by ISM Nablus affinity groups and ISM Media team
Harvest Continues in Salim Despite Occupation
Wednesday 25th October: With Eid celebrations complete, the annual olive harvest continued today in villages across the West bank. In the village of Salim near to Nablus city, volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement were invited by local Palestinians to help with the harvesting of their olives in the groves close to the Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh.
On the approach to the olive groves, villagers were stopped by soldiers of the Israeli occupation forces. They were controlling the gate through which Palestinians must go to cross the settler-only roads, which stand between their village and their land agricultural land. After requiring the villagers to show their IDs, the Palestinian villagers continued their journey on to the olive groves.
Salim’s olive groves are situated in the beautiful valleys to the east of Nablus, commanding stunning views of the city and on a clear day, the hills of Jordan. However, this local environment has been marred by the sprawl of Israeli settlements, and colonial outposts on the hilltops surrounding the olive groves (all structures Israel builds in the occupied territories in order to house its civilian population are illegal under international law). In the course of the construction of these illegal settlements and settler-only apartheid roads, some 80 dunnums of land have been confiscated by the Israeli army from Salim.
One Palestinian family from the village told volunteers how they had had 350 olive trees, which had been destroyed last year by settlers. They also indicated the loss of large areas of fertile land which they were no longer able to access due to the continued construction of the illegal settlements and settler-only roads. The lands had been previously used for growing cereals and vegetables. This land now lies unused – a vexatious waste of natural resources and a serious blow to the economy of Salim.
Olive picking in Salim today progressed without serious incident, and in spite of the numerous obstacles put in the way of the villagers by the Israeli army and the continued colonisation of their land, villages were in good spirits. However, as volunteers were returning to the village, reports were coming in of a violent settler attack on Palestinians, also out picking olives on their land in a village west of Nablus. With several weeks of the olive harvest to go in the occupied west bank, it remains to be seen whether or not settlers and soldiers will continue the violence, intimidation and theft that have marred the olive harvest of 2006 so far.
“This is not peace!” – Olive Harvesters in Awarta Face Obstacles from Settlers and Soldiers
Friday 27th October: Sitting in the shade of an olive tree, drinking tea out of a thermos, it is easy to forget where you are. Walking among a throng of chatty, giggly children in a stunningly beautiful valley framed by gently rolling mountains, you could be forgiven for letting your guard down for a moment. That is, until a military jeep comes careening down the road at 100km/h and an 8-year old Palestinian boy hangs out of the window of a car driving toward it – his face distorted and feigning terror, screaming at the top of his voice. Then you are reminded that this is Awarta, a village south of Nablus city and adjacent to the ever expanding and notoriously violent Israeli settlement of Itamar, and that the calm moments always precede a storm.
Awarta’s olive groves are located between the Palestinian village and the Israeli settlement, the latter’s caravan and watchtower outposts spread out on hilltops in every direction. A dirt path leading up to the gate in the outer perimeter settlement fence divides the land directly facing the settlement into east and west, while a tarmac road leads deeper into the groves in the south-west. All of the land is under direct threat from Israeli colonist attacks and Itamar has recently erected a second perimeter fence around its original border, thus confiscating even more fertile land and further decimating Awarta’s olive harvest.
The Palestinian villagers are now afraid of even approaching the fence to pick olives from the trees. “If we go within 50m of the fence, the settlers go mad. They will cut down more of our trees and pollute our water. This is what they always do”, says one anonymously speaking villager with land adjacent to, and on the far side of the barrier. In light of these obvious risks, the harvesters’ resolve to pick every last olive this year is especially impressive. Even if the Israeli army decide not to protect the Palestinians villagers in accordance to the Israeli High Court decision taken earlier this year, where it was stipulated that Palestinian farmers have a right to enter and work their land, with or without DCO* permission, and that the military commander in the area must defend this right. In the past, the Israeli army have often opted for declaring Palestinian land that deem likely to be target by Israeli colonists “closed military zones.” They have justified this by saying that the law is aimed to protect the Palestinian residents, but has in reality, saved them from any real confrontation with Israeli colonists, while at the same time often preventing Palestinians from farming their olives. The court ruling clearly says that this is no longer allowed and that territorial closure is subject to a number of strict preconditions.
