A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
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Facts on the Ground: An Interview About Palestine with Journalist Jakob Schiller Photos by Jakob Schiller
Editorial: Acequia Blues By Kay Matthews
Photos by Jakob Schiller
Yousef Manasra, 87, raises his cane in frustration as he looks at the Beitar Illit settlement on the hill above Wadi Fukin on December 30, 2009.
Two young men from the town of Wadi Fukin sneak through a fence on their way to work illegally in the Beitar Illit settlement on December 29, 2009.
La Jicarita News: You recently returned from a trip to Palestine with the American Studies department at the University of New Mexico. What was the purpose of the trip?
Jakob Schiller: The trip was sponsored by two professors, the chair of the American Studies department Alex Lubin, and Les Field, who is a professor in the Anthropology department. They call it a field school. We had four weeks of class at UNM to give us an historical and political context for what is going on in Palestine. Then we flew to Amman, Jordan, and then into Palestine, where we got our first taste of what it means to live under occupation and what the political scene is like. The border between Jordan and Palestine is controlled by the Israelis, which is one of the major sovereignty issues with the Palestinians. If Palestine were to have real sovereignty it would have to control its borders. This was my third time traveling to Palestine, and I'd been harassed previously at the border, but this time I sailed through while two women in our group, one of whom is a Palestinian-American, and the other an Indian-American but who has a Muslim last name, were detained and harassed for five hours. If you have an Arab or Muslim last name you are immediately suspect. One of the students was really put through the ringer by an interrogator who called her a bitch.
LJN: Who are the interrogators?
JS: They're trained Israelis, usually young and often dressed in dark suits. They look like CIA agents. They want to know where you're going, where you're from, who you're going to be staying with, and why you're crossing into the West Bank. The time I got stopped a year and a half ago there was a march towards Gaza and they were concerned I might be a protester. They wanted to know if I was going to put any IDF [Israeli Defense Force] soldiers' lives in jeopardy. I said no, of course. I was checked three times to try and catch me in a lie because they want an excuse to throw you out of the country. This time, the Palestinian-American woman was detained because they're afraid of Palestinians returning to the West Bank. The refugee problem is one of the most contentious issues in Israel. It's a complicated issue about settler-colonialism and the idea that as a settler-colonial Jewish state they have to be very careful about maintaining an ethnic and racial majority. Anybody who has an Arab or Palestinian name is immediately flagged. It's similar to how the United States is concerned about Latin American immigration because brown bodies threaten the white, hegemonic body politic of the U.S. You can clearly see what's going on at the border.
LJN: Did the entire group wait for the two women to get through?
JS: We spent four or five hours waiting in the parking lot playing cards while Les and Alex tried to convince the border guards that the women were part of our group and must be allowed through. They weren't allowed in the interrogation room, though. We finally got out of there late at night and had an hour's trip down to Beit Sahour, which is where we were staying, just outside of Bethlehem. For more than a week we took what they call an "alternative tour" of the West Bank. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are tourist sites, but we did a political tour. Even though I'd been to the West Bank several times before it was an eye opener for me because I saw things I'd never seen before. I'll focus on some of the highlights. We went down to Hebron, which is a town south of Bethlehem, one of the most intense places in the West Bank. What's going on there is that there are ideological Jewish settlers moving right into the middle of a Palestinian town.
LJN: What do you mean by ideological Jewish settlers?
JS: I distinguish between religious and ideological settlers. For example, the people who live in Beitar Illit, the settlement just outside the town of Wadi Fukin, where I've stayed on my previous visits, are ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't make a lot of money so they're given reduced housing as an inducement to move them out of Jerusalem or other places and into these settlements.
LJN: You mean the Israeli government gives them the housing?
JS: Yes, the government gives them money so they can study the Torah or whatever. They're not ideological and I've been told they would leave the West Bank if they were provided with housing somewhere else. Other settlers, who I call ideological settlers, are moving into the West Bank &endash; for religious and political reasons &endash; but mainly because it's a colonial, kind of cowboyish land grab. They're claiming it's their homeland and they were kicked out for thousands of years and it's their right to move back. They're not leaving. They say this isn't a housing issue, this is a cultural, political, religious, divine right to come back.
LJN: Are these people who have been living in Israel or are they immigrants?
