Rasha Tayeh is a Palestinian nutritionist, herbalist, artist, and independent researcher exploring food sovereignty. She is the founder and director of Beit e’Shai (‘House of Tea’ in Arabic), an online apothecary and pop-up teahouse that preserves Palestinian herbalism and traditional Arabic medicine practices. In her research and art practice, she is interested in the space where art and health intersect, exploring food history and anthropology. Her work usually takes a documentarian approach combining photography, film, sound, and installation practices. She draws on themes around health, culture, identity, feminism, spirituality, and people’s connection (or disconnection) to nature.
Displacement has taught me to process my world in vignettes.
A constant processing of the places I am.
A constant weaving of experience, an attempt to make sense of it all.
The thread, sometimes, seems too long. Other times, it is entangled.
My mother always told me to listen to the people from the land. Whichever land I end up.
Learn from people how to care for the land, so the land can care for you, she said.
I was lucky to learn netmaking from Aunty Glenda Nicholls this year. In the process, I couldn’t help but think about our Kuffiyehs and the stories they hold. Fishnet patterns tell stories of my people and their love affair with the Mediterranean Sea. Patterns of olive leaves symbolise strength and resilience, bold lines tell stories of ancient trade routes crossing through Palestine and the ancient Land of Canaan, its rich history, culture and exchange.
I wonder if the fishermen from my mother’s hometown Yaffa, used the same knot to create their fishnets.
Are they similar knots?
Being caretakers of the land comes with reverence and responsibility. For centuries, predating the establishment of the State of Israel 74 years ago, indigenous Palestinians have cared for the land. We didn’t need international donor development models of aid to set up permaculture projects then. We still don’t need white men appropriating indigenous wisdom into graphic designs and flowcharts of ‘roadmaps’ to show us how to take care of our land as we navigate violent structures of colonisation.
Much of what I see in the permaculture movements and colonial food systems ‘work’ is a colonisation of knowledge on top of a disregard to food sovereignty, indigenous people and social justice. The call for environmental sustainability and solutions for climate justice will not come at the cost of social justice. The irony of food movements led by non-indigenous people worldwide is not only apparent, but problematic. Green washing occupations, as the myth of the Kibbutz goes, brainwashes environmentalists with settler-colonial propaganda, and introduces invasive species and trees to stolen ecosystems.
Failing to understand that an attempt to steal or ‘own’ an ecosystem only destroys it.
How much land is a privileged settler/coloniser willing to give back to indigenous people?
Why is indigenous self-determination forging meaningful influence, transforming food systems and climate change, such an existential threat to settler colonies?
While the realities for Palestinians and Aboriginal nations in the continent now known as Australia are different, there’s a shared and ongoing resistance of settler-colonial occupations, contesting settler nationalisms.
In 2019, I was pouring tea at the Black-Palestinian Solidarity Conference in Naarm. It was the warmest welcome living on this land. Friends, activists and scholars gathered on Wurundjeri Country and imagined free futures together; we focused on transnational Indigenous solidarity and sovereignty. The welcome in this particular gathering was a blessing that gave my heart a home in this place.
For that, I am deeply grateful.
With building a nation state, comes the erasure of a people’s history and knowledge, as well as land theft. This then gives way to well-meaning leftists and environmentalists, under the shadow of capitalism and neoliberalism, to further colonise. To colonise knowledge.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
How can we take care of the land without having access to land? We want our land back to take care of, and in return, it takes care of us, feed and nurture us for generations.
When I think of returning home, I think of the work we need to do, to clean up the concrete dust left behind from apartheid walls, clean up the rubble, clean the soil and waters from the contaminations of bioweapons, chemical weapons and bomb blasts. To clean the effects of soil acidity from introduced pine tree plantations that sit on hilltops masking massacres, haunting Palestinian villages that have been ethnically cleansed. Invasive species echo the invasion of the land by settler-colonies.
As I walk by the Merri Creek, I listen to water.
I pick dandelion and mallow.
I think of my Palestinian family and friends risking their lives foraging wild herbs.
For Palestinians, foraging wild herbs is a crime under Israel’s military occupation.
When I visit Palestine, we forage wild herbs, that’s what we’ve always done.
That’s what our ancestors have always done.
And that’s what our grandchildren will continue to do.
What the gentle herbs have to offer from nutrition and medicine, saving our bio-heritage should not have to be protest. Just like wild zaatar, akkoub, and a bounty of various herbs grow without protest. Picking them in fact encourages their growth.
Under Zionist settler-colonial logic, monoculture farms of single wild herbs are created to sell to Palestinians. We’ve been banned from picking wild herbs; hefty fines and risk of jail time cloud our long foraging walks.
Just like these herbs, and their seeds, don’t see borders, their foragers don’t care for arbitrary neo-liberal policies or apartheid walls. A deep knowing of the land runs deep in your veins when you know where you come from.
Like the seed of a wild herb – life blows around in the wind, landing me somewhere.
Landing me here.
I am the seed.
I make a cup of tea. I listen to water.
As abstract as ‘home’ can be, managing to live life like a free electron, a stateless being, has given much depth in experience and perspective and how I view the world, always coming back to the very fact that as human beings we must always take care of the land. I carry the strength and hope of the women who came before me, to keep imagining a better world. Frees my mind to write a better story of our future and tell it into being. We keep preserving and telling our stories, as we keep preserving and planting seeds, and learning from our plants teachers.
These are indigenous ways of being.
Rasha Tayeh, 2022