Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Violent settler attack against olive farmers in Burin

By K. Künzl - October 21, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Olive Trees] [settler violence]

Amid the rocky hillside terrain of the village of Burin south of Nablus, Doha, a local olive farmer, gracefully weaves and ascends among her olive trees, assessing this year's haul. 

The olive harvest is not just a job for Doha, this land is a piece of her identity and a home she has known since she was a toddler. She remembers carrying water from a nearby well to each tree when she was just six, her mother had planted every single one. 

The olive tree is a famous symbol of peace in Palestine and epitomises the pride in the deep relationship of Palestinians to their land, culture and heritage. The olive is utilised in many Palestinian products such as soap, fuel, decorative crafts and for medicinal purposes.

However, each year during the harvest season, olive farmers face continual harassment and violence by both settlers and soldiers across the West Bank. 

“During the olive harvest season production is partly or totally lost due to violence and threats by settlers. Due to the high level of risk and uncertainty, investment in agricultural production and related services, such as finance, insurance and marketing, is limited to non-existent,” a 2015 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) reported.

Doha, or Wadha, as many call her in the village, has a family farm of about 100 dunams or 50 acres, and is famously known as the only female farmer to bravely pick near illegal Israeli settlements. Most of her family lives in Jordan, so Doha relies on the help of her cousins and international volunteer groups to help her pick within the limited time slots enforced by Israel.

The olive subsector contributes 15 per cent of total agricultural income and also mitigates the impact of unemployment and poverty by providing 3 to 4 million days of seasonal employment per year and by supporting 100,000 Palestinian families.

In rural Palestinian communities, locals rely on these agricultural practices for 'sustenance’ and 'self-preservation’, and is central to their social, cultural, and economic identity.

Over the years, the olive harvest has also been hindered by water scarcity in addition to “ongoing land confiscation, distortions and mobility restrictions imposed by the occupation” the UNCTD reported.

Production dropped from an average of 23,000 tons per year during the period 2000–2004 to 14,000 tons per year during the period 2007–2010. As a result, 50 per cent of domestic demand in 2009 was met by imported olive oil.

Burin is especially threatened by violent attacks because it is located in a ravine between two settlements; Yitzhar and Hagiv’a Hama’aravit. Doha owns the land on both sides of the village and is so close to Yitzhar that you could smell the smoke billowing from its burning trash pile, polluting the nearby trees and making the olives unviable.

A road built in the 90s to serve the settlements divides a chunk of Doha’s land by two steep slopes. It is often a harrowing journey for Doha whenever she crosses. Doha spoke about incidences of Israeli cars stopping on the road and reporting her to the authorities above, near the settlements.

“Israeli passersby will call the police and claim they’ve seen a 'Palestinian terrorist’ walking near the settlements,” Doha told Palestine Monitor.

Doha says she is unable to maintain the fields throughout the year for fear of detainment and is often given just three days to pick during the harvest month.  

Doha has tried to report harassment claims to the authorities, such as when settlers pick her olives or throw inflamed cans of petrol at her, but she is told that she needs photographic evidence and land permits. Doha estimates that she has lost around 200 trees to settler attacks over the past few years. 

“It is estimated that, since 1967, more than 800,000 productive olive trees have been uprooted” a 2011 report by the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy and Applied Research Institute stated.

Doha believes these attacks are getting more violent and aggressive every year as the settlements continue to expand. She explained that when a new street is built for the settlement, cutting through her farmland, Israeli forces will claim all of that plot from the road upwards.

“They (settlers) tell me this is not your land, it is ours, your land is in Syria,” Doha said.

Based on data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for 2008, the annual cost from the amount uprooted olive trees may be conservatively estimated at $64 million.

Although Israel imported an average of 890 tons in 2007 and 2008, in 2009 and 2010 it imported only 23 tons of olive oil from the Palestinian territories, a small fraction of their total imports.

But it is not only Palestinians who were violently targeted by settlers this year. An eerie calm lay over the valley during the early morning hours on Wednesday 16 October, as six members from Rabbis for Human Rights and four volunteers from Madama and Friends ventured to Doha’s plot of land near Yitzhar to help with the olive harvest.

About two hours into picking volunteers heard the screams of Mohammod, a local farmer who had led the group, yelling “RUN, RUN!”

Abandoning their olive bags that lay just three meters from the settlement, the group scattered.

Kathy, one of the Madama and Friends volunteers from the UK, described the sight of six men sprinting down towards them from the settlement, their faces covered, waving metal crowbars and wooden sticks.

Kathy tried to escape before one of them struck her on the back, chest, and hands.

When she was finally able to make it to the road to look for help she saw her fellow volunteers being chased and beaten on the ridge.

“I saw one of the American girls turn around to face the attacker and he just hit her hard, she screamed, you could tell she was really terrified,” Kathy told Palestine Monitor.

The other volunteers had made it down the hill minutes later with scrapes and bruises. One of the volunteers described falling into a ditch as they beat his legs and feet, slashing one of his fingers open with a large stone.

“They were completely out of control, madmen, we were running away clearly afraid and they kept clubbing us, we were defenceless, just pure and simple assault” Kathy stated.

The attackers also set fire to many of Doha’s trees. Men from the village rushed over with small fire beaters as planes overhead dropped water on the fire that was encroaching the settlement, leaving Doha’s land to burn.

Israeli soldiers did not show up till Thursday only to declare the area a 'closed military zone,’ claiming most of Doha’s surrounding land and chasing off olive pickers.

“What kind of life we are living when we can't ever go to our own land, it constantly feels like I am crying inside, Allahu akbar,” Doha says holding back tears and waving her hands as she looks over a dying plot of land where the fire had devastated. 

“I will go there to pick my land tomorrow with my children, I am not afraid, I believe what is written in the book,” Doha continued. Only days after the attack, Doha’s cousin was reportedly arrested for attempting to pick olives on his land in Burin. The reasons for arrest are still unclear.

Wednesday’s violent attack demonstrates a growing resistance amongst settlers towards local farmers, and Doha is fearful that instead of fires and time constraints this will be the new norm.



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