Voices rise above the wall

by EA Tone.

This autumn the annual olive harvest takes place despite the escalation of violence in Israel and occupied Palestine. The harvest is an unbroken tradition of land cultivation which has been passed on from one generation to another. However this November brings an olive harvest without trees for local landowner Issa al Shatleh. It is now over three months since the Israeli contractors began clearing the ancient olive groves in the Cremisan valley to make way for the expanding separation wall. EA Tone, recently returned to Europe, writes about the events she witnessed and the stories she heard behind the wall in Bethlehem. 

“What will the Nativity church be if there are no Christians left in the area? The stones will be without spirit and soul.”  Issa al Shatleh laments

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Uprooted lives: Christians protest the construction of the wall in the Cremisan

By the Bethlehem team.

On August 17 Israeli soldiers and security personnel supervised the the bulldozing of land and the uprooting of over 100 ancient olive trees in the Bir Ouma. Many of the trees that were uprooted were as old as 1500 years old. The land is being cleared to facilitate the routing of the separation wall through the Cremisan Valley. The planned route for the wall is three kilometers inside the 1949 Armistice ‘green line’ and is set to be built on privately owned Palestinian land in Beit Jala.The clearing of the land is taking place despite a previous court ruling and without any warning being given to the local landowners. Local Christians have been gathering daily at the site of the bulldozing to protest the illegal confiscation of their land and to pray for the protection of the Cremisan Valley.

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Photos: Olive Harvest 2014

Click on the image below to see our Olive Harvest 2014 photo album on Facebook.

olive harvest Tel Rumeida

Olive harvest in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. Photo EAPPI/N. Forsstroem.

Have you ever joined the olive harvest in Palestine? Tell us about your experience.

*An article about this year’s olive harvestEAPPI photos from olive harvest 2013, and some olive harvest resources.

38 cut olive trees and a box of eggs

by Johanna, Bethlehem team

Johanna was an EA in Fall 2013 and returned again this year as an EA in Bethlehem.

Mahmoud Shawash shows his destroyed olive trees. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

The former village councilor of Husan shows us the field of destroyed olive trees. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

In Greek mythology, warrior Goddess Athena and God of the seas Poseidon were competing over the possession of Athens. The mighty Poseidon struck his trident into the Athenian Acropolis, creating a well of salt water. While the public marveled at Poseidon’s achievement, Athena’s approach was more peaceful, she planted an olive tree just next to the well. The divine tribunal sided with Athena, for giving the city a greater gift: the first olive tree.

In the Mediterranean region, olive tree symbolises peace and prosperity. In the occupied Palestinian territories, nearly 51% of the cultivated land is planted with olive trees and and the olive oil industry makes up to 25 % of the region’s agricultural income.

But is there any peace or prosperity under the olive tree in occupied Palestine?

In the morning of 9 October the Schawash family from the West Bank village of Husan was alerted to a saddening reality – at the eve of the olive harvest season they found 38 of their olive trees cut. They had not visited their olive grove for 3 days, and their discovery was a shock.

While no one from the village was present during the time of the sabotage, which seems to have happened during dark hours, all clues seem to lead to the neighbouring settlement of Betar Illit. After all, it was only two days before that settlers of Betar Illit set fire to 15 olive trees in the village of Nahhalin and four months since they torched 60 olive trees in Husan.

The sight of the field is devastating. The cut parts of the trees laying on the ground have already lost their green color and the olives have dried.

Mahmoud Shawash, head of the affected family tells us that the trees were 40 to 50 years old.

“We wait for 10-15 years for the olive trees to grow, only to find them destroyed over night, he says with glum voice.”

Olive cultivation is the main source of livelihood of the Shawash family. Altogether they have 300 trees.

Mahmoud Shawash estimates that the loss of the cut trees is between 40 to 50 gallons (150-190 liters) of oil. One gallon earns the family over 500 NIS (130 €). It would have been challenging enough without the devastation of the trees. As the weather has been dry in the region throughout the whole year, the harvest this year is poorer than average.