JS: I don't know who the majority of settlers are, but many of them are definitely American. But getting back to Hebron, the settlers there are moving right into the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods. Palestinians might be living on the first floor and the settlers move into the top floor. It has become so contentious that Palestinian observers in identifying vests escort kids home from school while Jewish kids are escorted by armed guards with automatic rifles through the middle of Hebron.
LJN: Are the children going to the same schools?
JS: No, they're going to different schools. There is a clear militarization of this town. It's being torn apart by settlers moving in to strategically establish themselves around historical sites important to Judaism. One place in the town we visited has a concrete wall going down the middle of the street with Palestinians on one side and settlers on the other.
LJN: Could you give us a brief description of the geography of the West Bank so we can get a sense of how contained the Palestinians are.
JS: The West Bank is tiny as the crow flies. The distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is miniscule, just a couple miles. For the people living in Wadi Fukin, their whole world is usually comprised of Wadi Fukin and Bethlehem, which is also just a couple miles away. To go to Ramallah, which is another 20 miles or so, it's a big deal. Their sense of space is so much more compact than ours. And the reason for this is that to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah is to drive this insanely windy road where you have to pass through a checkpoint, run by the IDF. And if they're suspicious of you for any reason, it can take hours to get through. For example, one of the young men in Wadi Fukin, Adel Hroub, who goes to Al-Quds University most days of the week, is terrified about going through the checkpoint because he never knows if they're going to pull him aside. He was in jail for four years for supposedly being involved with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is an armed resistance wing of Fatah, but he would never admit to this and he feels very vulnerable. People's worlds are so constricted because freedom of movement is so restricted throughout the West Bank. They are terrified. Even as an American it's uncomfortable. You don't get in your car and go for a drive in Palestine.
LJN: How do the Israelis determine where they're going to put a checkpoint?
JS: Obviously, there are checkpoints at the separation wall. To get into Jerusalem is a complicated thing. Most Palestinians cannot get into the city. The only way in is if you work or live there and you have a permit. Adel hasn't been in Jerusalem for 14 years, even though East Jerusalem is being fought over as the Palestinian capital. To get from Wadi Fukin into Jerusalem you have to go through a major checkpoint. However, the checkpoint that Adel has to go through to get to the university just sits randomly in the middle of the West Bank, put there to give the Palestinians a hard time. That checkpoint does not define any kind of border, nor does it fall anywhere near the wall. It's just there in your face. Some days you get harassed and sometimes you don't.
LJN: Does the wall actually separate East Jerusalem from the West Bank?
JS: Yes, East Jerusalem is cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the wall. To talk about the wall, however, you have to realize that it's not always a wall. In many places, yes, it's a concrete barrier that can be 30 feet high. It's shocking to see. But it turns into a fence in other places that makes it less dramatic but more environmentally harmful. It's an electrical fence with two security roads on either side and then two more fences outside the road. So it carves a barrier path that can be up to 300 feet wide.
LJN: Is the West Bank completely separated from Israel by some form of a wall?
JS: The majority of the wall has been built. To follow the progress of the wall reveals a lot about what is going on. It clearly does not follow the agreed upon border of Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders. It really reveals the way Israel is colonizing the Palestinians. While the Israelis try to make the case that it's necessary for safety reasons, to prevent terrorism and suicide bombings, you would think they'd build it along the established border. But it so egregiously doesn't follow it that it's almost absurd. It will cut into the West Bank in a seemingly weird way, but then you start to think about it and you realize it's being built around settlements to annex them to Israel. Or they've stolen important farmland. Near the town of Qalqiliya you'll see the wall completely encircles the town on three sides so there's only one way in and out. They've cut off rich farmland from the town that is now on the Israeli side. Some Palestinians have permits to access that land but it's a tedious process to try and get to them and you can only access the land certain times of the day. You are let in at a certain time in the morning and then back out in the afternoon, so if there's an emergency out on the land you're screwed. Another town called Azun Attma, outside of Qalqiliya, is cut in half by a checkpoint and settler road. To get to school in the morning the kids have to pass through a checkpoint where the Israeli soldiers check their papers. Guards with guns look down on them from turrets. In Wadi Fukin, the village is cut off from Bethlehem by the wall so that it could easily be annexed to Israel. The strategy there is that people will feel so cut off from the rest of the West Bank, that it's such a pain to get back into Bethlehem for school, health care, shopping, etc., that they will just abandon their village, that they'll feel so culturally and politically and physically cut off that they'll just leave. The Israelis are experts at monitoring whether you're working the land, or whether you hold title to the land so that the minute you make any kind of mistake they can annex it.
