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.


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.

PCostello_Betar Illit settlement_Bethlehem_Oct2014

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.

EAPPI around the world: Canada

EAPPI is a world-wide network.  Our EAPPI national coordination offices in 26 countries work hard to recruit EAPPI human rights monitors and coordinate their advocacy when they return home.  Today, we continue our series in which we get to hear from these dedicated supporters of EAPPI all over the world.

Today, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, one of our sending churches for EAs in Canada, shares why they participate in EAPPI.

A group of EAs from Canada join Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI.

A group of EAs from Canada join Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI.

How did you get involved with EAPPI?

The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) sent its first Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) to volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in 2007, in response to the call from Heads of Churches in Jerusalem to stand in solidarity with the churches and people in Palestine.  To date, 6 volunteers from the PCC have served as EAs.

What’s your favorite thing about EAPPI?

EAs work in international teams providing witness and accompaniment.  As one of our EAs described:

“It felt as though the whole world met and worked together.”

The ecumenical nature of the program encourages unity of purpose.  In the field, EAs establish that human connection with local communities while working together for peace with Palestinians, Israelis and other organizations in the area.  Over the years, the EAPPI has been able to build its capacity especially in the production of advocacy resources for use by EAs for increased awareness.

What beliefs motivated you to get involved with EAPPI or the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

The PCC’s fundamental belief is that all human beings are created equal in the image of God and that an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

After the 2nd Intifada, the PCC and other churches realized that if peace was to be achieved, the church had to exercise its prophetic voice, be an active participant in the search for a just peace and reconciliation and put a human face to the suffering in the West Bank.

“The Church believes that it is the right as much as duty of an occupied people to struggle against injustice in order to gain freedom, although it also believes that non-violent means of struggle remain stronger and far more efficient.”  ~WCC Central Committee 2001, Potsdam

Why do you support EAPPI as opposed to other organizations working in Israel/Palestine?

A Canadian EA listens as a farmer describes the destruction of his olive trees by Israeli settlers. Photo EAPPI/J. Fraser.

A Canadian EA listens as a farmer describes the destruction of his olive trees by Israeli settlers. Photo EAPPI/J. Fraser.

In its operations, the EAPPI emphasizes impartiality and cooperation in its recognition that there are both Palestinian and Israeli communities committed to justice, peace, and respect for human rights and that the marginalization of any of them will hinder its work.

As an organization and partner, the EAPPI has made great strides in achieving its objectives of ensuring an international presence in the occupied territories with cooperation from the countries that send EAs to the West Bank.

EAs monitor checkpoints many days per week to observe and gather data on incidences that threaten peace.  It is this constant presence and accompaniment that distinguishes the EAPPI from other organizations.  The EAPPI presents an incredible opportunity to EAs to monitor human rights abuses at the grassroots level.

EAs listen to many local stories from communities with an open mind; actively participate in their everyday routine like sharing meals while empathizing with their daily struggles.

What do you think needs to be done to end the occupation and achieve peace in Israel and Palestine?

More governments should show commitment to peace in Palestine & Israel through deliberate engagement with both Palestinians and Israelis in all aspects of their lives so that global collective actions may influence policies that reflect equality, tolerance, self-expression and co-existence.

In a sermon on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EAPPI in November 2012, His Grace Bishop Dr. Munib Younan expressed his hope that one day both Palestinians and Israelis will recognize each others’ humanity and interdependence in order to achieve a just peace.

Why should a Canadian be involved with EAPPI or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

The PCC believes strongly that there can be no peace without justice.  The concept of protective presence is based upon the idea that an international person has more of ‘voice’ than the average Palestinian and that this ‘voice’ can help deter or minimize instances of human rights abuses.  Canadians can use their ‘voices’ and presence to accompany Palestinian brothers and sisters.  The message of just peace is more effective when it is based on eyewitness accounts and every little bit counts.

Thank you to Margaret Zondo, Program Administrator for International Ministries of The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) and EAPPI Coordinator within this denomination, as well as Jeanie, Jake, and Magan, former EAs, for contributing to this article!

Do you want to know what EAPPI is doing around the world? Read more from Australia and the UK & Ireland.

How can you understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without seeing it for yourself?

EAPPI’s interactive booth in Korea brings the realities of life under occupation to life

EAPPI staff, former EAs and local partners attended the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th General Assembly in Busan, Korea from October 30 to November 8.  The booth, featured a photo exhibit and short films of EAPPI’s work and the situation in Palestine.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI's booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

A banner of the separation wall hung over the entrance to EAPPI’s booth at the WCC 10th General Assembly. Photo EAPPI.

The separation wall in Korea

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Participants had to show their IDs before entering through the separation wall. Photo EAPPI.

Before entering, however, participants had to go through a façade designed as the separation wall, where participants could write message of peace and add their own graffiti.  A soldier (a former EAPPI observer) guarded the entrance, asking to check participant’s ID’s.

“Are you Palestinian,” he asked. If not, he would allow them in. If so, he would not.

Every evening in the booth, participants could join for tea time.  “We served sweet mint tea and cookies and discussed issues like ‘Palestinian children and the right to education,’ the ‘arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children,’ ethical pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and access to worship.

Access to education

"Are you Palestinian," the soldier asked.  If so, you could not enter the booth.  A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“Are you Palestinian,” the soldier asked. If so, you could not enter the booth. A reflection of the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face every day. Photo EAPPI.

“We sought to build awareness about the issue of ‘access to education’ to WCC member churches and ecumenical programs,” explained Nader, EAPPI Advocacy officer. “We wanted to mobilize them to take actions to improve Palestinian schoolchildren’s access to schools.

Anne-Marie, EAPPI’s Program Associate in Geneva recounted:

“Many people, who didn’t know much about the conflict were shocked, especially issues such as kids being threatened on their way to school and impunity for settler violence.”

The main event focused on access to education. Adli Daama, Learning for Development Officer at UNICEF, discussed the overall context of education under occupation, while Rafeeq Zeineldeen teacher from Qabalan school near Nablus, focused on his school’s experience and the affects of occupation on his students.  In addition, two former EAs discussed their experience in the West Bank and how people on the ground are affected.

Tearing down the wall

On the last day, many people gathered at the EAPPI both, where Manuel Quintero, EAPPI’s International Program Coordinator and Rifat Kassis, head of Defence for Children International in Palestine, talked about the illegality of the separation barrier under international law.  At the end, everybody chanted, ‘The wall must fall. The wall must fall.’ Nader retold, “and we symbolically tore down the wall.”

“EAPPI’s participation at the WCC assembly succeeded in bringing the attention of many churches around the world to the struggles of Palestinians,” said Yusef Daher, Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. “As Palestinian Christians, we saw the most enthusiasm we’ve seen in any large event, especially from churches in the global south, such as Korean and India, and we hope to see them involved in EAPPI’s work soon.”