Earthing: Reconnecting to the sacred earth. Finding ones roots. Coming home to the land of ones ancestors, stories, past lives. Touching the stone that connects one to the quintessential energy of the place – its history, its essence.
Yearning For Place
After walking 3300km from London to Jerusalem I only truly understood the Palestinian struggle to return to their land after setting foot in Malta, the land of my ancestors. I have begun to walk around the island to really understand this place that I have deep connections to and to continue the walk for solidarity for a people who are denied this.
I was part of a contingent of nine pilgrims who over 5 months walked ancient pilgrimage routes to add voice to a people who’s voice has been silenced or drowned out.
Declaration of Catastrophe
Our group of men and women of different ages from 18 to 66 years old, and from different countries walked in solidarity with Palestinians. Along the way we were met by other walkers. At the end of the journey we were a force of some 60 or so strong.
We left on 10th June and arrived in Jerusalem on the 2nd November, to mark the hundredth year anniversary of the day of the British signing of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain, a country gave Palestine, a land of people, to another people.
These few strokes of a pen has since caused incredible suffering for the past century for the indigenous Palestinians. We walked to let these people and the world know that it was time for Britain to say sorry and that the government of Britain needs to be held accountable for their actions.
After running the gauntlet of leaving Ben Gurion airport in the name of ‘security’ where I was questioned and had my luggage scanned and then opened, I was relieved to catch the 3 hour flight to Malta. I slept little that night as I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I hadn’t been to Malta for almost 25 years.
Within a few hours of landing I was walking the streets of Valletta and it struck me how I didn’t deeply understand the Palestinian yearning to return home to their lands and villages till then. Running my hand along the honey coloured limestone of an old building, the smooth and weather worn rough areas left a fine film of dust on my hand. It was then I felt the deep connection to my parent’s homeland.
The old memories of spending childhood summers here, the stories they contained brought memories back to life. This joy of reconnection was tinged with sorrow as I thought of the Palestinians and their struggle for freedom and justice. I thought about their grandparents who were forced to leave their homes and become refugees taking very little but the key to their house. Their keys have become a symbol of rememberance and hope in a daily life of suffering.
Freedom Of Movement
As a Maltese Australian I feel blessed to be able to have freedom of movement when this is not afforded to most Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Israel has since the 1948 war (or as the Palestinians call it ‘al-Nakbha‘ or ‘the catastrophe or cataclysm‘), not allowed many Palestinians to return to their villages and towns, to the fields where they and their ancestors had tilled and grown fruits of the land.
Those that have limited travel between the occupied territories such as from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem must face the daily indignations of passing the illegal Separation Wall, through checkpoints, scanners, I’d checks and armed guards.
As I sit here in my deceased paternal grandfather’s house I look around at a home filled with memories. As a child my sister and I spent two summers in Malta and I last returned when I was 21 years old. We have warm memories of sunshine and beaches, of coming home and our nanna or grandmother being busy cooking dinner and later our nanu or grandfather coming home from the green grocery he owned with a punnet of big red juicy strawberries. My mouth waters thinking of those days. I can still smell the aroma of the stove gas infused into the stone walls right now. I think about cousins and aunts and uncles that I had shared many a meal and conversation with here. Looking around the walls there are reminders of people and times that are embedded in my heart.
In the coming fortnight I look forward to visiting my deceased maternal grandfather’s farmhouse (or in Maltese ‘ir-razzett‘). To sit under a stand of bajtar tax-xewk or prickly pair in silence in the garden or gnien surrounded by stone walls.
As a child I remember while the rest of the family had their mid afternoon siesta I would sneak outside and wander the fields soaking up the sunshine and warmth.
I long to see the big garden enclosed by 4 metre high stone walls, to feel held and supported by the very rock. Unlike the cold concrete walls of the refugee camps that we witnessed and walked through in Bethlehem, these walls provided welcomed solitude and privacy.
I look forward to wandering the garden, which in another time besides growing vegetable and fruit had pig pens, sheep, goats and chickens. As children we were warned to not go near the two deep wells in the garden as we were told that they were haunted by spirits.
When my paternal grandfather had passed away before I had turned 12, the garden had a forlorn feel. There was a sadness and that felt strongest around the wells which were screened by prickly pear, mulberries and figs trees. In the shadows I would gorge on the fruits of these trees. Telling us not to go near the wells was like an invitation. I would tentatively approach the wells and look down into their dark depths dropping a stone to hear the rippling echos and jumping at any unexpected sound!
A Deep Welling
As I think about these wells I feel a deep sense of sadness for Palestinians who are denied the basic human rights, whom being able to build a well on their own land to draw water for personal consumption, to feed their livestock and water the crops is a crime. Instead, they must rely on rainwater runoff in a land that is dry or buy water from Israel.
To add insult, we visited people who were not allowed to build houses on their land, and metres away an illegal settlement of Israeli settlers had taken over part of their land and the government provided them with free water, power, and they paid no tax. They had swimming pools, lush green gardens and metres away the legal owners of the land were living in tents.