LJN: Do the Palestinians or their government Fatah have any recourse to fight this incursion into Palestinian territory?
JS: The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled several years ago that the wall is illegal. But Israel has ignored that ruling. There is a United Nations Security Council resolution, number 242, that says Israel must withdraw from the areas of Palestine occupied after the 1967 war. Israel has ignored this ruling as well.
LJN: Tell us about some of the Palestinian activists you met on the trip.
JS: Our guide was with the Middle Eastern Children's Alliance, a non-profit organization that Alex's mother, Barbara Lubin, started. She introduced us to a lot of people who are doing important work in Palestine. For example we met Shadi Al-Assi who grew up in the Dheisheh refugee camp, which is in Bethlehem. Often these refugee camps are in cities.
LJN: Can you explain what a refugee camp is like?
JS: If you were driving past a camp in one of the cities you might not even know it exists. But while the refugees live in permanent housing they are often poorer and the camp is more run down than the rest of the city. Refugee camps are really important in Palestine because even though the people there live in permanent housing, and even though their original homes might have been destroyed, they still identify themselves as refugees. They refuse to say they have resettled, but that they're still from these towns that were destroyed in 1948 or 1967. It's an important political statement. The anxiety and tension is higher in the refugee camps because their lives have been disrupted, so during the intifada many of the suicide bombers came out of the camps. Shadi runs an organization called No Need USAID. USAID is an independent federal government agency that receives foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. He explained to us that the road that is used to get from Ramallah to Bethlehem goes right through Jerusalem but because it's walled off from most of the Palestinians you have to drive around it down this windy, treacherous two lane road. So one of the things that USAID is doing is giving money to widen and make the road safer. Signs along the road say something to the effect of "Courtesy of USAID, Road Improvement Project." But what No Need USAID is saying is, OK, you're patting yourself on the back for improving a road for Palestinians who still have to drive all the way around Jerusalem but you're neglecting to address the root problem that these people can't go through Jerusalem. They're not willing to talk about the fact that the Palestinians are being kept out of Jerusalem. The activists see these kinds of NGOs as unwilling to tackle the real problems or to work towards ending the occupation and instead see them as merely "padding their [Palestinians] handcuffs," making the occupation more comfortable. The activists call the United Nations the United Nothing. They feel that unless these groups are willing to let them guide the projects, those who know what it's like to live under occupation, they don't want their help.
LJN: Did you visit Ramallah while you were there?
JS: Yes, Ramallah is one of the most cosmopolitan Palestinian cities. After the group left and I went on to stay in Wadi Fukin for another 10 days I went to a protest in a little town outside of Ramallah called Nabi Saleh where a protest takes place every Friday against a nearby settlement. After praying at the mosque the protesters gather at the top of the hill and march down towards the settlement. The Israeli soldiers are waiting for them. Some days they let them get right up close and some days they start firing tear gas at them as soon as they start marching until they go back up the hill, regroup, and start back down another path where the Israelis are waiting for them and again fire tear gas.This sometimes goes on all afternoon.
LJN: Do the settlers ever get involved in these confrontations?
JS: When I was there it was only the soldiers. The Palestinians throw rocks, but the soldiers sometimes shoot rubber bullets or spray the protesters with a chemical compound that has such a horrible stench that the only way to get it out of your clothes is to burn them. Most of the time people don't get seriously injured, but in the town of Bil'in a well-known protester was shot in the chest with a tear gas canister and died.
LJN: These protests had been going on before the more recent border protests?
JS: Yes, this has been going on for years, but it was an interesting time for me to be there because on May 15, which is the anniversary of the establishment of Israel in 1948, which is called Al Nakba, or the catastrophe, refugees, particularly from Syria, rushed the border, which completely caught the Israelis by surprise. Although several people were killed, it was largely symbolic because the refugee problem is one of the biggest points of contention in peace negotiations. In 1948 hundred of thousands of Palestinians became refugees in other countries or in the West Bank and Gaza as Israel pushed them out of their homes. This population has now ballooned into several million, across the world. Not to say they would all return, but the idea of thousands of Arabs coming back, if there was a one-state solution, is a direct threat, both demographically and racially, to the white, Jewish Israeli state. From what I could see, these border demonstrations were an empowering movement that might be the spark that has the Palestinians rising up in mass protest like those seen across the Arab world. But to be clear, many in Palestine understand that their situation is also very different from that in Egypt or other Arab countries. In those countries they don't have a 400-mile long wall or have to go through checkpoints controlled by the Israelis. To organize like the rest of the Arab world is much more difficult in Palestine. It is so difficult to communicate with each other, or to have meetings. One young woman I interviewed thought that until there's a war that would change the world power dynamic of the U.S. and Israel, they will never see the end of the occupation.
