DISTANT NATURE
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PLANTS AND OUR BODIES
Walking on the streets in Nablus is a pleasure—I found myself smelling, tasting and touching plants as powders, sweets, teas, syrups, pickles, preserves, pastes and perfumes. Dried vegetables hang garlanded besides brilliant magenta radishes and mounds of finely-chopped green spinach.


Deep purple aubergines and split orange pumpkins are sorted through by people looking to find the perfect vegetables for lunch. A cat runs across a table full of red tomatoes as old men sift through them. Velveteen bouquets of sage and thyme gather water droplets on an old wooden table.


The cardboard boxes thrown outside the stalls confuse me. They are printed with illustrations of smiling vegetables—often a selection of aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes—in bright colours. Their names are printed in Hebrew and the addresses often correspond to those near or in illegal settlements. A farmer in Jericho repeatedly told me that they do not sell any produce from those farms in the wholesale market and that any vegetables sold from the settlements reach shops through private distributors. A person in Nablus that I talked to presumes that the farmers re-use old boxes that are thrown away for recycling.


In Auja—as with many towns in the Jordan Valley—families had their own farms. They grew enough to feed themselves and sell produce in the markets, assuring a stable income and access to necessary nutrition. However, the growth of illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley has lead to a state of water-scarcity in an area already subject to a seasonal dip in water reserves during the hotter months. Most people abandoned their land after finding their wells filling with saline water or emptying—they are consistently denied permits to sink new wells deeper into the aquifers by the Civil Administration—and have begun working in the settlements as daily-wage labourers, earning far less than what they would earn on their family farms for longer hours without any financial security.


My friend from Jericho told me that in order to buy Palestinian produce, one has to only look at the size and shape of vegetables. The ones that look bigger, with perfect, homogenic shapes and shiny skins are often from the large settlement farms, whilst the local ones are smaller, wilder looking or still covered in soil.


The women I met in Nablus started a campaign to sell local produce within the market. They went to each shop and household, starting conversations about where their food was coming from and how individuals could support Palestinian agriculture, food-producers and small businesses financially.


A state of military occupation and the practise of industrial agriculture has lead to a complex situation of urban and semi-urban socioeconomic challenges within a rural environment.Through a layering of time, restricted access to land, financial hardship and challenging climatic conditions, people move further and further away from their environment. Beyond the large scale design of control over basic—life-giving—resources is the denial of a healthy symbiotic relationship and possibility of interaction with nature. Whilst people once lived with the landscape—or closer in touch with it—the occupation has led to an instinctive understanding of nature based on survival, through its usefulness, its danger and its boundaries. It becomes something controlling and oppressive that itself needs to be synthesized, managed and processed. Whilst trying to understand the abuse, neglect and disrespect of the natural world that was visibly present around me, I found myself faced with the question of how someone can love or care for a landscape that is constantly negated, changed and deformed through politically-driven architectural interventions onto its physical surface. I believe that this is one of the reasons people begin to neglect their environment—this persistent removal1 from nature reduces people's relationships with the land to legend and story; through narratives, memories and dreams.


Considering the body is a political landscape that is actively part of the natural environment, through an intimate understanding of plants and ecology, we can begin to reclaim biopolitical ownership over ourselves. By adopting ways of healing and that we are actively involved in and food-systems that make sense to us—that we are not merely subjected to—we reject economic and political control over our lives, chemically, physically and emotionally.


Evolving the ways in which we see nature, we would be able to heal our bodies independently; work with ecological cycles of weather to provide our nutrition and remove our dependence on industrial production for things we could easily make ourselves. Whilst this could mean dedicating a life to agriculture and working on the land, it could also mean setting up herbal clinics—like the ones I visited in Nablus—within different places, blending differents forms of traditional ethnobotany and contemporary medicine or forming community-gardens within schools and in neighbourhoods where people have real opportunities to grow and share fresh produce and learn about nutrition. Evolving a curriculum centered around sustainability and ecology for young children within all schools or enforcing a legitimate systematic boycott of products that propagate a state of occupation whilst providing affordable, ecological alternatives to those products. Creating training centers for agriculturists to develop their knowledge within contemporary permaculture techniques and documenting and archiving local botany and ecology, as well as the geopolitical environment2.


Whilst we might be pushed further and further away from nature every day, the idea that natural things are good for us is present within our patterns of consumption. Personal care products speak of botanical extracts3; local, organic food is routinely idealized and green spaces add financial value to property and development projects. However, these actions are purely symbolic, in the same way that water from the baptism site is considered holy regardless of its actual purity or ability to nourish. Without losing its sentiments of veneration, this symbolism of holiness of the land must become a lived practice if we are to develop in a non-neoliberal, positive and healthy way. Caring for the lands and natural resources around us are powerful and deeply enriching ways to reinforce our most basic rights—to happiness; to a healthy relationship with nature. However, we need to make such actions desirable and interesting, so that people genuinely feel like being involved.


My own relationship is based on a fascination with their ability to grow, heal and feed. The pleasure, nutrition and happiness with which they infuse my life leaves me both grateful and in  constant awe. As I began studying the urban ecology of Jericho, I realized that a visual archive which fails to include the artificial components of the natural environment erases the political identity brought forth to the Jericho landscape by its alluvial soil; its fertility and its abundance of water, leading to a cold objectification and simplification of Nature, one that leaves me deeply uncomfortable. How do I consolidate a political herbarium, one that juxtaposes the materiality and texture of the landscape in its organic and non-organic forms, giving equal importance to both plastic and leaf within a geopolitical context? How do I speak of the sociopolitical identity of a flower?

Whilst trying to answer this question, I am led back to the beginning—to the creation of a new ecology that brings politics, industry and emotion to its core. Through knowledge and skill exchanges between rural and urban areas; projects in agriculture that are inclusive in the spaces chosen to implement them and the people they involve; ideas of design and development that are culturally-relevant; and an educational system that rejects neoliberal definitions of success, happiness and progress, we can form an ecology that brings us towards—rather than distances us from—nature. Whilst the ideas I share here are not new—there are numerous examples of how people have successfully done all of the things I mention—I emphasize the urgent need to bring such actions out of the alternative and into the mainstream; beyond the privileged urban community and into the popular common space. There is no doubt that a state of inequality must be persistently rejected until it gives way—the challenge is to do this in ways that are pleasing, restorative and sustainable for the individual and the larger ecological communities that we all part of.

1Through economic sanction, architectural barriers and military-blockades, as well as long-term land settlement and occupation policies.

2Most people in Palestine feel the quality of local products does not match up to the others. This needs to be addressed through products that meet a certain standard, trust and expectation.

3In fact, the products from the Dead Sea are a wonderful example because they both emphasize their naturalness but are symbolic of a distant nature--the Dead Sea has been mined, fenced-off and privatized so that the benefits of its waters and salts are accessible only to those who can afford them or access them. The ecological impact of its mining also does not have any repercussions on those who buy its products, only on those who live in the dunes and deserts near by.






































































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