SMITH: Olive season: Less fruitful, more violent 14Nov13 November 14, 2013

Palestine Olive Harvest, A-Walaja, West Bank, 14.10.2011

by Carolin Smith   -   AIC   -   14 November 2013

As Palestinian farmers pick the last of their fruits, the olive harvest comes to close in a season that brought double the challenges.


Palestinian farmers faced two major challenges during this year’s olive harvest; not only was the yield of the harvest low, but farmers and their lands were besieged by violent settler attacks throughout the season.


“This season was very bad for farmers. The trees had 50% less olives than in recent years”, says Monged Abu Jaish from the non-governmental Palestine Agricultural Development Association (PARC) in Ramallah. “Whereas last year 24,000 tonnes of olives were harvested, this year there isn’t more than 12,000 tonnes”, he adds.


The Arabic word for unfruitful harvest seasons is Shelaton, which are often expected after a year of abundance, the so-called Diamond years, which can leave the soil depleted; “Last year was a good one”, relates Abu Jaish, Director of PARC’s Advocacy Department.


The olive is a national symbol of Palestinian identity, due in no small part to its vital contribution to the Palestinian economy. Between 9 and 10 million olive trees cover the whole West Bank, and, according to a 2013 United Nations (UN) report, around 80,000 families in the West Bank make a living from the olive industry. Considering that the average family consists of eight members, these figures mean that 640,000 out of 2.5 million West Bank residents rely on olive produce to sustain their families.


Organic agriculture to increase income

The weather plays a key role in the growth of olives, “Last year we had several windy days and less water because of the intense heat”, Abu Jaish explains. Another contributing factor to the productivity of the trees is their age and whether or not the farmers are able to prune the branches during the spring. The vast majority of Palestinian farmers have no technical or financial means to irrigate their trees and are entirely dependent on rain.


To reduce the risk of losses due to unpredictable weather, the Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA) introduced wide scale organic agriculture to Palestine. The goal of which is to improve the quality of the olive oil and to export it under the label of organic and fair trade, thereby increasing its value on the market; “Our organic farmers receive 24 Shekels per kilogram compared to a price of 19 to 22 Shekels in the conventional local market”, explains Mohammad Alruzzi from the PFTA.


Increase in settler attacks

Far more dangerous to their income security than unfavourable weather conditions however, is the harassment and brutal attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers, who become particularly active during the harvest season: rampaging through the fields, cutting, burning and uprooting trees, threatening farmers with guns, and throwing stones.


The number of attacks reported during this year’s harvest has far surpassed that of the previous year. While 8,500 trees were destroyed in the entirety of 2012, 8,910 trees had been destroyed by the end of October 2013 – in the first three weeks of the olive harvest alone, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) counted 840 damaged Palestinian trees in the West Bank.


Monged Abu Jaish from PARC observed that the attacks, which predominantly occur in the governorate of Nablus, have intensified in recent years, “For the past three years settler attacks have been better organized. They are forming groups and are protected by Israeli soldiers who don’t prevent them from entering Palestinian land.” During this year’s harvest, the villages of Qariyout (south of Nablus) and Jurish were some of the most severely affected, with over 300 of their trees destroyed. Then there is the most recent attack in Einabus, near Nablus, where UN OCHA counted as many as 600 trees destroyed by settlers from Yitzhar.


Settlers restrict access to land

By law, the Israeli army (IDF) is committed to protecting settlers from assault, but while the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that: “protecting the security and property of the local residents is one of the most basic obligations placed upon the military commander in the field”, Abu Jaish highlights the long history of soldiers cooperating with radical settlers.


Farmers located in Area C are left particularly vulnerable to attack with no official mechanisms for protection, “This is also the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority because the Oslo agreements don’t respect the rights of the farmers in that area”, Abu Jaish continues. Attacks are not the only problem; many farmers were left unable to harvest their land this year, as illustrated by the case of Beit Faruk, where 30% of the village’s agricultural lands are inaccessible to Palestinian farmers because of Israeli settlements.


More international volunteers for harvest

In October, after one particular attack in Qariyout, the Palestinian Minister of Agriculture, Walid Assaf, announced the ministry’s plans to compensate farmers whose crops were vandalised. Abu Jaish however points out that this will only act as a temporary measure because “Newly planted trees will face the same aggression.” What is needed instead, he states, is more protection for existing trees and increased international coverage and condemnation of the attacks.




In regards to international participation, this year’s olive season can be deemed a success. Several organizations report that the numbers of internationals participating in solidarity actions like olive picking were at their peak this year. More than 130 persons joined the olive picking programme “Keep Hope Alive”, organised by the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) and the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG). “These people go back home and tell people about Palestine and our struggle for freedom”, says Jawad Musleh from the program, which frames the olive harvest as a lesson in regional power relations.

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