Just Vision Skip to main content

Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

Browse Interviews

Chaym Feldman

Chaym Feldman practices and teaches "Bio-falha" - an intensive yet sustainable farming method that integrates local and traditional elements - at Hava & Adam near Modi'in. A teacher for Israeli children, Chaym leads workshops for Israelis and Palestinians, which include working with West Bank Palestinian farmers on their lands. Chaym views joint farming a way to demonstrate solidarity against the Separation Fence and establish positive relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as part of a global struggle for sustainable lifestyles.

  • Please tell me a little about yourself.

    My name is Chaym. I was born in Tel Aviv and I live and work here at the Hava & Adam Ecological Farm near Modi'in. Hava & Adam is an environmentally friendly farm that stresses independent work, personal education and educating children and youth. Our approach is environmentally friendly agriculture that is also humane, which is meaningful in social terms. Thanks to the fact that my mother and I were attracted to this type of program, I studied at the Arava Institute and liked the general field of ecology. Recently, I started farming using sustainable methods. Then I began offering a course called "Bio-falha." I combined environmentally friendly farming with anti-fence and pro-peace work. When I was involved in anti-fence activities, we got really beaten up by border policemen. Our activities were in solidarity with people who had lost a lot of land in the West Bank because of the separation fence, which isn't built on the 1967 border, but took a lot of land from Palestinians. Anti-fence protests were meant to demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinians' struggle against the discrimination that is evidenced by the fence's construction.

  • Do you view the struggle against the Separation Barrier as agricultural?

    At first, I didn't. These demonstrations were in opposition to the fence and there were many confrontations with the army. I barely knew the people with whom I demonstrated and I felt something was missing, so I started working with Palestinian farmers. I speak a little Arabic and I found other ways such as being involved with Ta'ayush to work with farmers. I joined [Ta'ayush's] activities, which are less focused on demonstrations, over the past four or five years.

  • Please tell me about the agricultural-political work you're involved in.

    From a general and humane perspective, walls are problematic ecologically. Fences that aim cruelly to separate two peoples won't succeed. Fences don't contribute to harmony or to human productivity. You discover that through agriculture, too. We helped farmers plant during the fall so settlers wouldn't harass them and helped pick olives and other fruit in Jayous, where farmers don't receive enough permits to access their land. During some work in the village of Budrus I met a family; we stayed in touch and continued to work together. This family lost its land - about 40 dunam - including olive trees. It was all taken and they were left with no means of making a living. The father was beaten in his back and broke a disc. After twenty years of working in Israel - he speaks Hebrew well - suddenly there was this rift; it was a blow. It's a very sad case, especially since they have 15 children. What's left is a small garden, about 1/3 dunam. I came to see their garden and suggested that we do "intensive ecological gardening" combined with falha [traditional farming methods], using local seeds and crops. We discovered a combined approach and started holding workshops in the garden in Budrus. Lots of people came to the seven sessions that we held, during which people learned the basics of ecological agriculture according to bio-falha. In practice, it meant getting to know the people and the village. First of all, we studied contemporary global ecology in terms of food and seeds, since ecological gardening includes not only falha but all practices of sustainable agricultural, too.During the workshops, as we worked together and became acquainted with each other, we achieved something. In addition, helping the family was wonderful. During each session, people brought money to Budrus to buy produce and that went straight to the family. Both the soil and crops improved and now the garden yields not only enough for the family but enough left over to sell - all from a tiny plot. I think they are growing four times the amount they used to, without wasting much water. They have a recycling system for water that comes from their neighbors, they make their own compost, mulch and germinate. These techniques don't come from falha. In terms of falha methods, they use local seeds from the village and plow with their donkey, methods that really make a difference. Bio-falha is a combination of intensive ecologically-friendly techniques and local methods.

  • What is the goal of the bio-falha workshops?

    The workshops are for people including activists, non-activists and anyone who wants to learn how to grow food in a sustainable manner without much effort. During the workshops, people meet local farmers, learn about local agriculture and get to know people who live on the other side of the fence. The goal is to create peace through food and agriculture. I expect Israeli participants to meet Palestinians, make friends from the other side, grow vegetables at home and preserve and distribute local crops. I expect participants to spread the word about intensive sustainable agriculture not only in Israel and Palestine but all over the world, wherever there is want, hunger or a humanitarian problem. Bio-falha is part of a wave that has already started; it isn't something I invented. Such meetings are held in many places and have different names.