This decision is important to many Palestinian farmers. It provides them with a legal weapon to use in fighting for their rights to their land. Apart from land in “red zones,” which are not subject to such rapid changes as “closed military zones,” and can be checked on military maps, all farmers should in theory be unhindered and protected in working their land and harvesting their olives this season. The result on the ground in Awarta has been that a large number of military vehicles carrying soldiers and police patrol the area during the day, driving back and forth and occasionally stopping in certain areas. This is truly a schizophrenic experience for many of the villagers. Accustomed to avoiding any contact with the Israeli military, they are now forced to rely on them for protection against Israeli colonists. Old habits die hard and the children still squeal “jeish” (“army” in Arabic) and move closer to their parents whenever a jeep speeds by.
As was clearly illustrated yesterday, scepticism as to the military’s motives is warranted. A family of olive pickers was chased away by Israeli soldiers while attempting to harvest on land near one of the outposts west of the dirt path. Colonists from Itamar claim that this land has been sold to them, while the Palestinian owners dismiss this as malicious lies and carry with them deeds to the 187 dunums concerned. Their work on the land having been brutally interrupted, the family has now contacted the DCO in Nablus, requesting that they act as arbitrator between the disputees and offer protection to the family during the harvest. “We are expecting a reply from them on Tuesday, but will go to harvest our olives regardless of their decision”, says one of the family’s adult sons.
It is also clear that the Israeli military has a very limited capacity and/or will to prevent colonists’ attacks on Palestinians. The day before yesterday, two armed colonists from Tel Hayim wandered down the mountain at around four o’clock in the afternoon to threaten olive pickers and force them to leave their land. The military were at that time not present in that particular area of the massive expanse of olive groves. It also seems that no measures will be taken to prevent this from happening again.
Apart from the impracticalities of military protection, it is clearly not a politically or morally viable solution. The pretense that the Israeli military forces are maintaining a presence on the land “on the people’s orders” as one police officer put it, is just that – a pretense. The situation is better summed up in the words of a hard-pressed Awarta farmer, eager to finish the work as soon as possible: “We are happy the soldiers are here because the settlers may not come then. But this is not a solution. We, the Palestinians, want peace. And peace is not having soldiers shoot at our children one day and then wishing us a good day’s olive harvest the next.”
Awarta will continue its struggle for a good harvest and international supporters are more than welcome to join in. For a practical and powerful act of solidarity, come to Palestine. Harvesting is resisting!
* DCO: District Co-ordination Office. Formerly joint Israeli Palestinian institutions for the administration of civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Authority was kicked out at the start of the second intifada. DCOs are affectively the civil administration wing of the Israeli military.
Beit Iba Overcomes Obstacles from the Israeli Army to Harvest Olives
Friday 27th October: Today, olive harvesting continued at Beit Iba. Villagers, including their 82-year-old grandmother and volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement and the International Women’s Peace Service, spent much of the day picking olives close to the Israeli army’s checkpoint at Beit Iba, to the Northwest of Nablus city. This site is also close to olive groves where villagers have been repeatedly driven off their land by the Israeli occupation forces in recent weeks. Today’s picking continued peacefully, and a large quantity of olives were harvested in between rain showers and lunch breaks (where international volunteers were invited to sample amazing homemade humous, cheese and bread brought by the villagers). However, harvesting could only begin once villagers had been given permission to enter their land by the Israeli occupation forces, and to do so, villagers had to climb over rolls of razor wire which were installed by the Israeli army a month ago. Children and a man with an amputated leg were among those who had to negotiate this obstacle. The Israeli occupation forces also told villagers that no vehicles could be brought close to the olive grove, thus making it difficult for the sacks of olives to be taken from the site. Despite these obstacles, and intermittent rain, villagers and volunteers persevered, and remain determined not to be denied access to their land.