LJN: After the UNM group left you stayed on for another 10 days in Wadi Fukin, where you've stayed during your two previous trips. Tell us a little more about the village.
JS: I was originally in Wadi Fukin in 2006 and the reason I was there is that it sits right on the border with Israel. It was destroyed after the outbreak of the 1948 war. There were many towns along the border that were destroyed, but Wadi Fukin is well known because they were moved into the Dheisheh refugee camp for some 19 years but refused to give up on farming their land. They would sneak back in to farm and were eventually allowed back into Wadi Fukin, partly because there wasn't enough room in the camp.
LJN: When you say destroyed do you mean that literally?
JS: Yes, the Israelis bombed Wadi Fukin in 1953.
LJN: What are the main problems facing Wadi Fukin today?
JS: The settlement of Beitar Illit sits on the hill above Wadi Fukin. As I said before, it's an ultra-Orthodox settlement, not an ideological one, so the settlers don't actively harass people in the village, but they'll do things like come down and swim in the irrigation ponds naked, which is a terrible offense against a Muslim community. There are other towns where the settlers are much more militant, and people have been shot. But Beitar Illit is on land that used to belong to the village and is chipping away a hillside where the debris from the construction is falling on olive groves and ruining them. The sewer system has a blowout valve and if it gets clogged the sewage travels through a pipe right down into the fields in Wadi Fukin. It's not direct warfare but it's wearing the villagers down. The other thing that's going on is that the village is now separated from Bethlehem by one section of the separation wall, and eventually the wall will surround the village on three sides and leave the residents only one entry point. These villagers are farmers. This town and others near here were historically known as the breadbasket of Bethlehem. But the so-called "flying checkpoints," put up randomly by Israeli soldiers, stop the farmers from delivering their produce to market, or keep them waiting until it rots in the heat. Israel also floods the market with large-scale farm produce that undercuts the price of the Palestinians, so now they're mostly growing food for themselves. The majority of men now make their living by sneaking into the settlement or into Israel to build the settle-ments that are stealing their land. Because so many of them work illegally, when there's an emergency they can't just leave work and go home, they have to sneak back across the border. And the ones who do have work permits often aren't given a pay stub by the Israeli contractors so they can't get any of the benefits that are mandatory under Israeli labor law. It's very similar to what's going on with Latino laborers here.
LJN: Do you think Wadi Fukin can survive?
JS: This town is staring down its second death. Soon enough you're going to have to go through a checkpoint to get anywhere, and people are going to give up and leave. Young people just want to live their lives and will move into Bethlehem, and this village will lose its population. There's a law that allows Israel to monitor the development of your land, and if you're not actively using the land for a certain period of time &endash; less than 10 years &endash; it becomes Israeli state property. To experience the West Bank is to experience violence. And I'm not just talking about physical violence, but a more palpable sense of violence. The word freedom is such a cliché in the United States; it's a word used to promote American exceptionalism. But coming back to the U.S. it has a much different meaning for me now. The idea that I can get in my car and just drive, across state lines, to the university, to the hospital, and that I don't have to constantly worry about getting pulled over is something completely foreign to most Palestinians. They don't want to be out past dark. If you're out past dark that gives the Israelis more opportunity to harass you. There's a sense of violence on the one hand and restricted freedom on the other. I want people to get a sense of the material consequences of the occupation and the kind of low scale violence that people have to live with every day. The occupation is not just guns and bombs, the occupation is getting asked where you're going every day and constantly having to watch your back. That's the occupation. Palestinians aren't just rock throwing militants but like the people in Wadi Fukin, they have a normal life that needs to be protected.