  • Please give me an example of a difficulty and its resolution.

    During one of the bio-falha courses, a suicide attack took place and we were in Budrus together. We were a model of a shared existence; we transcended the circumstances. During another workshop, I think Israel did something terrible - a bombing in Lebanon or Gaza - and a family was killed. We were there together. That was difficult for Ahmed, my partner, and it was hard for us, too. But being together is a blessing.

  • What are the challenges to joint work using bio-falha?

    First of all, traditional Arab Palestinian culture is different [from Israeli culture]. The challenges include overcoming crisis situations, for example, when your country commits criminal acts and vice versa. On the Palestinian side, there are people who commit criminal acts against Israel. How do you transcend these situations and create paths of dialogue and connection? Working in a sustainable way with food and land supplies solutions.

  • Are there any physical obstacles that affect your work together?

    It's more difficult to pass now because of the checkpoints. It wasn't easy for people in the village to accept the fact that outsiders were coming in. That's why the course moved here, to Hava & Adam and other villages. I think it was narrow-mindedness on the part of the people from the village. They wanted us to rotate and work on all of the families' plots but we couldn't, so they said, "It would be better for you not to come." They saw that the family with which we were working was benefiting and that every Friday Israelis and international activists would come to help. So they said, "If you can't help everybody, you should stop helping that family." So we stopped but are still working with the family. The head of the family comes to Hava & Adam and we pay him a salary. We have the bio-falha workshops here and in other villages such as Wallaje near Jerusalem, in Yanoun and in Jayous. In Wallaje we work, hold workshops and make food, so we can sit and talk. Abed, the farmer with whom we work in Wallaje, invited me to come after I helped him work his land and we continue to hold joint meetings. We also work in Yanoun, a small village near Nablus, where the people are harassed by people from the nearby settlement of Itamar. The people of Yanoun lost their pastures and are now left with only small plots for growing vegetables, so we work on that.

  • Who took the people of Yanoun's fields away?

    Settlers from Itamar told them not to enter them anymore.

  • With whom do you want to connect through bio-falha?

    First of all, we want people to come to the Hava & Adam Ecological Farm and see what we're doing here. While some workshops are held in the villages for two consecutive days, we hold most of the workshops here at Hava & Adam. For me, it's important that a wide range of people - students, adults, Israelis, international activists - come together to get interested in growing food, then the idea of an ecologically friendly approach and of course to learn how to live in a more sustainable way in future generations.

  • If I understand correctly, you reach out mainly to Israelis.

    We also want to reach out to Palestinian-Israelis, although that hasn't happened yet but we've only held four courses. So far, I've been reaching out to Israelis. When we meet in the villages, local people join so everyone is almost always working together. If we were to have a course specifically for Palestinians, it would be similar. For example, Ahmed Awad, with whom I work, relates information to people he knows but not as part of a course. I live here on Hava & Adam and organize courses so that people can come and learn and take part in all the steps.

  • What do you need from your Palestinian counterparts in order to work together?

    First of all, language. I speak Arabic well and my partner speaks a little Hebrew. English could also be an option. Second, the [commitment to] farming, growing food. Third, belief in sustainable farming because once you get into farming you discover unfortunate occurrences, like farmers who use synthetic or chemical pesticides or fertilizers because they have no choice. People need to be willing to do things, "the good old way." I'm not present on the farms all the time but I need to know that the farmers won't use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. I need trust this and the experience I've had has been good. I worked with a farmer who not only did not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers but invented sustainable pesticides using local products in order not to fight - but to work with - the pests and the weeds. So, my experience has been good.

  • Have you changed as a result of the work you're doing?

    I think I have matured in my relationships with people. I started to view the conflict differently because I started really hearing the other side. At first, I was very hostile towards Israel because Palestinians told me about the injustices they suffer both from the Palestinian and Israeli governments and from the settlers. That balanced me a little. The truth is a slippery thing. That's why it's important to be able to see things logically and not through a [biased] lens and decide "that is bad" and "this is good." I behave differently now because of what I've learned.

  • Why were you hostile towards Israel?

