In Palestine, olive trees are sacred. A special relationship is built up over the years between farmers and their olive trees. According to Abu Ali, a farmer from the town of Yatta, in the southern West Bank, the relationship is “like the relation between a man and his son.”
The olive fields have also become one of the main targets of the Israeli bulldozers, whenever the Israeli authorities decide to build a settlement or bypass road which links the Israeli settlements, established all over the occupied Palestinian territories. In constructing the Separation Wall, hundreds of thousands of olive trees have been uprooted and damaged.
In addition, olive trees are favorite targets for Israeli settlers, who frequently cut down or annex olive farmland in order to expand settlements and confiscate additional Palestinian land. Sometimes there is little legitimate reason for this; the action is simply to intimidate and force Palestinian civilians to leave their ancestral lands.
During the Second Intifada, over one million trees have been uprooted or destroyed, with 90 percent of these being olive trees. Oolive oil makes up some 25 percent of Palestinian national income, and many families, especially in the northern West Bank, depend on this production as their sole annual income.
In the last few years, Israeli settlers throughout the occupied Palestinian territories have increased the frequency of their attacks and aggressions against Palestinian farmers during the harvest. There are indications that settlers understand the significance of this occasion for Palestinian society from both the economic and social perspectives. Many Palestinians have lost their lives from the bullets of settlers, while dozens of others have been injured and even more prevented from entering their own fields to work their land.
Palestinian farmer, Ali Tobasi, from the town of Tubas in the northern West Bank explained with sadness: “They cut a part of my history and they disturbed my dignity when they forced me to leave my field. They pointed their gun in my face. It is one of the saddest times that I faced in my life. Some of the trees that I lost were planted by my grandfather, some by my father and the rest by me, as a story that now is finished. We used to teach our children these words, to be fixed in their minds for the rest of their lives: ‘They planted for us to eat and we must plant for the coming generation too.’ It is a life task to plant and take care of the olive trees, they are holy trees. They give oil and he who has olive oil in his home will not be hungry.”
As in previous years, Israeli settlers attacked farmers, preventing them from leaving their fields after the first days of the harvest. We are still at the beginning of the harvest season and many cases have already been reported. Unfortunately, it is likely that many more incidents will continue to be reported throughout the harvest.
In the village of Deir Sharaf, to the west of Nablus in the northern West Bank, 20 armed settlers from the nearby settlement of Shavei Shomron attacked tens of families while they were harvesting their olive trees. The settlers came, and, threatening with their guns, forced the farmers to leave land located adjacent to the settlement. Sadi Halawa, a member of the local village council, said that the attack took place in front of Israeli soldiers, who did nothing to stop the settlers from taking control of the land.
On another occasion, Abed al-Fattah Othman Hindiyya, a 35-year-old farmer from the village of Tal, was injured when settlers from the Yitzhar settlement forced him to leave the field. When Hindiyya refused to comply, five settlers beat him with stones and with the butts of their guns. He sustained head and other injuries, confining him to hospital for several days. Events such as these have also been reported in the southern hills of the Hebron region also, especially in areas near the settlements of Susiya and Carmel.
In addition, there are thousands of farmers who now cannot reach their fields, as their lands are now located on the other side of the Separation Wall, meaning that these families have lost their most important production spaces. This situation is gravely affecting their income, increasing poverty throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, and rendering the already-difficult situation even more dangerous for the life of Palestinian families.
Yet, it is not only those who are near the Wall that have been negatively impacted by this situation and pulled into a downward spiral. According to many reports, 70 percent of Palestinian families live under the poverty line in the Gaza Strip, due primarily to the siege that the Israelis have imposed since 2005, with a similarly-high poverty rate of 60 percent in the West Bank.
The situation, however, is not hopeless: international civil society is working to help Palestinians through this situation. Many international campaigns have begun to call for citizens of other countries [“internationals”] to participate in the harvest, in order to give some kind of protection to the farmers. Over the past few years, these have become ongoing campaigns, providing help to the farmers in the occupied territories. This year, just in the southern hills of Hebron alone, 25 different solidarity movements are working with Palestinian farmers in their fields, in coordination with the local Land Defense Committee.
Musa Makhamra, director of the Committee, said, “We greatly appreciate the solidarity work of the Internationals who support us every year. Without their presence we couldn’t harvest the olive trees in [so] many places. This is a real solidarity effort: they are going to stay [here] and work the land for 20 days. Of course, other international groups are working in many places throughout the West Bank to help us at this difficult time.”
Many Israeli activists who are against the occupation and the settlement project in the occupied territories are participating in the harvest of olive trees. “It is directly on the ground, in the fields, where you can see the meaning of real solidarity and [the] real spirit of peace. Here you can feel a sense of relief when you see many internationals and Israelis who came to support and protect Palestinians against the aggression of Israeli soldiers and settlers” added Ali Nawaj’a, a farmer from Sosya village.
Many associations, such as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program (EAPPI), have been playing a serious and important role in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially over the years since the outbreak of the Second Intifada. They provide a sense of direct physical protection to the Palestinians who are facing daily attacks and violence from both Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Palestinians, local NGOs and political parties are looking with hope to such movements that support and help Palestinian farmers in their daily struggle, especially through non-violent demonstrations and other peaceful actions against Israeli settlers and soldiers, and, in the last few years, against the Separation Wall.
The potential for the Palestinians to have a proper and decent life is directly related to their potential for economic independence, and a life free from armed attacks and human rights violations. Under the siege of the Israeli occupation, this remains just a dream.
Finally, it is important to note that, amid the silence of the international community at the governmental level, international civil society is still alive, ready to help and ready to prevent governments from oppressing people in their name. The international civil community is struggling against globally oppressive capitalist economic governance all over the world, meeting armed violence with their own force: solidarity!