Olive Harvest Season: Another Palestinian Struggle against "Israel's" Eco-Terrorism
Traditionally a festive season, this year’s olive harvest is once again overshadowed by Israeli vandalism and assaults, resulting in low yields due to the devastating impacts of the Israeli eco-terrorism.
It could and should have been a seasonal family celebration. It could and should have been a peaceful encounter with nature. It could and should have been a harvest in the grove, where trees are tightly enrooted and extend as deep as Palestinian ancestors. It could and should have been the annual olive oil harvest season...
Instead, it is yet another Palestinian struggle in the face of a colonial Israeli entity.
"Israel" could not care less about mankind; would it care about an olive tree?" - Abed from the occupied West Bank.
Every year, the olive harvest takes place in Palestine in October and November. Unfortunately, it is not the usual harvest festival, as Palestinian farmers face a triple challenge, particularly in the occupied West Bank, according to a recent report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“My olives bear the brunt of Israeli aggression.” - A 60-year-old Palestinian woman from Salem village, east of Nablus city.
The triple challenge
The first is Israeli settlers, guarded by occupation forces, escalating their daily assaults against Palestinian farmers and their property. The second is "Israel" imposing access restrictions on farmers whose groves are located behind the separation barrier and close to Israeli settlements. The last is “Israel's” acts of ecological terrorism that have long-lasting effects on climate.
"When I was a first-grader, I used to walk to school on footpath amid green plants at an olive orchid with my brother. As I became a freshmen student, the olive orchid was razed and an Israeli settlement was built in its place. "- Mohammad from Raba, a village in the West Bank village.
The nightmare season
To no one's surprise, this harvest season too was disrupted by Israeli settlers, who physically assaulted farmers, vandalized or set fire to their trees, or harvested and stole their produce.
Last month, Israeli settlers committed daily assaults against Palestinians harvesting their olive season. In the West Bank, 365 Israeli settlers attacks were reported. This year, almost 8,000 olive trees have already been uprooted, although the season is not over yet.
“Life’s work disappeared in a second.”- Fouad from Raba.
“It’s like watching your children being cut down in front of you.”
Furthermore, ICRC data revealed that "over the period of one year (August 2020 – August 2021) more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the occupied West Bank."
"Here is what our eyes saw: a barren land, and dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of dead olive trees." - Mona from the occupied West Bank.
“My uncle had a stroke at the sight of the trees being cut in front of him," Mona added.
According to a study published in 2012 by the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), Israeli occupation forces have uprooted 800,000 Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank since 1967.
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen English, Lobby and Advocacy Director at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) Moayyad Bsharat said that the UAWC has organized a yearly campaign to help Palestinian farmers in their olives harvest season, adding that 250 volunteers from several Palestinian universities have participated in this year's campaign.
Bsharat further stated that 95 Israeli attacks against Palestinians have been reported during the campaign.
He also commented on "Israel's" decision to designate UAWC among five other Palestinian organizations as "terrorist", saying, as a Palestinian agricultural institution, we have been subjected to persecution and incitement campaigns by Israeli organizations for more than ten years.
"The occupation and its settlers have a racist colonial project in the region, which is not restricted to plundering, confiscating, and occupying the land, but extends to uprooting the Palestinians entirely from it."
"I mean, this classification presents "Israel" as a rogue entity against international law. If you review the Security Council's definition of terrorism, you will find it embodied entirely in the occupation and its settlers. It is the one who kills children and women, arrests innocent civilians, and demolishes homes ...", he stressed.
"For us, the Israeli occupation's decision is an intense expression of the size and importance of the work we are doing, and this is a renewed affirmation that we will pursue our mission and will not leave the Palestinian farmers who are facing the occupation on their own," Bsharat concluded.
"I cannot enter my land"
“I have 20 Dunams of olive trees. I cannot enter my land. The Israeli occupation forces prevent us from passing; they assault us whenever they see us in the area. They steal our water and vandalize our trees. I am in constant fear of losing my land and my tress.”
Palestinian farmers are deprived of their basic right to access their land, except for a few days a year. Meanwhile, Israeli permit approval rates have been diminishing over the years. The year-round restrictive access regime in these areas, which impedes essential agricultural activities, has continued to have an impact on olive productivity and value.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the approval rate fell from 71% of applications in 2014 to 37% in 2019. The rate further declined in 2020 to 24%. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities issued new standing regulations in September 2019 that limit the number of days farmers can access their land.
No other income
Many Palestinian families rely on olive trees for their primary source of income, and vandalized trees mean less income and fewer opportunities for Palestinian families in general, and children in particular. The entire olive sector, including olive oil, table olives, pickles, and soap, is worth over $100 million per year, according to Oxfam International.
According to UN figures, olive trees cover approximately 48% of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza. Olive trees account for 70% of fruit production in Palestine and approximately for 14% of the Palestinian economy. 93% of the olive harvest is used to make olive oil.
“I don’t have any other income. I was counting on this harvest season to provide food to the table and to admit my son to college. After the Israeli settlers uprooted my olive trees, I cannot afford anything. My son just lost his hope of going to the university.”- Moaed from the West Bank.
West Bank trade remains largely isolated from global markets due to restrictions imposed on the movement of goods to, from, and within the occupied Palestinian territory, according to a July 2011 study by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
“My loss is so devastating to my family and my co-workers. I could not export our virgin olive oil because of the Israeli harsh restrictions. It is so hard for us to accept this nightmare.”- Zakaria from the occupied West Bank.
“We are the olive trees"
“Our relationship with the olive trees is untypical. It is not just a tree. It is part of my childhood memory,” explains a smiling Abed under an ancient 12-meter olive tree.
“Olive trees are a constant reminder that the danger is nearing us. The colonial entity aims to uproot our identities and construct a new identity which is different from ours”, Abed sighs.
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen English, the young Palestinian man, speaking emotionally, added that “Israel” wants to erase his memories and banish him from existence, affirming that the Palestinian olive tree is a symbol.
“We are the olive trees. It symbolizes how the colonial Israeli entity wants to uproot Palestinians and expel them from their own land, just like it uproots an olive tree; “Israel” wants to kill me in the same way it kills an olive tree and builds a new future on our past”.
Abed commented on the famous photo of an old Palestinian woman holding onto an olive tree, by saying that this Palestinian woman is not holding onto the tree because it is a tree. “The olive tree symbolizes her childhood, her first love, her first family gathering, her roots, and her fear of being uprooted from her land.”
“The Olive tree is so important since it represents our Palestinian identity. It is directly related to our land, our steadfastness, and our resilience”.
“And just as they uproot our olive trees and we replant them, we will liberate Palestine and return to Palestine, all of Palestine,” he concluded.