    I was part of Courage to Refuse and I went to military prison twice. I struggled against what Israel is doing and became hostile toward the culture. That led to an unhealthy perspective. Despite all the things the Palestinian farmers endure, they have barely any hatred in them. They ask me, "How will that help me? Hatred will only drag me down." If they can say that - and they endure things much harder than we do here - why should I hate? I should follow their example and live a more balanced life. The farmers' self-restraint and patience is admirable. For example, during the film we shot in Budrus on bio-falha Ahmed asked, "How will hatred help me? They broke my back; I can't work. They took my land. But if I hate, that will break me completely. So, I work with friends including Israelis." I think that's one of the most important things we can do.

  • I'm trying to understand, what made you get involved in joint work?

    First of all, I must thank my mother, a good woman who endured many hardships but perseveres and maintains her focus; she does not let personal problems bring her down. So first of all, it's thanks to my mother. One of the most important things has been talking to people who have been living in a sustainable way for thousands of years. That happened as a result of meetings, working with organizations and friends who introduced me to the reality here. A good friend of mine, Layla Mossinson, who does really beautiful and blessed humanitarian work, introduced me to people. When you come to visit no longer as part of an organization but as a family friend, things look different. I admit I try to make people from both sides see they should change their approaches to farming. On the Israeli side, I deal with people who have never seen a Palestinian family and aren't familiar with their daily troubles. On both sides, I try to create change and that begins with treating food differently. From there, I try changing people's approaches to family and politics and encourage them not just to leave things alone. True, it's another culture but I believe we Israelis have a very important effect. I don't want to sound as though I don't think dialogue isn't important but I think there should be more than that. Ecologically friendly farming projects create links to other sources and have a different energy. When you connect the land and plants and the issue of food, it's different. You can also combine work with dialogue, like we do in Wallaje. We farm and then listen to music together and talk. I think there should be a combination.

  • How can Israelis who learn about bio-falha implement these methods if they aren't farmers?

    Are you asking how we can realize the methods in Israel? You need to understand we're in the midst of a magnificent era which is simultaneously very dangerous in terms of food and food cultivation. For example, when you go to the supermarket and see produce whose origin is unknown, you must learn to ask, "Who decided we should eat this produce?" "Why can't I buy food from a Palestinian farmer?" It can be extremely eye-opening. So, first of all there is the matter of food and what you choose to eat. I think bio-falha is a way for people to take a different look at where they are and discover they aren't alone here. They don't live on a desert island; there are people who have worked and are still working the land, people who have methods they can share. That means opening up to seeing the region, which is one of the most important things. Whoever wants to do so can grow food at home or in their garden; that is a blessing. You can do it with your neighbors, which is a blessing, too. Bio-falha enables people in Israel-Palestine and all over the world to survey our food sources differently, look at sustainable living, at our inner ecology and global ecology. These things can lead to sustainable and harmonious outcomes.

  • Have you encountered prejudices in your work?

    There has been some prejudice but since most of the people I've met are activists, there wasn't much prejudice. However, on the Palestinian side there has been prejudice, including the fact that Jews no longer understand how to work on the land.

  • Have there been negative responses to your work?

    Both sides tell me it isn't enough. The Palestinian people say, "Come more often; come here, come there..." There isn't enough time because I also have to work here, at Hava & Adam. From Palestinians I hear, "Come, do more with us," and from Israelis I hear, "Yes, we want to learn." That's excellent. It's going well and I haven't had negative responses. People find it difficult to classify this kind of work. For example, the settlers of Itamar see us working with people from Yanoun and they don't know how to react. What could we possibly be doing there? Growing eggplants together? What are we doing there? It's hard for them to digest our work.

  • How do people respond to your work?

    I hear lots of positive responses; there is a lot of good feedback. First of all, groups of six or seven people attend the course and everyone learns a lot. During the last visit to Yanoun, people from the course got together, created an organic food co-op and started buying produce from farmers in Yanoun. Occasionally, we visit and bring clothes, plants and seeds. As I said earlier, meeting people - farmers in this case - has a positive effect.

  • Were there ever clashes with settlers?

    Not at all, nor with the army either, thanks to the nature of this work. Consider it: Our work is in the fields where there are no Molotov cocktails. It's totally different and the settlers don't understand what we are doing together. By working the land, we are overcoming hatred because it's so simple. It's both simple and very constructive, sustainable and fruitful.

