Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Palestinian annual olive harvest, a struggle to survive

By Leona Vicario - November 07, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Olive Trees] [economy] [Settlers attacks]

Photo by Dylan Collins.

Every year, throughout October and November, Palestinians carry out an ancestral tradition: the olive harvest. Palestinians farmers along with their relatives, friends and international supporters begin picking olives from the eight and a half million productive olives trees that bring economic sustenance to around 100,000 families in West Bank.

"The home of the olive tree is Palestine," states the Minister of Agriculture, Walid Assaf, during an interview with the Palestine Monitor. "The Palestinians have been living here with the olive tree during the history. Actually, we have been living through it," he explains when asked about the meaning of the olive tree for Palestinians.

Apart from being a national symbol related to Palestinian culture and its wisdom of peace and sovereignty over the land, it is also considered as a strategic tree: "we depend on this tree through the oil, the olives, za'atar, its wood, etc." Assaf explains.

For Palestinians, the olive tree is not only a national and cultural symbol, but a vital of their everyday subsistence. “We depend on this tree through (sic) the oit, the olives, Za’atar, its wood, etc.” Assaf explains.

Olive trees provide sustenance, give a boost to the development of the domestic economy and are considered to be the center of many important family events."As the Bedouins count their wealth regarding to the amount of sheep that they have, Palestinians do the same with the olive oil,"says Assaf. "The money that they get from the oil is destined to do something important for their lives: pay the University fees, build the houses or even people organize the weddings after the season of the olive."

During this year alone, settlers and Israeli soldiers have uprooted more than 4,000 olive trees within the West bank

In the past, the West Bank headed up the production of this golden liquid in the region, annually exporting more than 3,000 tons of oil to Gaza, Jordan, Gulf countries as well as to some Palestinians within present-day Israel, according to ministerial sources.  After a good olive season, West Bank used to be able to export more than 15,000 tons after keeping oil enough to meet domestic consumption and storage needs.

"But things have changed," remarks Assaf. "Now Syria, the fourth largest producer in the world, is leading the production in the region, although they cannot export due to the current situation in the country. And Jordan, which used to be our customer, is producing more than us."

This year is expected to be a bad harvest. Although an estimated 12,000 tons of oil will be produced by the end of the season, an amount which is added to the approximated 3,000 tons left over from previous years, about 10,000 tons will be needed for domestic consumption, leaving only 5,000 tons of oil available for export. 

According to Assaf, a decrease in demand has raised the price of the oil in the West Bank up to an average of 25 shekels per kilogramme, far above the the 12-17 shekels in 2012. When translated into monetary values, this year’s production of olive oil will bring 400 million NIS to the fragile domestic Palestinian economy. The Palestinian olive oil industry accounts for about 22% of direct and indirect employments in the domestic labour force.

"Most of the people living in the villages, they work during this season. A very important fact related to the olive tree is it that helps to reduce the poverty because some people are just able to find a job now," Assaf states. "The farmers will earn money to support their families at least for half of the year,” he says, but are forced to scrounge for part-time work during the off season.

Israel stifles the Palestinian agriculture

However, the viability of this traditional way of life is threatened by Israel’s occupation. "The occupation has changed everything," regrets the Minister of Agriculture, Walid Assaf.

In his own words, the construction of the Wall, the annexation and destruction of thousands of square kilometres of agricultural land and the restrictions imposed by Israel on Palestinian farmers’ access  to lands near the Wall and the settlements-some of whom are allowed just six hours a day, a few days a month—"have decreased the olives' productivity up to a 50 per cent, especially in the areas surrounded by settlements, where the farmers are losing the incomes because they are just producing the costs."

A recent report published by the World Bank holds Israel responsible for the Palestinian economy’s loss of about 3.4 Billion USD. This significant deficit is largely due to the fact that "more than half the [Palestinian] land in the West Bank, much of it agricultural and resource rich, is inaccessible to Palestinians,” not only this year, but always. 

The brief suggests that if Palestinian businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C (the 60%% of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civil), the rate of development in the Palestinian economy would significantly increase, since it would be possible "to create new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth."

"But we are limited," Assaf points out. "We do not have control over our lands or resources. Almost the 40 per cent of the farmers suffer from this shortage and in addition they have to deal with settler attacks."

Settlers attacks against the crops

"During this year alone, settlers and Israeli soldiers have uprooted more than 4,000 olive trees within the West bank," condemned Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, during a press conference in Bethlehem in late October.

Meanwhile the Minister of Agriculture remarked that the number of settler attacks against Palestinian groves started raising its frequency significantly weeks before the beginning of the olive picking. Some voices have gone as far as saying that the increase in the price of olive oil is linked to such aggressions

Israeli Human Rights organization, Yesh Din, similary denounced that the sabotage of Palestinian olive and fruit trees, maintaining the problem "has become one of the symbols of the occupation," warning about the negative impact of this action on the Palestinians.

Yesh Din, an organization in charge of tracking and monitoring settler attacks on Palestinian crops, published a report in October documenting 211 deliberate acts of aggression by settlers against Palestinians. The report covers the period from 2005 to June of this year.

According to the group, Palestinians submitted a complaint to the Judea & Samaria District Police on each case and, in almost each case, an investigation file was. Out of 197 fully processed cases, 166 were closed with findings reading, “perpetrator unknown,” 20 reading “insufficient evidence,”  and two reading “absence of criminal culpability.” For the last five, the Samaria & Judea District Police did not inform the concerned party on the grounds of the three of the closure, whilst two files were lost. In just four cases over the past seven years were the accused aggressors indicted. 

"These figures show that in the field of offenses involving damage to Palestinians trees, 97.4 percent of the investigative files in which processing has been completed were closed due to the police’s failure to locate suspects and collect sufficient evidence for prosecution of the offenders," states Yesh Din’s report.

"This failure is exceptionally high, even in comparison to the general failure rate of the SJ [Judea & Samaria] District Police to investigate offenses by Israelis against Palestinians and Palestinian property in the West Bank, which stands at 84 percent."

Along similar lines, the Israeli daily, Haaretz, recently disclosed that a series of incidents regarding settler attacks on Palestinian groves have been purposely kept secret by Israeli Authorities.

The incidents allegedly happened in September and October in West Bank, most often in areas close to settlements and outpost where the Israeli Defence Forces have full security responsibility. Similar actions have been carried out before, but the attacks were left unreported by both the IDF and media officials.

Despite the hardships, Palestinians are adamant in continuing to preserve this source of life, cultural and economic stability—the olive tree. The Palestinian Authority announced the seeding of 750,000 olive trees across West Bank to compensate the damages produced by these attacks, and recently approved a new fund to support farmers who have suffered from these aggressions.

"Israel and the settlers want our land. They want us to abandon the fields and destroy the trees to leave us without a source of incomes. They want the land to be uncultivated to put their hands on the land, because this is a matter of stealing the land. So we will invest in it," Assaf maintains. 


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