An economic heart of stone

Featured

By the Bethlehem team.

Today should be a good day in Beit Fajjar. The temporary checkpoint restricting who can leave the village has gone. The rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities is full of life, its students skilfully manoeuvring their wheelchairs around. The quarries are once again accessible and the factories stand ready to process its stone. On the surface, the blockade that began 12 days ago is finally over. But dig deeper, and a different story emerges.

29.03.16 Beit Fajjar Stone awaiting delivery to the Gulf EAPPI/K. Fox

29.03.16 Beit Fajjar Stone awaiting delivery to the Gulf EAPPI/K. Fox

Continue reading

Planting olive trees: a nonviolent act of perseverance and steadfastness

by Ken, Yanoun team

 

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

Planting olive trees is an important part of spring for the 80,000 families in Palestine who depend on the olive harvest for income. Photo EAPPI/J. Byrne.

It’s 9:00 am on a warm sunny morning in Burin. The weather is unusually mild for the time of year and the farmers are complaining about the scarcity of rainfall.  We’ve been asked to accompany the villagers while planting new olive trees to replace the ones Israeli settlers from the Yizhar settlement destroyed. Our transport arrives: a tractor and trailer containing about 50 olive tree saplings. The many passengers make room for us as we climb aboard and, precariously balanced, we set off on a 2 kilometre long journey across the valley and up a steep incline to arrive at a ploughed field just 300 metres from the fence surrounding the settlement.

Mamoun, from the rural development association in Burin and also one of the coordinators of this event, shows me the blackened remains of olive trees burned by Israeli settlers in an adjacent field. He believes in a conspiracy theory that I’ve heard before: that this arson is not a random act but part of a coordinated attempt to undermine the Palestinian rural economy.  He explains that “they know what they are doing. There is some genius thinking for them”. He also cautions us that farmers are often “beaten” in this area, especially if they get too close to the fence.

There is more to this event than just planting trees: it is both a memorial and a political statement. Attached to the saplings are photographs of Palestinian nationals. Some are long-term prisoners in Israeli jails; others have died in resisting the occupation. One photograph is of a local boy, aged about 10, who recently died of a brain tumour in spite of eventually receiving expert Israeli medical care. I realise that the man standing stoically alone in front of the tree is the boy’s father. At the risk of intruding on his private grief, I offer my condolences on his loss and a prayer for him. He thanks me for my concern in a most dignified way but then continues his vigil.

Planting trees is hard, sweaty and tiring work and our team pitches in. At a scheduled break I search for a stone to sit on, mindful of an earlier conversation with Mamoun about the local flora and fauna in which he mentioned that there were “many snakes” including a “Palestinian cobra”. Mamoun senses my anxiety: “don’t worry”, he says, “it’s winter and they’re sleeping”.

I ask Mamoun about his organization. He explains that it’s primarily concerned with improving agricultural productivity, and especially in helping farmers to become self-sufficient despite the diminishing amount of land accessible to them. It also organizes a women’s handicraft cooperative, promoting health education, and setting up a savings scheme to help parents pay for their children’s university education. All this depends on volunteer help without external funding.

This initiative seems to worry the Israeli military intelligence, as if being a community activist is somehow subversive. Mamoun’s office has been subjected to no less than six night-time raids by the army. He and, by association, his family are on a ‘black list’. When his 64 year old father enquired as to why his application for a permit to work in Israel had been rejected the answer was “ask your son”!

The planting ends ceremonially with the unfurling of a ‘solidarity’ banner and the obligatory taking of photographs. Everyone is in a jubilant mood. The trees have been planted without provoking a reaction by the settlers, and the army has kept its distance even though it has captured everything on video from beginning to end.

Mamoun sums up the feeling of the workers when he says “for every one tree they [the Israeli settlers] destroy, we will plant ten trees more”.

I’m convinced that against all the odds this continuing emphasis on nonviolent resistance will eventually win the day for the Palestinians as it did for Gandhi in India and Mandela in South Africa.

Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, about what he calls a ‘third intifada’ believes that “it is the one that Israel always feared most – not an intifada with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott”.

The final word naturally belongs to Mamoun: he warmly thanks our team “for your support and for showing solidarity with us”, and the other workers beam in agreement.

Well watched sheep

Protective Presence for shepherds is an important part of EAPPI’s work in the South Hebron Hills. Without international or Israeli presence, shepherds are afraid of Israeli settler or military aggression.

by South Hebron Hills team, Group 49

A shepherd with his sheep in Umm al Ahmad. Photo EAPPI/S. Masters.

A shepherd with his sheep in Umm al Ahmad. Photo EAPPI/S. Masters.

We leave early for Umm Al Ahmad to walk with the shepherds. It is a cool morning and the light is dim as we leave. We are going there almost every Saturday to offer protective presence to the shepherds. Four people from Ta’ayush, we two EAs, five shepherds and two dogs set off together with some 130 sheep and goats.

A shepherd gives his sheep water to drink from a well. Photo EAPPI/B. Rubenson.

