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Nablus Villagers Face Impediments to Olive Harvest from Israeli Soldiers

by ISM Nablus, 18th October

Qusin is a small picturesque village located in the green rolling hills just west of Nablus city and adjacent to the Israeli colony of Qedumim. Since the height of the Al-Aqsa intifada, the village has been spared overtly violent military incursions, but there are many other problems that prevent the villagers from going about their daily lives as normal.

About three months ago, a several kilometer long coil of razor-wire was put up by the Israeli military in order to prevent university students and workers from the village from reaching Nablus without being forced to suffer an arduous wait at Beit Iba checkpoint. Many of these people, especially the young men, are subjected to daily internment in a special holding-pen at the checkpoint. Claiming to be “checking” their IDs, Israeli soldiers hold them prisoner there for hours every day, sometimes confiscating their mobile phones and refusing them access to water and bathroom facilities. The same people are made to wait day after day even though the soldiers manning the checkpoint know their names and faces very well by now. If they attempt to go around the checkpoint, their taxi drivers are invariably stopped and made to wait for at least two hours as a punishment. In some cases, the military even confiscate or vandalise the cars.

The village council has requested that international solidarity workers accompany farmers to their land during the olive harvest, due to harassment from Israeli military forces. Two days ago, a couple of families with land on the far side of an Israeli bypass road and about 200 meters from Qedumim colony started harvesting their olives. As the electronic school bell rang out from the Israeli colony and the usually unmistakably positive but now so unsettling sound of children playing subsided, landowner Abu Ramsi explained the problems facing the village: “We are not afraid of the settlers. They are good people. But the soldiers always come to chase us off and prevent us from picking our olives.” Soldiers also prevent Palestinians from crossing the Israeli bypass road with their tractors, essential for transporting equipment and the harvested fruit.

The past two days have passed without incident. Military vehicles circled the area and at times stopped to watch the work from afar but did not interfere. Today, Israeli border police were driving back and forth on the settler-military only road for a while, before deciding to stop and assess the situation. One of them swung the jeep door open and looked ready to step out, when he caught sight of international solidarity workers armed with cameras and legal papers. Accompanied by peals of laughter from women of the village, he thought better of it mid-step, closed the door and drove away.

Every last olive on the far side of the bypass road has now been picked and the families continue picking on the near side to the village, where the risks are not so great. Inspired by last weekend’s generous downpour of rain, the slopes of Qusin are dotted with harvesters in colourful dresses and kerchiefs. Olives, chubby and sleek, fall onto tarpaulins and into buckets and pockets – a bumper harvest representing the coming year’s livelihood for thousands of Palestinian farmers all over the West Bank.

This year’s harvest will be far larger than last year’s, in accordance with how olive growth normally fluctuates (every two years there is a large harvest). In dire times like these, with the European boycott strangling what was left of the Palestinian economy, a full harvest is especially important. The importance of the olive harvest this year explains why farmers are expecting unusually high levels of violence, theft and other forms of sabotage from Israeli settlers and soldiers. In light of these circumstances, it is vital that as many international solidarity workers as possible make their way to Palestine to accompany farmers to their land, bear witness to the oppression facing them and make sure that every last olive is picked.

Remember, harvesting is resisting!