Struggles of the Olive Harvest
From October to the beginning of November, Palestinian farmers will attempt to harvest their olive trees, anticipating with bated breath what restrictions the Israeli Army will place on them, how many settler attacks there might be and what level of destruction their olive trees will endure. Once bearing witness to a happier time when picking olives was a joyful family affair, the olive harvest now attests to this generation’s struggle against the Israeli occupation.
An olive tree can bear fruit for hundreds, even thousands of years: resilient to drought and poor soil conditions, these trees are a symbol of resistance and sumud, or steadfastness in Palestine, being an extension of the Palestinian family that tends to them. Many of the trees, whose olives were once picked by the family’s forefathers, are now either inaccessible or destroyed: From 2011 to 2016, approximately 73,000 olive trees were uprooted by the Israeli Army and settlers, with 1000 being destroyed in October 2016 alone. Their destruction being mourned as though they were a member of the family. “These trees are like my children, they cannot be replaced.” said one Palestinian farmer, whose trees were burned in a settler attack. According to Yesh Din, 95.6% of investigations of damage to olive trees are closed due to Israeli police investigation failures.
Area C, which covers over 60% of the West Bank, is under Israeli Military control and home to 125 illegal Israeli settlements. A Palestinian farmer, whose land falls within this area, requires a permit to access their land or must make prior arrangements with the Israeli Military to tend to their trees. Oftentimes these permits are denied or access is only granted for 3 days during the olive harvest season. The limited amount of time, which is often cut back further by military or settler interference, prevents farmers from completing a full harvest, greatly reducing their source of income – the livelihoods of around 100,000 Palestinian families depend directly and indirectly on the olive harvest. These restrictive measures act as a strategy to take more and more land away from Palestinians; if a farmer cannot access his land and tend to it, the land becomes barren and after 3 years will be declared state land, which is almost exclusively used for the building of settlements. “We need to be on our land every day, so that we can trim the trees, plough and water the land…they [the occupation] want us to give up, so they can take it away from us,” explained a Palestinian farmer.
The proximity of Palestinian land to illegal Israeli outposts and settlements means settler attacks are common. Harassment and physical violence, as well as crop theft take place frequently during the olive harvest season, as well as the rest of the year. Christian Peacemaker Teams provide a protective presence for families in Hebron as they harvest, also observing and documenting attacks. Tel Rumeida, located in central Hebron, is an area that suffers much settler abuse due to its proximity to the Tel Rumeida and Beit Hadassa settlements. The continued expansion of these settlements has meant that Palestinian families have had much of their land taken. One resident of Tel Rumeida pointed to where their olive grove used to be, “this has now been taken by settlers for archaeological digging,” he said. The claim of archaeological sites is often used as a tool by settlers to take Palestinian land. Settlements in Hebron are home to radical Jewish fundamentalists, who promote anti-Palestinian ideologies – this contributes the most to the high level of violence in the city. Many internationals will come during the olive harvest season to help protect the Palestinian families from this violence. But attacks go ignored by the Israeli Police, emboldening those not held to account to continue their torrent of abuse. A French activist helping harvest with a family in Tel Rumeida said, “attacks are not just physical acts of violence, they are also attacks on the Palestinian identity…we are here in solidarity to not just protect the family, but also the Palestinian culture.”
Olive trees are the symbol of Palestinian rootedness in the land and like the durability of these trees Palestinian steadfastness continues to resist the Israeli occupation, refusing to move-away or be uprooted themselves.
If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears.