only two factories remain today.
The dream of traveling with my mother to her homeland feels more implausible with every passing year, not only because of her age, but because I’m afraid. What if we are detained on arrival due to the absurd difficulty of entering the region? What if we encounter more heartache than my mother can hold in her body? For now, I will continue using Saboun Nabulsi as this ancient tradition perseveres. Under the water, with the soap in hand, the only barrier between me and our Palestinian home is the miles that separate us — and my skin.
Jewelry Sales for Clean Water is an emergency campaign by Palestine Partners to support members of the Women in Hebron cooperative in constructing a desperately needed cistern to assure access to clean water. (At last report, $3500 of the $6000 goal has already been reached!)
About the campaign
Laila lives with 14 members of her extended family in a small house near the city of Al Khalil/Hebron, in occupied Palestine. For two summers now they have been without safe water. Recently, three of seven small children and two pregnant women have fallen seriously ill. The youngest children, only 9 and 14 months old, have been hospitalized after drinking water that doctors say may have been chemically contaminated or stored too long in the heat.
Her West Bank village has rudimentary municipal water, but Israel has seized control of the Palestinian aquifer in order to supply its illegal settlers there with unlimited amounts of water. This results in restricted, interrupted, or non-existent water flow to Palestinian villages. Palestinians must buy water, either from small trucks in often unsanitary containers, or from water trucks capable of filling underground cisterns. Laila’s house has no cistern, so her family has been forced to rely on the risky small containers rather than water from the safer and more reliable large trucks
Laila is selling hand-made earrings and necklaces to raise the $6000 needed for materials so that her sons can build a sealed water cistern that will enable the family to purchase safe water from a reputable source year-round, instead of small unsafe containers of water at hugely inflated cost. But she needs our help NOW to sell enough of her work to purchase the construction materials, so that her sons can begin the work.
Work has begun. They got the space dug out and all went well with that; Laila got a good excavator and nothing crumbled or caved in. Now they are getting ready to pour the concrete bottom of the cistern.
318 W. Lakeside Street
10 am – 3 pm
Mark your calendars…
MRSCP has new ceramics from Hebron and new embroideries from Atfaluna Crafts.
We also have olive oil and spices from Playgrounds for Palestine, kufiyas, jewelry from Women in Hebron, and an excellent supply of olive oil soap.
You can browse samples at the Madison-Rafah Marketplace.
The 46th National Women’s Music Festival
June 30th – July 3rd, 2022
Marriot Madison West, 1313 John Q Hammons Dr, Middleton
Thu 5 pm-9 pm, Fri-Sat 10 am-9 pm, Sun 10 am-3 pm
The Festival Marketplace is open to the public and no tickets are required to shop!
Palestine Partners, a Madison-based organization that supports Women in Hebron and Youth of Samud, will be selling Palestinian crafts in the Music Festival Marketplace.
This four-day musical and cultural extravaganza covers all facets of women’s lives. Choices include workshops, concerts, comedy, theatre, a marketplace, films and videos, silent and live auctions, spirituality and writer’s series, and much more!
1924 East Dayton Street, Madison
(First Street between E. Washington and E. Johnson)
8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Rain Date is June 11
Palestine Partners will have beautifully hand-embroidered tote bags, pouches, purses, scarves, and pillow covers, and handmade earrings, necklaces and other crafts from the Women in Hebron Fair Trade Cooperative, all celebrating Palestine.
Playgrounds for Palestine will have Kufiyas, the beautiful traditional scarves of Palestine made by Palestine’s last surviving factory in Al Khalil, Hebron; Fair Trade Olive Oil from small farms in Palestine, Olive Oil Soap, and Zataar spice.
Plus Madison’s Knitting for Peace will offer beautifully hand-knit hats and other treasures made by women from Iraq and Syria who have resettled in Madison.
Stand with Palestine Yard Signs will also be available for purchase.
Hosted by Palestine Partners and Playgrounds for Palestine, with special guests from Knitting for Peace.
Celebrate Summertime! Please come out and support Palestinian artisans, farmers, and their communities as they continue to struggle against the health and economic impacts of COVID and increasing settler aggression throughout the West Bank.