Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Duma residents brave olive harvest amid wave of settler violence

By Cath And - October 24, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Birzeit University]

“Today, we came to Duma village in solidarity,” explains Ali Hassuni, the chairman of the board of directors of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).


UAWC is a Palestinian NGO that brings volunteers to Palestinian villages close to Israeli settlements during the months of the olive harvest to help with the picking.


It is difficult for UAWC to predict whether bringing volunteers will discourage settlers from attacking farmers during the harvest, but it does encourage the farmers, “to pick their olives without being afraid,” says Hassuni.


Duma, located in the Nablus governorate in the northern West Bank, is one such village. Its proximity to illegal Israeli settlements, including Ma'ale Efrayim, has made it the site of frequent settler attacks.


During previous olive harvests, settlers have burned and chopped down trees and crops and prevented farmers from accessing their land.


Farmers in Duma have become accustomed to the attacks, and have sought ways of lessening their risk. During the olive harvest, for instance, villagers who own land close together will organise to harvest at the same time, to establish safety in numbers.


This year’s harvest in Duma has taken on a certain poignancy, because earlier this year, Duma was rocked by a settler arson attack that claimed the lives of three Palestinian residents of Duma.  


On July 31, masked settlers entered Duma late at night and hurled firebombs into the home of the Dawabsheh family.


Eighteen month old Ali Dawabsheh burned to death that night. His father, Saad, died from his injuries eight days later, and his mother, Reham, succumbed to her third-degree burns in early September.


Four year old Ahmed Dawabsheh sustained burns to 60 percent of his body and was left in a critical condition. But he survived the attack.


An olive tree grows in front of the Dawabsheh home, which has been left in its burnt-out state. Its walls are blackened, the windows smashed, and the Dawabsheh’s belongings, furniture and children’s toys, lie scorched and scattered on the floor.


“They burned the Dawabsheh family while they were sleeping,” says Haya Ibrahim Masal, 22, a student of law at Al-Quds university.


“Ahmed is still asking about his mother, he’s asking “Where is she? Why doesn’t she visit me? Has she forgotten me?”


Masal came to Duma Thursday along with a group of her friends to help with the olive harvest and show solidarity with the Dawabsheh family.


“[The settlers] want us to leave. They don’t want any Palestinians [here]. They want us to leave this country -  they say it’s for them. They kill kids. They don’t want us to live,” Masal explained.


Majd Abdullah Aweis, 25, says he came to the harvest in Duma, “to show the Israelis that under occupation we are one hand, there is no difference between people here.”


Aweis spent time in an Israeli prison, and some of the friends he met there were from Duma. “We all have the same pain, we are people looking for freedom,” Aweis explains.


When the group arrived in Duma, the dawn sunlight was filtering through the trees, and the residents of Duma were spread out across the fields, picking their olives in peace.


Yet, as Fuad Abu Saif, the acting General Director of UAWC stressed, “anything could happen.”


In the nearby village of Qusra, Abu Saif tells the Palestine Monitor that the farmers and their trees have been attacked more than ten times in the past few months.


On Oct. 14, in the town of Burin, also in the Nablus governorate, at least four Palestinians and one international volunteer were injured after rocks were thrown at them by settlers while picking olives. Settlers from Yitzhar also set fire to dozens of acres of olive groves.  


“When we talk about the olive, it’s sometimes the main source of income for families,” Abu Saif explains, “the olive trees mean a lot of things for Palestinians, [among them], it’s a symbol for the Palestinians continuing their resistance against the occupation.”


With the large number of volunteers who have arrived in solidarity with the farmers, harvesting the trees becomes quick work.


Tarpaulin sheets are laid out under the trees to catch the olives as they fall from the branches. Some people climb up into the trees, some stand on ladders, and others reach up from under the branches, combing and plucking the olives from the trees.


When all of the olives have fallen, the tarpaulin sheets are gathered up, and the olives gathered into one pile where they are sorted from the leaves, branches and stalks, to be taken away and processed into oils and soaps, or pickled to eat.


Beside one group of approximately ten people who are combing a tree for olives, a woman stands alone at a smaller tree, standing on a ladder to reach the higher branches.


The woman’s name is Fatima Dawabsheh. She is a cousin of Saad Dawabsheh, the father of the household attacked in July.


“We still feel scared,” she says. The farmers fear to go out into the fields alone, and so they organise to harvest their olives together.


The people of Duma are not only afraid when harvesting their olives, Dawabsheh says. They are fearful all the time, as they know the settlers and the Israeli forces are never far away.


After the three members of her extended family were killed, Dawabsheh says she and many other residents of the village have had trouble sleeping, as they knew they could be attacked at any time.  


There have been fewer attacks during the Duma harvest this year compared to other years. However, this has not distilled the fear in the village that Jewish extremists may arrive at any time. “We didn’t expect this ugly crime,” Dawabsheh explains.

The village of Duma is still aching after the atrocity it faced earlier this year. For as long as its residents, perceive the threat of settler violence,  it seems recovery will remain a distant hope.  


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