CMEP Bulletin: Olive Harvest Marred by Settler Attacks, Occupation
The month of October is peak olive harvesting season in the West Bank and Gaza. Every year, Palestinians tend to the trees that bring $100 million to their economy, supporting about 100,000 farming families. But the season is often fraught with crime and violence.
Olive trees are national and cultural symbols of the Palestinian people. More than half of the Palestinian population participates in the harvest to help gather the fruit that will be a part of almost every meal for the rest of the year. But the symbol of peace is caught up in violence in the West Bank. Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote, “If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”
Since 1967 an estimated 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted according to Oxfam. Tens of thousands have been destroyed to build the separation barrier, and restrictions on movement have left even more inaccessible to Palestinian farmers without permission from the Israeli army. In 2011, Israeli authorities rejected 42 percent of the applications submitted by Palestinian farmers requesting access to their land. These restrictions also prevent year-round maintenance such as plowing, pruning and fertilizer which affects the quality of the yield.
In recent years, extremist settler groups have brazenly attacked the trees by burning them and even using chain saws. In 2012, vandals from settlements destroyed 7,500 trees. According to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, these attacks are “intended…as an attack on [Palestinian] identity and heritage.”
In many cases, Palestinian farmers are met with violence and intimidation when harvesting their land. Rabbis for Human Rights participates in the olive harvest alongside Palestinian farmers. Earlier this month two of their volunteers and two Palestinians were attacked by masked settlers with iron bars and stones. The presence of the Israeli group increased attention on this particular attack, but they are not uncommon.
Rabbi Arik Asherman, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, said he has seen some improvements this year. He says some farmers are now allowed to access lands they haven’t reached for up to 15 years. But in regards to settler violence, he says, “We were quite surprised that the [Israeli] security forces, knowing that Palestinians were working today [Sunday] and knowing what had happened, didn’t manage to stop the attack with iron bars.” He continued to say that Rabbis for Human Rights is “frequently told that the security forces can’t allocate any more resources, and that this year the usual harvest reinforcement was not provided.”
Data from Yesh Din shows that not only is there a lack of protection, but a lack of prosecution. The group estimates that 97 percent of investigations of damage to Palestinian olive trees are closed due to “police failings” with only four cases out of 211 resulting in indictments.
This week, interim Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the Palestinian Authority would compensate farmers whose trees were damaged by replanting 750,000 trees across the West Bank.