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Ali Salah

Palestinian farmer

Ali and Iqbal Salah with their grandchildren at Al Khadar village Ali and Iqbal Salah with their grandchildren at Al Khadar village

Ali Salah is a Palestinian farmer from the West Bank who lives in al-Khader a township, 5 kilometers west of Bethlehem. Al-Khader is named after Saint George who in Arab culture is al-Khadr. The town is well-known in the area for its harvest of peaches, grapes and apples. Ali also grows chick peas which his family mostly uses for their own domestic purposes. He also sells some of his annual crop of dried chick peas in the Bethlehem market.

Ali's land and ability to farm has been greatly affected by the Israli settlement of Efrat which towers above the terraced farmland below. Farmers have had their land consficated. Since the construction of the Israeli 'Separation Wall', around al-Khader, several thousand dunams of farmland have been separated from the town, with the inhabitants unable to access them without a permit.

Ali Salah harvest chickpeas from his land near Efrat

the Interview

On His Land, May 2011

How long have you been growing chickpeas? And how long has growing hummus been in your family?

We are from Bethlehem. From a place close to the cradle of Jesus, peace be upon him.

Agriculture has been in the family since my ancestors. My grandfather, my father and I, we are all farmers. One grows up to find himself a farmer.All our lives we've been farmers.

How long has your family owned this land?

I am now 50 years old. Since the time of my grandfather, it would be 200 years now in this land. He passed away. But it would be almost 200 years, in this land. And maybe more.

On this same land?

On this same land. We have no other land.

Can you point to the extent of your land and tell us about what has happened to it?

This is our land, here in front of us from down there. And they seized part of it up in the front there. And they seized another part down here and they put caravans. They took it from us. They wear us out; they closed off most roads leading to us. The roads we travel, as you've seen them, have a lot of problems. Now, we need to irrigate and there is no water. We have to get water on donkeys' backs from town. This is our life. It is a hard life. Nothing confortable about it.

Tell us, how has the wall and the settlement affected your growing and trading in chickpeas?

The wall blocked us in. It used to be a small distance. Now if they block us in, they will totally separate us. We will be out of the land. If they close the wall, we are through, we are gone! Because we live in one area and the land is in another. They'd let you in when they feel like it. "Today is the Sabbath", "Today is the feast". "Today there is hope", "there is no hope", "come at 8 O'clock", "11 O'clock..."Here we have the official for the settlement. There are people who own land inside the settlement. They farm it after coordinating with the official.He'd tell them to come at 7 O'clock at the gate of the settlement. He'd keep them waiting until 11 or 12, then say, "I am busy today, come tomorrow". So that he'd wear them out and they'd stop coming. We have a big problem. It is a struggle for survival we have with them in and out of here. If they intend to finish the wall and block us, we'd be gone, we'd be dead in this country. When you grow chickpeas, what do you like about chickpea? Because it is easy to harvest and sell and everyone likes it?

Sahha Aburameh lost two of her children in protests over land confiscations in Bil'in Occupied West Bank Sahha Aburameh lost two of her children in protests over land confiscations in Bil'in Occupied West Bank

Grab one of these chickpeas and show us how it tastes like and how people like it...

Here is one, you open it like this. Chickpeas are soft, tasty and delicious. It is very useful. We make it hummus for the household, we use it for farming. It is good for everything. Chickpeas of our country are delicious. Not very salty. It is good. We can make hummus from it for the household. We dry it sometimes. Selling is not great. Our problem is marketing. We don't have good marketing. Marketing is very tiresome.

How many kilos, how many tons of chickpeas, do you grow every year?

I grow 2-3 tons. Me alone. And other people grow it as well as you can see. We grow it next to each other. So, there is about 100 tons of chickpeas that gets grown here.

Is this climate good for chickpeas?

Our weather here is winterly. All our agriculture is winterly. All our crops are unirrigated. Because we have no water to irrigate, so we plant in early winter. After 2, 3 or 4 months, as you can see, chickpeas are ripe. After 10 days or so it would go dry. We have to harvest it within these 10 days.

What you are holding in your hand now, do you sell it to people to make hummus or what?

This to be eaten green, as it is now. But whatever we want to sell, we would dry and prepare it ourselves.

Do you grow... do you dry and sell it yourself?

Yes, we dry and sell it. We thresh and dry the grains and sell them as grains.

What makes you happy being a chickpea farmer?

This is my land. I have to give it life. I was created from dirt like it and in it I will die. This land is my life. If I don't come to the land, it is like cutting off my oxygen. I have to come to the land to be able to breathe. This is my life, here on my land.

Do you think your chickpeas make tasty hummus to be eaten with bread?

The most delicious. Best with olive oil. If you add olive oil and a bit of garlic, nothing beats it.

Tell us, does your wife make hummus at home? Do you like it?

Yes, she makes hummus at home. We add it to rice and meat and we add it when we make marmaoon. We soak it then add it to marmaoon. Hummus can be added to almost all dishes. Hummus is part of every dish we make.

What do you like about hummus? What makes you... how is the taste of hummus?

Hummus is tasty and delicious. Our country dictates so. Our life as farmers is to eat what we plant in our land.

Now we have chickpeas, tomorrow we will have tomatoes, cucumber or peaches. Our live is almost entirely from our land.

Do you think your grandfather used to grow chickpeas in the old days?

Yes. This is inherited one generation to another. All this unirrigated agriculture is ancestral. All of it. Whether it was summery or winterly, we are growing something almost all through the year. But it is all unirrigated.

What do you think of the Israeli claim that hummus is theirs?

By God, they want everything to be theirs, not only hummus. The whole country is theirs. We do not exist here. I don't want to say it, but this is not our land. Although history has it that this is our land, not theirs.

Do Israelis come and buy chickpeas from you?

No. We do not go to the Israelis. They wouldn't let us into Jerusalem without a permit and we don't go anyway. We sell to each other.

You don't sell? No one from Efrat comes to buy from you?


Trevor Graham screening rushes for Ali Salah's family in Al Khadar village near Bethlehem Trevor Graham screening rushes for Ali Salah's family in Al Khadar village near Bethlehem

Do you also grow olives here?

Yes, we do. Olives are grown here. There is olives and there is everything here. Depending of the nature of the soil. Whatever the land can handle. What it would accept. Whether the crop can tolerate scarcity of water or not. We grow everything. There are olives, grapevines, peaches, figs...we grow everything.

How often do you eat hummus and what do you eat with it? Do you eat olives with it? A lot of oil, bread...

Almost every day. But on Friday, that's a given. Hummus, beans and olive oil with thyme and onion. On Fridays and Saturdays, that's almost a sure thing. Because the whole family gathers on Fridays in the house. So, it is an official meal in the morning.

How old do you think the hummus dish is?

It is as old as history. No one can determine the age of the hummus dish.None of us can.

What do you think of the idea Make Hummus Not War?

We want to keep our land. We want to fight for the land. And hummus implants us in the land. As long as I have my land, I am growing chickpeas. What would I want with war? But when he comes to take my land, I would make war. Nothing to it.

Would you imagine sitting with an Israeli and eating from the same hummus plate?

This is a time in which no one knows what can happen. I think it would be difficult.

[Translator note: Marmaoon is a Palestinian dish similar to couscous]

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