Doha Asous is a family farmer from the ancient Palestinian village of Burin, near Nablus. Her warmth and passion for organic farming and healthy food is infectious, as she talks about her land and the food traditions which she is keeping alive.
Burin is a village at least 2000 years old, with the remains of Roman buildings and pipes that once channeled sweet water from the springs on the hilltops to the farms and houses nestled below. Farming has been a way of life for the community, and still is, despite the growing threat of illegal settlements and the restrictions of the occupation.
‘I love this land because it allowed us to live‘
Doha tends olive and almond trees on the hills around the village, and vegetables and citrus trees on land near her house. She learnt to grow healthy food from her mother, whose work on the land kept the family together following the fatal shooting of her father by the Israeli army, when Doha was just six years old. The food they grew was their livelihood.
It’s not just knowledge she’s inherited. She carefully saves seeds from her crops each harvest season to dry and sow again. Her experience is that these indigenous seeds are well suited to local conditions, and more resilient to climate change and disease than newer hybrid varieties. Doha proudly told us that some of her seeds are the descendants of seeds her grandmother grew, over 50 years ago. She’s excited about exchanging her knowledge and farming experience with farmers overseas and is a member of Slow Food International.
‘We eat from what we grow’
Doha loves to cook traditional dishes created from the food she grows. Her cooking is legendary amongst the international volunteers she hosts each harvest season; her favourite dish to cook is maqloubeh with fava beans. Each morning she bakes flat bread made from her own wheat, on the wood stove by her house.
Burin, the ‘sandwiched village’
She enjoys sharing food with the volunteers, whom she calls her ‘dear friends’. For over a decade, the Protective Presence team has been supporting Burin farmers to bring their olive harvest safely home. Over that time, they have witnessed violent attacks on Burin residents and on the trees just as the precious harvest is ready to gather.
The support they offer is warmly welcomed by Doha and her community, who now farm under the shadow of illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land on the hilltops all around Burin. These settlements dominate the horizon to the north, south and east of the village, while to the west is a military camp. That’s why the volunteers nickname Burin ‘the sandwiched village’.
Last harvest, Doha arrived to one of her groves to find 30 trees, planted by her grandfather, destroyed. She describes her trees as her children, tended with love and care, so to see them cut down and burnt is devastating.
Wild boar, brought to the land and released by the settlers, decimate vegetable crops, while the water from the hilltop springs no longer flows freely to the village community. Doha says that now, 85% of this water is now directed to settlement gardens and grape plantations, while the Palestinian inhabitants receive just 15% – impacting their ability to irrigate crops.
‘By working the land and keeping it close to us, we are protecting the land and our ownership of it.’Doha Asous
Doha worries about being attacked by settlers, and like other farmers in the village, suffers significant loss of income when she loses her olives. Despite these challenges, she remains dedicated to farming her land as an act of creative resistance to the occupation – and because she simply loves growing healthy, nourishing produce just as her grandmothers did.
Zaytoun works with the Friends of Madama and Burin to coordinate a volunteer team to stay in villages in the Salfit and Nablus areas. The teams support Palestinian farmers bringing home their valuable olive harvest.