Reality On The Ground
Inside the occupied territory of Palestine, Israel has constructed at least 200 illegal settlements that house over 600,000 settlers. These settlements control and effect expropriate 46% of the occupied West Bank.
Additionally, Israel bars Palestinians from access and use of approximately 70% of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Most of this area, known as Area C, contains the most fertile land, water, resources, minerals, and other unexploited riches in the occupied Territory.
Homeless In One’s Homeland
Every time these Palestinians we met re-built their homes the Israeli government would issue a demolition order and within days they would come with their bulldozers and raise them to the ground. This is an ongoing struggle. These people are forced to live in tents as they refuse to leave their rightful land. Instead, they have to put up with settlers on the hill throwing rocks onto their tents and Israeli authorities who do nothing to stop the settlers but will respond immediately should one of the Palestinians shout at the settlers to stop throwing rocks at them.
Wherever we visited in Palestine the hospitality, warmth and generosity was incredible. The little that they had they offered with open arms. Whether visiting refugee camps in Bethlehem or a house re-built by foreigners, the response was always so genuine and heart felt. Palestinians have been painted as terrorists. They are a warm peace loving people who’s steadfastness is exemplary, yet even any people can only put up with such daily indignations without occasionally needing to let off steam – yet boys with stones are no match for trained soldiers with guns and tear gas.
Wall of Fear
Wherever we travelled through the occupied Territories we saw signs that forbade Israeli citizens entering Palestinian villages as it was apparently dangerous. The only apparent danger was that they meet human beings with two eyes and heart who may welcome them with cups of Arabic coffee and sweets. By de-humanising Palestinians to even Israelis, by creating ‘the other’ this wall of fear has been effectively maintained.
We visited a ‘peace activist’ in a settlement close to the Gaza border wall. She talked about the terrorist shooting home-made rockets over the wall. How the walls were built to protect her and her family.
She did not speak of how overwhelming force was used in response to the Gazan’s pent up frustration being penned into a tiny overcrowded area were for the past 10 years they have been under air, land and sea siege where life is unbearably difficult. She did not empathise with Gazans and their children suffering when they wandered into no-mans land to look for scrap metal to be blown to pieces by automatic machine guns mounted on the border walls. Gaza is where building materials are scarce and what little building there is comes from breaking down the rubble of past Israeli assaults into concrete dust as very little supplies of food, medical and building supplies pass through the blockade. She never spoke of the thousands killed in Gaza from this use of force and the continual blockade.
She decorated the border separation walls with colourful mosaics. The mosaic facing the border wall was a fag of Israel. I felt that the walls were erected so that she could not have to look into the ‘other’s’ eyes and see their humanity…
These walls hemmed in the truth so few can get to see it. There are so many things that we saw in our ten days in Palestine that every day I was on the verge of tears and one morning before heading out I broke down, unable to contain my sorrow for their deep suffering.
I didn’t write for the past few weeks, as there was so much to take in, so much injustice that I didn’t know where to begin. There was an overwhelming sadness at the state of the situation in Palestine tinged with the great warmth of the people we met along the way. It felt at times I was in a terrible nightmare seeing the disparity and injustice. I was in a constant state of disbelief at the inequality and injustice that I had to check in that what I was seeing was real.
There are new generations of Palestinians living in refugee camps who all they see are high walls and who live in cramped conditions They hear their grandparents tell stories of their houses and fields and trees back in their village – memories of a time gone. These children have incredibly high rates of CTSD or Continual Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by continual trauma caused by regular army raids into the camps. They have deep levels of anxiety, many suffer bed wetting and have deep psychological scars.
I also experienced Palestinians steadfastness to cope with their difficult daily struggles with humour and hope. The Arabic word is sumud.
I think about the Maltese, who’s origins are also Semitic. They were originally Phoenicians, a seafaring culture originating from Tyre and Sidon in modern day Lebanon. I contemplate how we too have this special kind of steadfastness. How during WW11 the Maltese weathered the incessant bombing by the Axis Powers and they sought shelter in the ancient catacombs hewn from the rock. In fact, Malta suffered some of the heaviest bombing of the war and was awarded the George Cross from Britain for their courage and determination.
It is this connection to the earth, the rocks, stones that unites us all. After all are we not merely star dust?
Prickly pears or bajtar ta-xewk is a metaphor Israelis have utilised. Sabra is a word that refers to any Jew born in Israel. The term refers to the prickly pear cactus fruit – its thick skin concealing a sweet, softer interior. It refers to Israeli born Jews who are supposedly tough on the outside but sweet and delicate on the inside.
It was first used during the 1930’s as the Zionist movement brought bourgeois Old Jews from Europe and transformed them as kibbutz members or new farmers through working on the land into New Jews. Through working on the land they hoped to establish roots to it. Thus, a new story was created to connect those Jews coming from afar to the Land of Israel. To live in this new land, to unsurp its existing inhabitants required them to become tough like the land that they had immigrated to. Posters of the time depict the sabra as a heroic larger than life character that had come to the Land of Israel to reclaim it through working the land.
