The challenges faced by Palestinian olive farmers during harvest season each year are considerable. This year has been no different.
Report: Israeli Settlers Steal Harvest of 400 Olive Trees
Occupying Israeli settlers have stolen the harvest of 400 olive trees planted on private Palestinian land, farmers in Nablus told Ma’an News earlier this week.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that more than 30 Palestinian families from the Nablus district village of Deir Sharaf entered their agricultural lands yesterday after being banned since Friday by Israeli authorities.
According to Daghlas, the families “were shocked to find out that Israeli settlers had picked the olives of 400 olive trees planted in their lands,” near the illegal Israeli settlement of Shavi Shamron.
“Israeli settlers stealing olive harvests is a crime against Palestinian farmers and their properties,” Daghlas said, denouncing “the Israeli government’s knowledge [of settlers’ actions] and the complete silence of international society and human rights organisations.”
Daghlas also demanded compensation for the Palestinian families who lost their olive harvest.
The olive harvest is an important economic and cultural event for Palestinians, with nearly half of all cultivated land in the occupied Palestinian territory planted with olive trees, according to the United Nations.
However, due to illegal settlement expansion, land confiscation, mobility restrictions due to Israel’s Separation Wall, and various permit laws, Palestinian farmers are often unable to access their land and the number of olive trees is dwindling.
This year’s olive harvest season, which began in October, has already witnessed attacks by illegal Israeli settlers and Israeli regime’s restrictions on Palestinian farmers and their lands.
The Palestinian government has no jurisdiction over Israelis in the West Bank, and violent acts carried out by illegal occupying Israeli settlers go unpunished.
Israeli human rights groups Yesh Din and B’Tselem have previously condemned the Israeli regime for failing to protect Palestinians from settler violence or to investigate attacks, particularly during olive harvest season when incidents of attacks occur on an almost daily basis.
Gaza Farmers Succeed in Tending to Olive Harvest–With International Support
By Joe Catron
During the recent olive harvest, which lasted from the end of September through October, dozens of Palestinian volunteers joined farmers in their groves near the tense barriers of the Gaza Strip.
The volunteers worked during a week at the height of the harvest season, from 20 to 27 October, in two of the farming districts most often targeted by Israeli forces: Beit Hanoun, around the Erez checkpoint in northern Gaza, and al-Qarara, a town in the Khan Younis area of the southern Gaza Strip.
Along with others near the “buffer zone” separating Gaza from present-day Israel, these areas face regular incursions by Israeli forces, which often send tanks and bulldozers to level farmland. Even more frequent are the bursts of gunfire aimed at farmers or others near the barrier erected by Israel.
These attacks have claimed vast tracts of productive farmland stretching hundreds of meters into the Gaza Strip, converting them to wasteland or fields of low-maintenance crops, most of which are wheat.
Abeer Abu Shawish, project coordinator for the Protection for Better Production campaign — a project of the Arab Center for Agricultural Development — said that more than fifty volunteers joined the effort.
The mobilization involved farmers’ organizations, like the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and other groups across Gaza.
“Our partner organizations mobilized volunteers to help farmers in the restricted area harvest their olives,” Abu Shawish said. “They’re other farmers, civil society activists, women: all these people joined us this year.”
“We can just plant wheat and wait,” said Abu Jamal Abu Taima, a farmer in the village of Khuzaa outside Khan Younis. “Other crops need to be tended every day.”
Abu Jamal’s 50 dunams (a dunam is equivalent to 1,000 square meters), which he plans to sow with wheat after the November rains begin, once contained olive groves as well as greenhouses for an array of vegetables.
“We used to grow enough olives for seventy large bottles of olive oil,” he said. “Now? Six.”
In 2002, Israeli forces began razing Palestinian agricultural areas near the barrier, as well as along the Philadelphi Route by the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt.
This included the demolition of Abu Jamal’s olive groves and greenhouses, as well as his home. “The Israelis destroyed them with four bulldozers, five huge tanks and three Hummers,” he said.
Since its occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1967, Israel has uprooted 800,000 olive trees in those territories, Oxfam reported in 2011. As the graphic design activism initiative Visualizing Palestine recently illustrated, those trees would cover an area 33 times the size of New York City’s Central Park.
By 2013, according to the Palestinian ministry of agriculture in Gaza, Israeli forces had leveled “some 20,000 dunams of land areas planted with half a million trees” in the Gaza Strip, contributing to a local deficit in olive oil production of 60 percent (“Israeli crimes against farmers cause 60 percent deficit in olive production,” Palestine News Network, 24 September 2013).
In the West Bank, the destruction of olive trees by both Israeli settlers and occupation forces continues. Stop the Wall and the Palestinian Farmers’ Union have organized an accompaniment project there, the You Are Not Alone campaign. By 8 November, its volunteers had documented the burning and uprooting of 1,905 olive trees by settlers during this harvest season alone.
A report by Stop the Wall states that its list of attacks does not “pretend to be complete.” Among the problems encountered by farmers trying to reach their olive trees are “settlers pump[ing] toxic sewage water on agricultural land” (“Settlers burn and uproot 1,905 olive trees during the harvest season,” 8 November 2013).
On 28 October, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published excerpts of a list of settler attacks on Palestinian olive groves and farmers maintained by the Israeli army (“Israeli attacks on Palestinian olive groves kept secret by state.”
