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International Accompaniment Makes a Difference in Zawata

by ISM Nablus, Wednesday 1st November

“What do you think of this place? Isn’t is beautiful?” The woman asking the question, a mother of four polished and polite children, looks at us expectantly. What can we say? Wadi Al-Khrazey on the outskirts of the 2,000 person village of Zawata, west of Nablus city, is not an immediately attractive place. The olive groves, made up of two long rows of trees rooted in red sand, are crammed in between a military road and a slope leading up to the notoriously violent Sabatash checkpoint (named after the Palestinian security force that used to man it) with its watchtower looming ominously on the highest hilltop.

Yet by the time the blue sky has been replaced by dark clouds weighted down by rain, and the donkey has tottered up and down the hillside on his spindly legs for the fourth time, the place seemed to transform. We can see gophers scurrying among the rocks, paths carefully trampled over by two hundred years worth of hooves and sandaled feet, and gnarled trunks of trees spiraling into branches lovingly trimmed to perfection. We know now that the military street used to be a railway track planned by the British colonial administration, and that it led from cities as exotic as Damascus and Baghdad to the ports of Haifa and Jaffa. We sit on the uppermost chair-like branches sprinkling olives on the people below while three young girls squeeze into a wheelbarrow singing the latest Arabic pop hits. This is truly a beautiful place that before long has a whole history of joys and sorrows ringing in our ears.

Last Wednesday, a few families tried to start picking olives from their trees along side the military road, with jeeps and hummers speeding past every 10 minutes. After only a couple of hours, the harvesters were chased off their land. Soldiers stepped out of their hummer, screamed at the people through megaphones to leave the area and fired several rounds into the air. Frightened for their own and their children’s lives, everyone left. Since then, people have been reluctant to return to their land without international accompaniment.

Today, three families and a group of internationals harvested every last olive from the area. It would, however, be wrong to say that the work proceeded without interruption. Every time a hummer passed by, one of the younger children’s knees would involuntarily buckle. As he ducked behind a bush, his father Maher Saleh smiled at us sadly. A father’s powers of consolation scorned. And again, we did not know what to say. Only last night, Israeli forces entered the village under the protection of darkness and abducted two young men from their homes. This is a regular occurrence that, apart from being horrific in itself, completely undermines parental authority and children’s general sense of security.

Come to Palestine! There is a great need for international accompaniment during the olive harvest – supporting the sense of civil resistance that has people out in their fields every single day reclaiming their rights to their land. Together, we can try to make sure that every last olive is picked and that the children are allowed to play among the olive trees in peace, if only for a day.