Agricultural entrepreneur Fayez Taneeb welcomes a visitor to his farm. Taneeb cultivates his land in the northern West Bank, in the Tulkarm area, which is known for its fertile soil.
The day is sunny but windy, which is why he serves the tea indoors. As the air outside has a metallic smell, going inside seems like a good idea.
In his greenhouses, Taneeb grows green beans, peppers, tomatoes and cucumber. In the fields, there are herbs, lettuce, spinach, eggplant and squash. Fruit trees are heavy with fruit. The season for citrus has started.
Fayez Taneeb continues farming on the land, which has supported his family for generations. He took over after his father died in 1984. In the same year, construction work in the neighbouring lot started. The Geshuri chemical factory was moved there from the other side of the Green Line.
The Green Line is the armistice line that was signed by Israel and its neighbouring countries in 1949. Finland considers the state of Israel to exist within the Green Line. Israel occupies the West Bank, which is on the east side of the border.
The Geshuri chemical factory had been ordered to shut down its production in its former location in Israel due to environmental issues. Israeli authorities directed the pesticide – and fertilizer – producing factory to a new location, which was in the West Bank, between Taneeb’s farm and the city of Tulkarm.
Palestinian farmers around the factory opposed their new neighbour. According to Taneeb, an Israeli farmer, on the other side of the border, was also displeased with the factory.
“We took the case to court on both sides. In Israel, the court refused to deal with the case saying that the factory is outside its jurisdiction. For the appeal of the Palestinians, the Israelis answered that there was no proof that the factory had negative impacts on the environment”, Taneeb tells.
The legal way of getting rid of the factory did not lead anywhere. 30 years later Israeli chemicals are still being produced next to the Palestinian vegetable farm. What is more, other chemical companies followed Geshuri’s example and today, one can see a line of chimneys of multiple factories behind the high wall bordering Taneeb’s farm.
Despite the adversities, Taneeb did not give up.
“I took part in a workshop about the health impacts of chemicals. I understood that even though there is nothing I can do about the factory I have control over my own actions. I decided to turn my farm organic. This is my way of resisting.”
The farmer tells that the shift was gradual and was carried out in ten years’ time. Since 2000, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used on Taneeb’s farm.
The prominent resistance against the factory brought Taneeb problems, which escalated in the early 2000s. In the same period the area experienced the start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.
Taneeb says that he has been shot at from the direction of the factory and that the army has bulldozed his farm.
“In 12 hours everything had been bulldozed in two piles. When our fruit trees were being destroyed, my wife was crying against my shoulder. I promised her that we would plant a new orchard.”
The army tried to expel the farmer from his land arguing it was needed for security.
“In 2001, the army blocked the road leading to the farm. We carried vegetable boxes by hand over the roadblock. Later on, they prevented access completely by barbwire. For 18 months, we could not reach our land, the farmer recalls.”
The problems continued when Israel started building the separation barrier, isolating the West Bank. Today, Taneeb’s farm is demarcated by the wall of the factories from two sides and by the Israeli separation Barrier from one side. Concrete forms the background for his fruit trees.
Taneeb has rented more land to make up for the land that was left under the separation barrier. He is full of ideas on how to improve the self-sufficiency of the farm. The fruit drier operates with sun energy and the compost produces biogas. The rotation of crops, raised beds for vegetables and the usage of natural enemies of pests are all in the toolkit of the farmer.
However, when asked about who will carry on farming the land after Taneeb, he first answers with a silence. The farmer has five children.
“It’s difficult to answer this question. I want my children to have a good future. I do not want them to go through the same we had to with my wife. But at the same time we need somebody to stay on our land and to continue the struggle.”
(Emmi wrote this article after our group met with Fayez two times, back in November. It was originally published in Finnish in the Suomenmaa newspaper on December 2nd, 2014. The photos below are my own from our time on Fayez’s farm)