A shepherd gives his sheep water to drink from a well. Photo EAPPI/B. Rubenson.

One shepherd opens the gate of the sheep pen and the sheep hurry out – the other shepherds follow with their flocks. We head up to the cistern, a shepherd drops a bucket into the well four times in all, and the animals gather to drink. Soon we climb over the dry rocky ground towards the valley past the family olive grove. The hooves of the sheep can be heard softly pounding the dry, rocky earth and the tinkle of bells is clear this early in the morning. Across the hills we see a settlement. As we round a hill we see the Israeli army vehicles waiting ready for us!

Without internationals or Israelis, the shepherds would not go

The settlement is illegal as it has been built on occupied Palestinian territory. According to the 4th Geneva Convention, which Israel ratified in 1951, it is prohibited for an occupying force to build permanent dwellings or move their own population into occupied land (article 49), as it is also prohibited to destroy private property (article 53).

Although the shepherds own the land and are entitled to graze their animals there, they only dare do so on a Saturday when international volunteers or Ta’ayush are present. The shepherds have experienced settler and military aggression and they just too scared – two of them are just 16 years old and the settlers carry guns – Israeli law allows settlers to do so. The valley is in area C (i.e. under Israeli civil and military control) and the Otniel settlement has clearly shown its ambition to include it into the settlement by building new roads to demarcate their future borders. The court case is pending in the Supreme Court.

The sheep eat hungrily, it is important for them to graze this area when possible as it “rests” the other pasture and stretches the fodder they have saved from the summer harvest. As we all walk along, the soldiers get out of their vehicles, they wear their machine guns like hand bags slung over their shoulders. As we move through the valley an army vehicle is following us close from behind. Soon the sheep have found their spot and cluster to graze.

Ta’ayush volunteers share their experience

We volunteers stand close to the sheep or sit on rocks to chat and share stories. One woman from Ta’ayush tells how she was not hired in her line of work as she had not done her National service in protest to the government policies; another says she is self-employed so no one ever asks her if she did her service; still another was arrested only yesterday and still shaken – apparently he stood too close to an Israeli settlement. He was soon released though, as he was an Israeli himself. The security guard from Otniel comes up to us and starts filming us and soon we are all filming and taking photos of each other.

We have met these shepherds before and know that one of them is particularly keen on singing. As he walks, we hear him singing folk songs, some Ta’ayush members also join in. Today an EA gets out his flute and the army gazes on.

How many people does it take to graze sheep?

After a while the sheep are satisfied and we head back to the village. The soldiers move their vehicles. The only communication between the shepherds and the army has been nonverbal. The army vehicles move up the hill, where the settlement is. For us it is a slow walk up the valley and slopes as the sheep are well fed. We have been there for four hours. Nineteen people have watched these sheep eat. The shepherds rest – later in the afternoon they will take their flocks out again this time to a field close to the village.

Photos: Images of olive harvest in Palestine

Every year, EAPPI joins Palestinian farmers in the olive harvest.  Our protective presence helps farmers access lands near settlements or in areas cut off by the wall and also helps deter acts of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their olive trees.

In this photo essay, we show various views of olive harvest in Palestine.

Resources of the Month – October’s Olive Harvest

We’re starting a new series here on the EAPPI blog.  Many of you are working for change and promoting just peace in Israel/Palestine. Whether it be presentations, articles, letters, or meeting with policy makers, you need solid resources.

olive harvest in faroun, tulkarmEach month, we’ll present a few good resources that you can use to get the facts straight and are relevant for today.

Since the olive harvest is in full-swing here in Palestine, here are 5 resources about the importance of the olive harvest and the impact of the Israeli occupation on olive farmers.

  1. Although its a few years old, Oxfam’s The Road to Olive Farming is still one of the strongest resources on the Olive Harvest.  It not only details the importance of olive farming in Palestine and the difficulties occupation poses to olive farmers, but it also explores ways to unlock the olive market and gives recommendations to the PA, Israeli government, the international community, donors, and local and international NGO’s.
  2. This year’s fact sheet hasn’t come out yet, but UNOCHA’s 2012 Olive Harvest Factsheet is a great resource for quick and easy facts for use in your advocacy.
  3. Everybody loves videos! UNOCHA also has a film that illustrates the Olive Harvest in the Northern West Bank.
  4. If you or your audience are visual learners, check out Visualizing Palestine’s Olive Harvest infographic:UPROOTED.
  5. Personal stories always strengthen your advocacy.  Use The Case of Al Mughayyir Village or EAPPI’s eyewitness accounts of the Olive Harvest.

What other resources or stories do you have about the Olive Harvest in Palestine?

70 olive trees destroyed during olive harvest

On October 13 at 3:00 am, Israeli settlers cut down 70 olive trees belonging to Palestinians in the village of Qaryut.

“The trees are a very important income for us,” described Wsafe Jeaber, one of the Qaryut residents, “You don’t know how much I cried when I saw the trees; only wood and no olives. These trees feed me, my husband and three children.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the olive industry makes up 14% of the agricultural income for Palestine and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families.