During the week of October 20th, ISM volunteers worked with farmers to harvest olives in Qusin, a small village on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Nablus in the central Northern region of the West Bank. Nablus had recently experienced an invasion by the Israeli occupation forces. During this invasion, there were a number of innocent Palestinian civilian casualties including a 70 year old man who was killed, a 7 year old girl was shot in the back with live ammunition but fortunately survived and a reporter was shot in the back 4 times by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) with plastic coated steel bullets, also surviving.
The village of Qusin had experienced IOF incursions as well. The village had staged a peaceful demonstration whereby the villagers of Qusin and international volunteers had marched from Qusin to Sarra, a nearby sister town to protest the erecting of a gate on the main road between the two villages that remained permanently closed. Shortly afterwards, in response to the demonstration, during the night of September 21, the Israeli army invaded Qusin. They invaded again on the night of September 23. Palestinian youths were taken away by the IOF–no information as to their whereabouts was given. They were detained for a day or two, and “beaten like donkeys” as one of the youths described their treatment.
Due to the ongoing harassement by the IOF, internationals were requested to assist with the olive harvest in Qusin in an attempt to reduce the possibility of conflict. When we arrived at the site of the olive trees to be harvested, it was pointed out to us that an Israeli chemical factory had recently been built adjacent to the Qusin olive groves. Detrimental to the Qusin farmers was not only the fact that the factory had been situated right next to their olive trees, but also that they are often no longer permitted access to harvest their trees due to Israeli “security issues” concerning the factory.
The factory was too toxic to be allowed to built in Israel proper, and was only operated at night. In the village of Qusin, the smell of the factory’s toxic fumes was very tangible. Its effect on the olive trees was noticeable as well. We were shown black spots on the olive leaves that had been caused by the factory emmissions. We wondered how long the olive trees would last and what kind of effect the factory fumes would have on the Qusin inhabitants themselves. Clearly, the factory had deliberately been placed by the Israelis as a means of forcing the Palestinians from their lands.
Fortunately, there were no incidents with the IOF during the time we were there assisting with the harvest. We had the feeling that due to our presence, the Qusin palestinians felt more secure in harvesting the olives that were accessible to them. The army had stayed away and, for the most part, the Qusin olives were harvested.