The Questa Ranger District of Carson National Forest has released its Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Travel Management. This EA provides an additional 30-day period in response to public input during the August 2009 comment period that not enough specific information was provided for informed comment. Alternative I is the modified proposed action and preferred alternative. This alternative is a modified version of the proposed action provided to the public for comment during the scoping and 30-day comment period in 2009. According to the Forest Service the preferred alternative amounts to no "net changes" to the existing travel management plan, although it will remove all the 34 miles of exiting 100-foot corridors along designated roads that were used for wood gathering and hunting. On the district as a whole there are 158 miles of roads open to all vehicles. The travel management plan does not apply to the Valle Vidal Unit, where all motorized cross-county travel is prohibited. The Travel Management EA is on the web at: www.fs.fed.us/r3/carson/plans/nepa_project.shtml?project=25675. Public comment will be accepted until July 30. It can be submitted by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Carson Forest Supervisor, Attn: Travel Management Questa RD, 208 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM 87571.
The Taos County Advisory and Informational Committee on Public Welfare recently convened to address a proposed water appropriation by El Prado Water and Sanitation District for new wells to supply its customers as part of the Abeyta settlement. The committee is charged with assessing all applications submitted to the Office of the State Engineer to transfer or appropriate water within or from Taos County and make a recommendation to the Taos County Commission as to whether the proposal is consistent or contrary to the public welfare of Taos County. Any applicant is required by law, Taos County Ordinance 2010-4, to also file the application with the Taos County Clerk so that the Committee can convene to assess the proposal. The El Prado Water and Sanitation District application was filed on November 24, 2010, the day before the Ordinance went into effect and the district did not file the application with the Taos County Clerk. Several other applications have been filed after the Ordinance was in place but also neglected to file the applications in a timely manner with the County Clerk. The Public Welfare Committee will be sending out letters to the water and sanitation districts, the mutual domestics, and area acequias to make sure they are aware of the requirements of notification as stipulated in the Ordinance. The meetings of the Public Welfare Committee are open to the public and are posted at the County Clerk's office.
Is Another Devastating Fire Enough to Make Them Rethink the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility?
By Kay Matthews
Sometimes the only thing anti-nuclear activists can do to keep from going crazy is to act crazy. At the series of hearings on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory the Bechtel Cash Cow (Bechtel is one of the corporate managers of LANL) was on hand in Albuquerque on May 23 (below,top ). At the pseudo hearing in Taos on June 8 the peaceniks (below, bottom) gathered at the intersection across from Walmart with puppets and signs to protest the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) sponsored meeting that denied Taos a chance for a public hearing.
Marcus Page as Bechtel's Cash Cow at Albuquerque DEIS hearing
Photo by Robin Collier
Since these hearings almost the entire east side of the Jemez Mountains, from Cochiti to Santa Clara, has gone up in flames in the Las Conchas Fire. Los Alamos was evacuated and LANL was threatened once again. Of particular concern was Technical Area G, the dumpsite that has been in operation since the late 1950s/early 1960s. There are 20,000 to 30,000 55-gallons drums of plutonium contaminated waste (containing solvents, chemicals, and toxic materials) sitting in fabric tents above ground. These drums are destined for WIPP.
The other elephant in the room, besides all the legacy waste still buried in Los Alamos area canyons and the other contaminated tech areas, is the CMRR-NF. While most of the attention at the hearings on the SEIS was focused on the potential seismic activity at the site, the Las Conchas fire serves to remind folks of how vulnerable the Lab is to other natural forces. The Jemez Mountains were a disaster waiting to happen: dog-haired thickets of small diameter trees at a relatively low elevation in the middle of a drought. The Cerro Grande Fire, 11 years ago, burned a lot of the vegetation surrounding Los Alamos, and during subsequent years LANL management did mitigation work to reduce fuels on the Lab site. But with the extreme conditions we're now experiencing fire could easily jump existing fire lines, roads, and concrete barriers to reach LANL tech areas.
The Los Alamos Study Group sued the NNSA and the Department of Energy (DOE) for an injunction to halt expenditures on the CMRR-NF until a new environmental impact statement could be promulgated, but the suit was dismissed. The judge decided that the SEIS process now underway was sufficient for public participation. This does not allow for a No Action Alternative that would cancel the CMRR-NF altogether. On June 1 the Los Alamos Study Group filed a Notice of Appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in its litigation to block final design and construction of CMRR-NF pending a study of alternatives to the $6 billion project.
The hope of many activists is that the U.S. Congress will be reluctant to appropriate the necessary funds to implement this CMRR project, and lo and behold, on June 15 the House Appropriation Committee cut $100 million, approximately 37 per cent, from the project and called for a delay in the construction of the facility for the duration of the coming fiscal year until at least October 1, 2012. Unfortunately, the committee also cut $175 million for clean-up at LANL, almost half the request. The bill must pass the full House and then go on to the Senate, so it remains to be seen if we will at least get a building delay. The budget slash and burn votes were mainly from Republicans, who have no philosophical opposition to the production of weapons, but then neither do the Democrats, President Obama included. Maybe when the bill from the Las Conchas fire comes in the proposed $6 billion for the CMRR will be prove to be an anathema to even the most stalwart nuclear supporters.