JKaprio_Olives_09102014

The Shawash family estimates they lost 40 to 50 gallons of oil, a total loss of 20,000 to 30,000 Israeli shekels. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio.

Settler attacks against olive trees are a constant threat to Palestinian farmers. In various incidents yearly, Palestinian-owned olive trees get damaged, poisoned, uprooted, burnt down or harvested by settlers. Between 2009 – August 2013 altogether over 38,000 trees [3],[4]. I remember just too well last year my EAPPI colleagues firefighting alongside with Palestinian farmers in Yalud, where Israeli settlers set fire to hundreds of olive trees.

Only rarely do any of these acts of settler violence against Palestinian trees bear consequences to the perpetrators. According to Israeli NGO Yesh Din, between 2005-2012 only 1 out of 162 complaints lead to prosecution.

But why would the settlers commit to such an act?

“The settlers want to scare us out of our fields,” Mahmoud Shawash tells me firmly.

His fear is not without foundation. For the Israel Civil Administration, which has the authority over the Area C of the West Bank, a farmer who continuously cultivates a piece of land over 10 years becomes the de facto owner of it. However, as the land registry process has been halted since the start of the occupation in 1967, land ownership after this year goes without official documentation.

In addition, Israel follows the Ottoman Land Code which allows the state of Israel  to confiscate land that has been left uncultivated for a period of three years and although by law state land should be allocated for the benefit of the local Palestinian population in the occupied territories, in reality it is usually allocated to Israeli settlements. Moreover, in a number of cases, Palestinian land owners have suffered losses of land as a result of Israeli authority imposed access restrictions to their fields, such as restricted permits and the separation barrier that in many parts of the West Bank separates farmers from their fields. Settler violence adds to these challenges.

Indeed in the bigger picture, these acts of sabotage, committed by individuals but unpunished by the system, conveniently support an ongoing strategic land grab that Israel is carrying out in the occupied Palestinian territories, for the benefit of the Israeli settlers.

Betar Illit, which was established in 1984 on the lands of Husan village, is the one of largest settlements in the West Bank and among the most rapidly expanding ones. Israel’s recent announcement to confiscate 4,000 dunums (990 acres) of Palestinian land near Bethlehem, in order to allow for further settlement expansion, benefits the Betar Illit settlement and directly affects its neighboring villages, including Husan. This recent development causes anxiety among inhabitants of Husan as well as other Palestinian villages in the area.

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Beitar Illit settlement. Photo EAPPI/P. Costello.

In the field, work continues nevertheless. On 18 October, I find myself back at the Husan olive groves, where we have been asked to join and help with the olive harvest. While we are picking olives right next to the fence of the settlement, there is a cheerful spirit of a family gathering and news exchange between some of the international volunteers that have come for help. Lots of Arabic coffee is consumed and stories are told.

The first day of the harvest goes by smoothly, no settler stones thrown on the harvesters and no curse words towards them, as has happened in the past. At least almost. A small incident during the day of harvest gives me a taste of what working next to a settlement can be like. While taking some photos of our work in process, we notice a couple of settlers filming us from a nearby house. It doesn’t take long until the military arrives. To my suprise, they want to speak to me. Question is, do I work for the television? And if I do, they would need to see my film. Unfortunately for them, I am just an ordinary person with an ordinary camera, and so they let us back to our work.

On our way home through the village of Husan, we pass by a group of settlers from Betar Illit, buying eggs from a farmer from Husan village. It makes you wonder, how is it consistent that members of the same community who destroy trees at night, buy daily commodities from the same village during the day? Perhaps the answer lies on the fact that olive trees need humans to take care of them… Exactly what Athena wanted to show when she offered the olive trees as a present to humanity, for them to provide food, oil and wood over generation… Peace needs humans who will take care of it.

JKaprio_Statue of Athena in central Athens_Greece_2010

Statue of Athena in central Athens. Photo J. Kaprio.

In line with Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and their continuous expansion is the single biggest obstacle to what the olive tree symbolises: peace.

*The article 38 cut olive trees and a box of eggs originally appeared on Johanna’s blog.

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.

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?