A Palestinian farmer rests behind his plough in the hills near Bethlehem. (photo: Gerald Ring)
The colors of a grape vendor’s embroidered dress complement the deep colors of her produce in the Bethlehem market. (photo: Gerald Ring)
The earths produce is the mainstay of village families in the Holy Land. Life in the hill country especially remains much as it has always been, connected to the land. The farmer ploughs the rugged terrain; the entire family works together to sow the seeds and reap the harvest. Even then the work is not finished. Though the fruit of their labor feeds the family, much of it is sold in local markets.
The ploughman ought to plough in hope (1 Cor. 9:10), and so it is in reality in the Holy Land. Unreliable rainfall often makes the peasants work in vain; but year after year in hope, he will again prepare the ground.
The earth is still turned in the traditional manner, by beast and plough. Most land holdings are small, and, because the earth is stony and often on a steep hillside, tractors are not for these people. Oxen, donkeys, and sometimes camels provide the power, along with the brawn of human legs, shoulders, and backs.
Without ploughing and planting there can be no reaping. True sons of the land, they try to ignore the conflicts and disputes around them, knowing there is an appointed time for everything: a time to plough, a time to sow, and a time to reap. So, struggling hard over difficult terrain. he keeps the plough steady and focuses his thoughts on the joy of reaping.
The wife treks almost daily to the market to sell the produce. The cauliflowers, giant radishes, and beans of winter give way to the peppers, tomatoes, and aubergines of spring and summer. Late summer and fall bring the great delight of the land the large, so very sweet grapes. The huge cabbages, whose leaves are eaten stuffed with rice, are always present and an integral part of the village diet. The market reflects the season and the mingling of them. The mothers, often mothers of ten or more children. eat not the bread of idleness (Pr. 31). Just as in generations past, their dignity is in the fruit of their labor.
In the hills of the Holy Land, the village families have traditionally harmonized with the rhythms of that earth. Their way of life is based on great love and respect for the land. It also is a commitment to this traditional relationship between humans and the earth. As Jesus said. No one, after putting his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
Gerald Ring, a free-lance writer and photographer traveling extensively in the Near East, is a frequent contributor to Catholic Near East.