Farmer and Muslim Cohort member Amirah AbuLughod recently returned from the Interfaith Peace Builder's "Olive Harvest" delegation to Palestine/Israel, in which she met and learned from Palestinian farmers who are struggling to preserve their relationship to the land amidst the occupation. She was also able to visit the city from which her family was displaced in 1948. Here are some reflections she wrote:

Sabr Means Patience

We witnessed the village of Lifta today - a village attacked by Zionist militias in 1947 and soon abandoned by its people so as not to experience the reality of neighboring villages like Deir Yasin whose people were massacred. This story is similar to the story of over 500 Palestinian villages destroyed between 1947 and 1948.

Lifta's homes and land were used by Israeli families from 1950 to 1970. Once the homes were no longer needed the village was destroyed. Lifta is now a nature preserve. Homes still stand half erect while refugee families live only miles away.

We walked amidst the rubble of what was most definitely a thriving village - we saw large homes partially intact, found a gathering space next to a spring fed pool, congregated in their masjid (mosque) and looked over the beautiful landscape covered in greenery.

The greenery most prominent in the landscape were large clusters of cacti. Our guide, Umar, explained that the cacti were planted as borders between homes. Now the cacti are an indicator of where Palestinian villages used to be.

The cacti continue to grow, quite abundantly and spread across the land of those people whose hands planted them. Growing no longer as a border between neighbors but as a reminder for all who see them growing that there were people who lived on and loved this land.

The word for cactus in Arabic is Sabr. Sabr also means patience. I've witnessed over and over again within each person we've had the privilege of meeting a steadfast presence of patience. The plants embody in the natural world the continued patience and resilience of the Palestinian people.

The plants growing on this land seem to be telling the story of the people who once loved and cared for them. Their poetic language keeps beauty and resistance alive.

This article was originally published by Interfaith Peace Builders on

Yaffa - the city my family once called home

I walked these streets – we walked these streets – with a man whose family stayed after the Nakba in 1948. His family was one of only 4,000 who stayed out of an original population of 120,000.

My family was one of those who had the means and opportunity to leave.

I learned on the tour of my grandparents’ city that those who stayed were forced into Ajami – the refugee camp ghetto created for Yaffa refugees on their own land. The ghetto was dismantled only after Holocaust survivors witnessed Ajami and saw something all too familiar.

We walked through the now artist village which was once the location of my siedo’s (grandfather’s) home. I’m told by family that the site of his home looks so very different than it once did. As we sat in the beautifully landscaped park surrounded by greenery, blooming bougainvillea, and a salty breeze from the Mediterranean, our guide informed us that any open space in Yaffa was once the most populated. The most populated areas were the first to be demolished, flattened to the ground – they now lay barren of homes, filled with people enjoying the view of the Mediterranean Sea.

According to most people’s definition, Yaffa is a beautiful city – sea side views, a bustling shopping scene, an artist’s village, restaurants everywhere you turn.

I found myself struggling to see the beauty. I knew what I was seeing was nothing like the Yaffa my grandparents called home and what did resemble their existence there felt like a restoration of mockery.  It looks nothing like what my ancestors called home because my ancestors were those people who lived on “the land with no people for a people with no land.

I looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, a piece of the scenery that hadn’t changed since my family’s presence. I realized that the water, the sea still remembers my grandmother’s face looking out over its expanse. That sea holds the familiarity and memory of all of those ancestors.

And so, I turned away from the land and focused on the water. Grateful.

Grateful to have the opportunity to hear from those people of Yaffa who stayed, survived and continue to survive. Grateful to be able to look over the water and see what my ancestors saw and grateful to be able to show the sea my face. A hopeful face, a humbled face, the face of her granddaughter.

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Why Are You Here?  

Over the mountains, over the sea and through Israeli security...

"Are you with this group? Please go to the waiting area miss, we need to do another check on your passport. 

"Why are you here? You've been here before? Then why did you come back? You already saw what you needed to see so why are you coming back?"

"Tell me your father's name. Your grandfather's name.

“Are you Muslim? What's your mother's name? Have you always been Muslim?"

"Why are you here?"

"Write down all of your phone numbers. All of your email addresses"

"You can go wait outside, we'll call you back again."

"Why are you here?"

"Write down all of your phone numbers"
"Write down all of your email addresses"
"What's your father's name?"
"What's your grandfather's name?"

"Do you have family here?"
"What are their names?"
"How old is she? Is she married?"
"Are you married?"


I was asked these questions and a number more for a half hour as the rest of the delegation went through passport control. The words "Palestine," "Peace," and "non-violence" were just few that I was advised to not let past my lips while being questioned if I wanted to get through.

Yes, it was nerve racking, yes it was intrusive but what I know is that I got through - quite easily with my light skin and American passport. 

"Why am I here?" you ask. I told you, I'm here to see "Holy Sites." And that is the truth.

And now here's the whole truth - I'm here to see sites, and people, and land that imbue holiness because of the resistance and strength embodied every day standing up against power that says "you have no place here and we will do everything in our POWER to make you continually question yourself... 'why am I here?'

This article was originally published by Interfaith Peace Builders on