By Kay Matthews
I've been the secretary on my acequia commission for 10 years; Mark served as treasurer for almost 20. Under his tenure we raised the funds to rebuild our presa, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s I served on the Board of Directors of the New Mexico Acequia Association. Mark and I have extensively covered acequia issues since the inception of La Jicarita News in 1996 and been involved in all the battles with the Forest Service over access rights, to keep water in its area of origin, and to establish progressive legal policies.
I'm also a farmer, so I get to experience being a member of the acequia community at the mercy of the commissioners and mayordomos who run the other two ditches in my community. In addition to hay fields, I have an extensive garden, a hoop house, and an orchard, which need water more often than my turn in the rotation. A number of years ago, when Tomás Montoya was the president of our commission, we had a discussion about this situation and we determined, based on tradition, that gardens and orchards have priority over hay fields in terms of access to water. That's how we run our acequia. Unfortunately, most of my garden and orchard are watered by one of the other acequias, where they made no such determination. So I often find myself begging the mayordomo on that ditch to let extra water come down the valley. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. Today, the smoke from the Las Conchas fire that has been burning out of control for weeks blankets the valley while the constant winds that dry everything out as soon as I water it are momentarily quiet. If I don't get the water by tonight I'm going to have to water some of the younger trees from the well.
Folks in other acequia communities have an even harder time. In Chimayó, where fields have been divided for decades into smaller and smaller households, people sometimes get the water every two weeks for three hours in the middle of the night. Granted, they usually don't have as much land as we do in my mountain community, but there are more and more people using their small acreage to grow organic produce for commercial sale. I don't know how they manage without holding ponds or supplemental well water. In this year of drought, when the irrigation water coming down from Santa Cruz Reservoir is already marginal, I wonder if they can make it.
If all that isn't bad enough, internecine fights in our acequia communities continue unabated. In a neighboring village that has long been divided between two warring factions, two commissioners are suing the third commissioner, and have "fired" the mayordomo who served on the previous "enemy" commission. It's gone so far that people are cutting locks and threatening retaliation. Our village has also been pulled into it as we have a court ordered agreement about water sharing, and at this point we don't know who their legal representative is.
Years ago, Mark and I wrote a proposal for an Acequia Mediation Team, based on the traditional concept of the Hombres Buenos, "good and honest" men (and women) from the communities who, as José Rivera defines the term in his book, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, & Community in the Southwest, would "design workable solutions not according to a formal set of codified laws they knew little about, but according to the standards and informal precepts acceptable to the majority of vecinos in the locality." The mediation team would be comprised of well respected people from the acequia community, knowledgeable about the legal and traditional aspects of the system and capable of helping people work through hard issues. Oftentimes, acequia disputes are the product of long standing personal or family feuds rather than real differences over management of the acequia, which everyone in the community wants to see maintained and perpetuated. Hombres buenos from outside a particular dispute could bring the objectivity and clarity back to the process of putting our waters to beneficial use. We submitted our proposal to the New Mexico Acequia Association, but nothing ever came of it.
One of the lawyers involved in the neighboring community's dispute who is trying to work out an equitable settlement without going to court told me he doesn't think he can continue to get involved in these kinds of fights much longer. Within my own community, we're dealing with problems that may end up in court as well. Two parciantes are fighting over who is responsible for the capacity of their lateral ditch, which is outside the purview of the acequia commission but has drawn us in anyway because we're trying to promote cooperation. There's a debate over a water right that is generations old and now divided into percentages that no one knows the genesis of. The mayordomo quit halfway through the season. We now have to contract work for cleaning the ditch, which is something alien to the tradition of each parciante cleaning, or hiring someone to clean, the ditch communally, which we abandoned a year ago because none of the parciantes showed up and neglected to make sure someone would be there to do the work for them. There are so many divided water rights among absentee landowners and family transfers that I can barely keep track of who I bill for what amount of money.
I miss Tomás and Mark, who were such a vital force in the community for maintaining both tradition and viability. They were our hombres buenos.
Copyright 1996-2010 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.