  • What is your vision for the region?

    I hope that we will be able to develop many more ecologically friendly projects, either through bio-falha or through other kinds of farming. Arnon Goren started a wonderful project in the village of Umm ar Rihan; together with Friends of the Earth Middle East, people are building a system for treating waste water. The same thing is happening in Sakhnin; Jews and Arabs are doing it there, too. It's all about environmentally friendly projects, looking at the foundations.

  • If you could go back and change something about your work, what would it be? What lessons have you learned?

    I would have worked with more families in Budrus, even if it was difficult to do. If we had worked with even one more family it would have signified that we care about all the people in the village. I'm really sorry I can't hold workshops in Budrus. Maybe in the future we will be able to do so. If I could speak better Arabic, I think that would make things better. My Arabic is good but it's not the best.

  • In your opinion, what is this conflict about?

    Wait a minute. I need to sit down before I answer such a question. I think this conflict was inevitable, unfortunately. Israel is at such an early stage that it doesn't know who it is. Palestine doesn't know what it is either. Is it part of Israel? Is it autonomous? Israel is very militaristic and there is a strong sense of persecution. You could say the Palestinians saw this and were affected by it. A very strong struggle in Israel for nationalism has affected the Palestinian national struggle. I think this clash was inevitable given the cultures that grew in this region over the past century. This process must lead to events that will create change in Israel and Palestine. There is also something good about it, in terms of relations, but it will take time.

  • You said that as part of a solution here, Israel should abandon the high-tech industry. Why?

    I'm a teacher and I meet kids who don't know what plants are. These kids have no idea where plants grow, what they eat, what they breathe and they're afraid to touch the ground. But they have no problem clicking or talking on mobile phones, which pollute and emit radiation. Kids here know how to pound away at the computer from the first grade and that's a problem. If kids can't prepare food - let alone grow food - what kind of people will kids become? They'll be detached from family, community and certainly from their neighbors. When you live close to the earth, you become more modest. When you work in high-tech industries you aren't modest at all; you're very high up; you rule the world. So let's put that back where it belongs. We have smart people who create wonderful, life-improving inventions but let's channel those inventions toward positive needs. Today, Israel is on a high-tech track, as though the future is figures and computers and robots. But we have nearly no water here; our oil supply is going to run dry soon; we have a problem with the Palestinians; we have a serious environmental problem with pollution and waste but everyone is entranced by high-tech, which is a kind of illusion. Yesterday, I guided a group to where we harvested crops and the kids hardly wanted to come to the field. They were scared of the field and the harvest. They were afraid of the bugs and weeds; they didn't want to touch anything and I see that as a negative sign.

  • What does peace mean to you?

    To me, peace is intimate. I make peace with this place where I live, with the land. Peace is a kind of equilibrium and that isn't necessarily good. While there will be problems, you needn't fear war or being fatally hurt or destroyed. Problems and conflicts won't be violent. That is peace. It means a balanced, pleasant place to which you return for inspiration. This place or peace has to be connected not only to the people but also to plants and the earth because they give us the energy to exist. And by the way, that's why meetings between Israelis and Palestinians that are held in rooms - in closed spaces with air conditioning - have bad energy. You can't compare that to outdoor meetings!

  • Do you think you'll live to see your vision realized?

    I have no idea. I'd be very happy if the small things I'm doing were to succeed on a small scale. That's it. I don't know what will happen. The small things I'm trying to achieve during my workshops - with myself and with my neighbors - aren't easy. I hope things will work out and that our achievements will grow and become beautiful and fruitful.

  • What can people here and abroad do in order to improve the situation here?

