Aside from volunteering at various locations in the Bethlehem District and taking Arabic classes, another significant aspect of the program has been our weekly cultural experience opportunities. Two Fridays ago, the participants spent time at a local community funded permaculture farm (a farm that focuses on both care of the earth and care of people), called Bustan Qaraaqa (meaning “turtle garden” in Arabic). When our bus pulled up to the entrance of the farm, it was late afternoon, so thankfully, some of the summer heat had subsided.
We unloaded off the bus, and immediately were taken aback by a beautiful structure walled with tons of recycled wine bottles (later we would find out was built from 100% recycled and natural materials and functioned as a structure for harvesting rainwater). The panoramic view of Bethlehem was equally breathtaking.
One of the farmers, Tom, came to welcome our group. He fit the description of what most folks would expect someone who worked at a permaculture farm would look like: bearded, barefoot, and effortlessly earthy. He gave minimal personal introduction and jumped right into teaching us about the farm, first by telling us his perspective on how Bustan Qaraaqa fits within the larger context of resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
He explained that he sees the farm not as the answer, but simply as an experimental model and resource for Palestinian communities in Bethlehem.