With such great hardships, where one feels besieged on a daily basis, one expect the Palestinians to be stony-faced, to be sabra-like. Yet, they drew inner strength from the promise of connecting once again to their land. They are generous, gentle, warm hearted people who celebrate life no matter what hardships they face. I see this loud boisterous generosity, lust and gratitude for life in the Maltese and I feel a deep bond with these people.
Beauty Is Born From Earth
When I first began to wander through Palestine a couple of weeks ago, the thought occurred to me was why would anyone want to have such a deep connection to a dry, rocky land that doesn’t look like it could sustain life? Yet, it is only when I walked further, and experienced the beauty of the people did I understand better. It takes hard work to eke out an existence from this land, and when one does so the land provides its riches.
The Holy Land
There are many Israeli citizens calling for equal rights. Who understand that even if it isn’t possible to go backwards, to provide right of return to all Palestinians, that equal rights which includes freedom of movement, equal opportunities and share of resources is possible.
I don’t believe a two state solution is viable – as Palestine has been reduced to 22% of its historic area. This has been steadily reduced with the expansion of existing illegal Israeli settlements and the construction of more illegal settlements on Palestinian territory. I see a one state solution, where all citizens enjoy freedom, security.
This is a sacred land for both Jews and Palestinians, a land where the three Abrahamic faiths once lived in harmony. I see a multicultural multi faith society as we enjoy in Australia. I say this without denying the injustices that our indigenous population have suffered which is something I need to talk about another time.
Palestinians returning back to their houses and land is impractical if not impossible. Some 530 Palestinian villages were demolished after the 1948 war. The strategic ring of settlements around existing towns makes a viable independent state of Palestine also impossible.
Many Palestinians denied the right of return became the refugees we visited in places like Bethlehem. They are prisoners in their own land.
Some of the destroyed villages were turned into national parks or nature reserves, often a precursor to build more illegal settlements. I have been told that often a sign that a Palestinian village once existed in a place is the presence of prickly pears – they are a stubborn reminder of the past – as they are difficult to fully eradicate.
As I walk around Malta I see thick stands of prickly pear and I feel unsettled knowing that in Palestine they don’t mark only a boundary but a hidden truth of past existence.
Weapons are no match for love, truth, knowledge and compassion. We listened to a group of Beduoins who have used education as a weapon. Educating their children so that they can fight injustice through legal means and being able to let international community of their plight. By raising the awareness of what is happening behind the wall of truth will help to bring change to a land cloaked in fear.
A Land Without People
The oft quoted Zionist slogan, ‘A land without people for a people without land’ had been an excuse for the removal of indigenous people from their homeland and justification for genocide.
One cannot justify criminal injustices against a people by inflicting pain and suffering onto another innocent people. Israel has in effect created a diaspora of Palestinians
I am not very religious, considering that I was brought up a Roman Catholic. Yet I do believe in a higher power, an all pervasive energy. I think the scriptures in the Bible and that of all religions teach us to practice truth, love and compassion. This is the power that can unite us all. If we can do this we can erase darkness and fear that causes such pain and suffering. Sacredness to me is not something religious, but deeply spiritual. It is about being connected to a place, a history. It is time for new stories, new narratives, new histories.
Home Is Where The Earth Is
As I sit here penning these words in my deceased paternal grandparents house, listening to my uncle’s birds outside, surrounded by the honey coloured stone walls, I feel at home. I have a key to enter the house as I so desire. I can walk this sacred earth of my ancestors unimpeded without fear of incarceration or restriction. I can earth myself, renew my connection to this land, my family, its history, and know where I came from.
Being here in Malta I have the opportunity for earthing or grounding myself after seeing so much sorrow in Palestine. As I begin to walk through the countryside, walking along the rugged coast breathing in the sea air and along laneways lined with rock walls I feel myself becoming grounded to this island. There is an energy here that renews my soul, that revitalises me, that neutralises the negative charge I have been carrying. This is my natural Vitamin E(arth).
Just like electricity is earthed or grounded by connecting to the earth, so to I believe when people connect to their heart it can neutralise fear and ignorance.
The land itself can remind us that we come from this dust, that in essence we are made of the same stuff, that human existence is just a blink in time and why waste it when we shall soon return to the dust of the earth.
A Land Without Walls
I wish equality to all those who call the Holy Land home. I wish there be peace and they may have the same rights that I hold dearly.
May they all taste the sweet fruit of the prickly pear, to me a symbol of an inhospitable land, that in it one discovers great sweetness, delight, beauty and fertility when one peels away the skin. May we open this sweet centre in all who call the Holy Land home through love and the dispelling of fear.
As Chris Rose, the director of Amos Trust has said in speeches, ‘Let us all walk in the same direction one step at a time. I wish for the day when I may visit this sacred land hand in hand with Palestinian and Jew and walk through Hebron and Bethlehem and Jerusalem, to Nazareth and Haifa and Acre and to swim in the Mediterranean Sea’.
May I add to Chris’ words, ‘and that their children may know what it is to know the sacred earth, let go of the scars and never again be scared in this holy land. May they destroy the walls of fear and ignorance and turn them into bridges of understanding, truth, peace and compassion’.