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West Bank olive farmers work together for purchasing power


By Jordan Woodgate - October 28, 2015
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Section: [Main News] [Videos] [Features]
Tags: [Jenin] [Olive Trees]

Just outside the village of Anin, in the Jenin area of the West Bank, Awad Milhem works with his two sons picking olives under the unusually hot October sun.

 

His land overlooks a valley dotted with olive trees, at the bottom of which runs the separation fence and an Israeli border patrol road.

 

The fence snakes eastward into the West Bank, away from the 1949 Green Line, to encircle the illegal israeli settlement of Hinanit which is visible on the opposite hilltop.

 

Awad told the Palestine Monitor that Israel's separation fence cut through his olive groves. "They uprooted my ancient [surri] trees and replanted them in the settlement to support their story of how they are the descendants of the land."

 

The hulking surri trees, so-called as they are said to date back to the Roman era, produce around sixteen litres of olive oil compared to those Awad is currently harvesting, which produce three to four litres.

 

“Of course, it’s a feeling of pain, hurt and anger, but I am the weak and they are the strong. I can’t stand in the face of the army and their weapons.” laments Awad, “So all I do is get hurt on the inside."

 

Awad was told he could apply for compensation through official procedures, “but none of the farmers in the village did, because this means that you are accepting the fact that they took your land, and it’s as if you’re selling it.”

 

This is the first year since 2003 that Awad has been granted permission to access his 20 dunams of land (20,000 square meters) on the other side of the fence. But only one of his sons has been permitted to help him harvest.

 

Awad isn’t optimistic about this year’s harvest. "There is so much lost crop because we cannot finish the majority of these lands during the harvest season alone,” he said. This is compounded by the lack of year-round access to weed and prune the trees. "The yield is much lower. It's not really worth the effort to cross the wall to harvest the lands."

 

Pastoral farmers can no longer access the other side of the valley either. Conversely, Awad says that Israeli settlers bring their cows and boars in trucks to the Palestinian side which eat crops and destroy trees.

As in all of the West Bank, access to irrigation water is restricted. Palestinian farmers are not permitted to drill wells for irrigation, so like so many other farmers, Awad’s olive trees are solely dependant on rainwater.

 

According to 2011 figures, the average daily (domestic, urban and industrial) water consumption in the Jenin area was only 38 liters per person, compared to an average of 73 liters for the West Bank and 183 litres for Israel. “Water is given sporadically to each village at different times and on different days. It’s barely enough for us to drink,” Awad explains.

 

Water allocation to Palestinians has been capped at 1967 levels, despite the rapid population increase. Lack of water access severely curtails the West Bank economy. It is estimated that if water restrictions in Area C were lifted, an extra agricultural production (currently around half of which is olive production) worth $1.22 billion could be generated yearly, with a large proportion from the predicted tripling of oil production per tree.

 

This year has been particularly dry in the Anin area, and Awad is expecting 50 percent yield from his trees, compared to 80 percent last year.

 

Awad is part of a commercial cooperative called Canaan Fair Trade which works in partnership with the Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA) to represent village farming cooperatives in the northern West Bank.

 

After the second intifada, Palestinian farmers could not compete in the international market due to high production costs and low global olive oil prices. The PFTA was created to guarantee farmers a fair price by enabling them to pool their resources and access long-term global market opportunities by managing post-harvest operations, and running community-based projects.

 

Through the Centre for Organic Research and Extension (CORE), farmers are helped to reestablish the traditional farming methods and to improving olive oil quality.

 

Nasre Abufadale, another farmer working with the PFTA, explains that, "to keep up with agriculture is expensive. Water is expensive. fertilisers are expensive. So you have to go by the very traditional methods.”

 

His harvest has been a success, and praises Canaan’s assistance, “I am proud to be pressing at this press.”

 

Another olive farmer, Mohammad Hameda, from the Burqin area, remembers with resentment how farmers used to be “subjected to the monopoly of the local traders who would pay very low prices. What Fair Trade and Canaan did is move this to a new level."

 

He sees the olive tree as a symbol of Palestine, and an, "attachment between the farmer and the land.”

 

This is evident for the less fortunate Awad, back in Anin, whose rumi trees now sustain the settlers. “Every time I pass by here I remember that I had trees where this wall was.” Awad pines, “It stays in my heart."

 

Undeterred, he quit his job and bought more land to plant 800 new olive trees "to prove my existence and ownership of the land. This is a form of resistance."

 

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