    I'd like to mention some things not to do because that's important, too. For instance, I'm not going to be a part of the army now, although I used to be a combat soldier. But the way things are going now, I don't want to have anything to do with the army. That's an example of something I refrain from doing. Refrain from buying certain products, especially if they're manufactured by settlers. Don't resort to violence. Don't become a fanatic, even if it's Left-oriented. Don't be radical in terms of Israel and the Jews. Don't say, "They do this" and "They're bad..." By refraining from doing certain things you'll actually be doing quite a lot. Refraining from doing certain things is very important; it leads to wisdom. I suggest examining the issue of food and what we eat. Eat healthily, live a balanced life, learn Arabic because that's the language here in the Middle East, meet with Palestinians who live in Israel. The schools in Modi'in don't teach Arabic; they study English. There is a lot of emphasis on English. Study Arabic. Meet and get interested in the local crops of this region. Meet with people, there are lots of groups. There's me and millions of people like me - there's Ta'ayush - that's where you really make peace. I suggest you don't even look to the higher levels on either side. [I'm not afraid of meeting people on the other side] because I don't think anything will happen to me. Usually, activists don't have problems. People know who I am and I speak Arabic. What I'm saying is, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to come and be willing to meet. That in itself is a start. You can also visit Palestinian villages here in Israel.

  • What can people abroad do?

    They can refrain from buying produce from settlements and pay attention to the origins of the products they use. The settlements' agriculture must not be encouraged, even though some of it is organic.

  • How do you reconcile encouraging a boycott of organic produce, which is a form of farming that is environmentally friendly, with your views?

    Because they aren't organic. From the moment they make a sign saying, "No entry to blacks or Palestinians or whoever," it is no longer organic. The origin of an organic lifestyle is in a completely different place. Not only do you not pollute the earth, you don't pollute yourself with fascist views. These views pollute. It's as simple as that. It isn't sustainable; it isn't harmonious. In the settlements of Sussiya or Itamar, for instance, people could work with people from the villages nearby and achieve beautiful things, such as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) but they don't. They want everything to be for Jews only and that's horrifying. To people who live abroad I say, first of all don't buy settlers' produce. Look closely at labels. Second, change your eating habits. Look at organic food in terms of the environment. Get involved in not doing certain things from an environmentally friendly perspective. Don't be fanatical. Join the global environmental and social struggle. If you want to work for Israel-Palestine, work with Arabs in your region. If you live in Holland, work with Moroccans; if you are from Germany, work with Turks. If you live in the US, work with Palestinians or Iranians there. Get involved in these communities. Learn a little bit of their languages and a little bit about their cultures. Watch their films, eat their foods. Get the civic energy into you because they are trying to integrate. Look for organizations that promote these things and I'm sure you'll find them.

  • You mentioned earlier that part of your solution would be to repeal the Law of Return. Why?

    I think this region, which was always home to the Hebrews, Canaanites, Jebusites, Hittites, and all that they've endured - all the wars and the bloodshed - this is the time to become an international place, a network. This place shouldn't be restricted to Jews only because that leads to fascism. You can see it's on the rise with fanatical settlements, Rabin's assassination and a Jewish underground that wants to damage Al Aqsa. The Law of Return leads to these things, from the Jews being eligible to have a state for Jews only. I suggest repealing this law so that anyone who wants to be a loyal citizen should be able to be one, regardless of nationality. Palestinian, African and Chinese people would have to go through the stages of becoming a citizen. In terms of the environment, this many people can't be contained here. This can't be a homeland just for the Jewish people. If there are 16 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians here, we won't have any land, open spaces, water or clean air. So what of this idea of a homeland? You have to consider where you are. That's why Zionism needs to develop and mature and not send thousands of Jews here without enough water, to a place on the brink of war. It's like sending them to destruction. The character of this place should be that of Eretz Yisrael and Palestinian because those are the people who live here; that includes Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Imagine what the state would look like if that were the character. It would be a little different from what it is now. We'd have grown up with churches and mosques, speaking each others' languages and everything would have been different. Hebron and Jerusalem, both holy cities, have tremendous potential to be peaceful cities in terms of economy, tourism and politics, given their connection to the three religions. This is also true for Bethlehem and Nablus. I think that after the separation fence is finished, people on both sides will identify the joint potential and cooperate with each other. After they understand that, the fence will fall faster than it was constructed.

  • Would you like to add anything?

    I want to add that I've been given my space here at Hava & Adam. Itzik Gaziel, the manager, is doing a wonderful job. The farm is open; come visit. If you're reading this, come visit the Hava & Adam Ecological Farm.

  • Updates from Chaym:

    The eighth bio-falha workshop began in January 2010 led by Chaym Feldman and Ahmed Awwad. Graduates of the previous workshop series formed a group that now works in Wallaje.