The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has reported that Israeli occupation police “overwhelmingly failed to investigate the incidents and prosecute offenders,” noting that of 211 investigations actually opened between 2005 and June 2013, only four produced indictments (“97.4 percent of investigative files relating to damage of Palestinian olive trees are closed due to police failings,” 21 October 2013).
On 11 September, the Israeli army’s West Bank commander said his troops would destroy olive groves in the town of Yabad for unspecified “security purposes” (“Israeli authorities to destroy olive groves for ‘security purposes,” Ma’an News Agency, 9 November 2013).
“We are still here”
But the destruction of olive trees in the Gaza Strip is largely complete. For years Israel has used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, accompanied by tanks, to clear away olive trees in the “buffer zone.” Farmers in the area, who face the constant threats of both gunfire and leveling of land, have little reason to plant any crop needing regular attention or significant resources, much less crops that require years of careful cultivation and maintenance.
“I want to plant more olive trees, and other things, but cannot,” Abu Taima said. “For now, I plant wheat.”
With exceptions — most notably a 28 October airstrike on an olive grove near Soudanya in the north of Gaza — the Strip’s olive harvest passed more quietly than most agricultural activities in the territory.
“We try to bring international attention to the farmers and discourage Israeli attacks on them,” the Protection for Better Production campaign’s Abu Shawish said. “By supporting them, we encourage them to access their lands and keep using them. It shows the Israelis we are still here, and we can access our lands without any fears. Farmers in the restricted area can resist the occupation by existing on their own lands.”
The Arab Center for Agricultural Development’s programs for farmers do not end with accompaniment, Abu Shawish explained. The organization has conducted intensive leadership training for 100 farmers from the Gaza Strip’s five governorates, in farmers’ rights as well as skills like public advocacy. It has also held awareness-raising workshops for 500 more farmers.
“We are interested in building a social movement for farmers in Gaza,” she said.
The workshops also aim to build popular support for boycotts of Israeli products and the purchase of Palestinian goods among farmers.
“These workshops are about how to encourage farmers themselves to be involved in the boycott campaign, and how they can help the national economy by boycotting Israeli agriculture,” Abu Shawish said.
“We try to encourage farmers to boycott Israeli agricultural goods and buy Palestinian products to support the local economy. It’s raising awareness. At the same time, it’s about getting farmers involved in the campaign itself.”
Abu Taima, too, has a path of resistance.
“For us, the land is something very important,” he said. “We cannot just leave it. We will not have another 1948. We will not leave our lands again.”
Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine. He co-edited The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange. He blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and tweets @jncatron.
Poverty-Stricken Gaza Farmers Cheerful with Good Olive Harvest
GAZA, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) — For thousands of farmers in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, olive harvest season is a chance to gain some money amid the dire economic and living conditions caused by Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
The family of Kamal Obaid, from Gaza City, work shoulder to shoulder in harvesting their eight donum (1 donum is about 1 acre or a little more than 900 square meters) olive garden with much joy amid a cheerful atmosphere.
In the Gaza Strip, a tiny coastal enclave ruled by Islamic Hamas movement, olive industry has been a major business for thousands of farmers.
The harvest season is largely celebrated by farmers who spend a whole year taking care of the trees to ensure a bountiful crop of olive and an excellent produce of olive oil.
Every single member of Obaid’s family, from grandparents to grandchildren, put their efforts together to harvest their olive trees.
While men harvest the olives using tall ladders, women help by taking different tasks. While some prepare tea for the family, others sit on the ground and very thoroughly pick up the crop and pile it up to be sold.
The 56-year-old man believes this season is the best in decades.
“This season is really great. It is way better than last year. Last season’s whole produce of this garden did not exceed 200 kg, but one tree can produce so much this season which is really great,” Obaid said he collected fresh olive fruits.
The olive harvest season in Palestine starts in the beginning of October till the end of November. Most of farmers sell their crops as raw fruit in local markets, while others take the produce to mills for making oil.
Tens of thousands of olive trees, which are considered symbol of Palestinian culture, have been uprooted by Israeli troops during military conflict with Palestinian armed groups in the past decades in Gaza.
The territory has also been under a tight Israeli blockade since Hamas movement violently took over power there after routing government troops in 2007.
The blockade has pushed Gaza’s two million population deeper into poverty as unemployment rates hit 43 percent.
In the recent years, Israel and Hamas have been engaged in three major wars that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians.
According to official figures, Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014 destroyed 10,000 donums of land planted with fruits and other crops, 5000 of them were planted with olive trees.
Obaid was one of those farmers who lost some of their olive trees in the war.
“I have another three donum and a half farm of olive trees and it was totally destroyed during the war in 2014,” the man said bitterly as he watched his grandchildren taking part in the harvest.
Obaid added that the uprooted trees were over 60 years of age, saying it was a grave loss since the farm was a respected source of income for his large family.
“It also provided job opportunities for family members who wait for the seasons impatiently,” he explained.
Thanks to this generous season, the Hamas-run agriculture ministry expected that Gaza will not import any olive or olive oil this year.
According to the ministry, Gaza olive farms are expected to produce some 3500 tons of olive oil and 30,000 tons of olive fruits.
The ministry attributed the abundant crops to last winter’s plentiful rain in addition to planting thousands of new blossoming olive trees after the recent wars.
The olive business is considered to be the backbone of Gaza’s agricultural sector as 38,000 donums in the 360 square km seaside territory are planted with olive trees.