Um Hasan speaks to the MECA Teachers’ delegation in her greenhouse, which helps provide healthy food for 400 children at the school in Masara Village. Credit: Alvin Rosales

Palestinians want peace. —Um Hasan

By Reina Sofia Cabezas, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Teacher, Oakland, California

On June 22, 2019, MECA’s Teacher Trip to Palestine had the privilege of visiting Um Hasan in the village of Masara, near Bethlehem. It was the second-to-last stop of a long, hot, intense day. Some of us were having trouble staying awake. At first.

Um Hasan, whose warmth and energy filled her living room as she welcomed us, started the Woman’s Association of Masara and is the first woman director of the village council. She is also an organic farmer who studies the land like a scientist and passes on her knowledge to the next generations.

Um Hasan is mother to five sons, one daughter, and thirty grandchildren. One of her sons was killed by Israeli forces; another spent twelve years in an Israeli prison. As the mother of two sons myself, I cannot stand the thought of being free or alive while my children suffer or die. But, as we learned on our trip, this is the experience of almost every Palestinian family.

Um Hasan and several of her young grandchildren took us on a tour of her farm. We saw greenhouses and fields lush with cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, and squash; sheep; fruit and olives trees; and a large chicken coop. From this plenty, Um Hasan sells produce to local buyers. With the help of women from the village, she also provides free breakfast to all the kindergarteners at the local school and healthy, low-cost meals to 400 children every day. For one-half shekel (about 14 cents) the children can get meat or zataar pies, popcorn, fresh muffins, falafel, or beans.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) offered Um Hasan a grant, but she refused because it came at too high a price: UNIFEM required her to charge children two shekels for lunch. “What will a kid with just one shekel do?” she asked. She added that MECA now supports that work with no strings attached.

One story Um Hasan told resonated for us as teachers who consciously balance discipline and a commitment to non-oppressive culture in our classrooms. One of the children stole money from the money box. Rather than punishing him, she put him in charge of collecting shekels and protecting the box. Instead of shaming him, she said, “You are such a leader, you should do it.”

Um Hasan’s farm is in Area B—under nominal Palestinian Authority civil control, but Israeli security control. This means she has been able to build on her property (unlike residents of Jerusalem), but her land is under constant threat of seizure for demolition and the construction of more Israeli settlements.
Therefore, protests are an integral part of life in Masara. For many years, there were protests every Friday against the Israeli apartheid wall. One night, Um Hasan was enjoying a wedding when Israeli soldiers invaded her home. When she went home to deal with them, the soldiers said they were warning the village not to demonstrate the next day or they would all be arrested. Um Hasan grabbed her infant niece, put her on her lap, and told the soldiers: “You want to arrest us? Why don’t you arrest us all now?” The soldiers retreated.

As Um Hasan nurtures her land and her village, she also nurtures a counter-narrative of resistance. Through her connection to the land, she nourishes her culture and her village, which refuse to stand by as bulldozers seek to demolish all aspects of Palestinian life. Um Hasan teaches the children a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with their world that recycles, reinvents, and resurrects their land, people, and culture.

Um Hasan inspires me to keep a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with my world, too. So, I wonder what is my direct and indirect role in enabling all our people’s liberation?