Palestinian villagers face attacks during olive harvest

A week or two ago, on 23 October, I was picking olives in Al-Jib, a Palestinian enclave between Ramallah and Jerusalem. I posted a couple of photos here on my blog. The family who were picking their olives were clearly glad of our help.

Other families are much less fortunate. This morning I read the following story in an article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, forwarded to me by Dorothy Naor of New Profile:

“Jalud is a small village of 600 people, who live in the spectacular and well-tended valley of olive trees that the settlements/outposts of Shvut Rachel, Ahiya, Adei Ad, and Esh Kodesh overlook from the surrounding hills. On Wednesday, October 9, some 20 Israelis attacked the village school when it was in session, throwing stones at its windows, vandalized the cars belonging to its teachers, and then set the olive groves alight − both those near the school and the ones in the valley, located a few hundred yards away. The arsonists were masked and split into three teams. One attacked the school, which also contains a preschool, and two others set fire to the groves.

“By the time the firefighters from nearby Nablus arrived, more than an hour had gone by, and many of the 45-year-old olive trees had been burned. Harvest season is still in full swing: Some eight million Palestinian-owned olive trees have yielded their fruit this year in the West Bank, and the members of some 80,000 Palestinian families are busy picking it.

“As every autumn, this is also the Israelis’ big season of destruction, theft, uprooting and arson. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, no fewer than 7,500 olive trees were vandalized last year in the West Bank. According to Palestinian Authority data, some 4,000 trees have already been ravaged this year.

“This week, we saw hundreds of burned trees in the villages we visited between Ramallah and Nablus. We met farmers who had been assaulted. We saw groves where branches had been ripped off.

“The sights we saw could have been among the most beautiful and pastoral around − were it not for the Israelis running amok: At this time of year, families across the West Bank set out for the groves early in the morning, set up ladders, spread out plastic sheeting and harvest together. The olive presses are also working at full tilt now, 24/7, and the oil is flowing, emitting an intoxicating aroma that can be smelled quite a distance away.

“This week, Jalud farmer Abdullah Hajj Mohammed was also standing on his ladder and picking clean his olive branches; his brother Qassem stood on the ladder beside him. Fifty of his trees had been torched in recent weeks, Hajj Mohammed says − in a year with a relatively meager crop to begin with, about one-third of last year’s yield. The farmer, 52, blue-eyed and sporting an FC Barcelona cap, recounts seeing the flames spreading in his grove. This is the first time it has happened to him. And he lives solely off this crop; he estimates that this year it would have been worth a total of NIS 17,000. He values the damage caused by the arson at an estimated NIS 7,500. His black olives come streaming down onto the plastic sheets, making a hushed sound as they fall.

A symbolic olive branch lies on the dashboard of the black jeep belonging to Zakaria Sada, a field investigator for the nonprofit Rabbis for Human Rights organization, with whom we rode. Sada, a native of the village of Jit, seems to know every tree and every harvester personally, and his cellphone does not stop chirping: One olive picker was attacked in Sinjil, he hears, and another in Mughayir, both near Ramallah.

“Back at the school in Jalud, a team of counselors and teachers is trying to brighten the mood today, to help the children recover from the trauma of the attack: The girls’ foreheads are decorated with paint, they hold colorful balloons and break into song and dance. The school’s iron gate is shut, to be on the safe side.

“In Sinjil, Mohammed Fuqaha, 49, sits at home. On this particular morning, he had gone out to his olive groves, not far from the settlement of Ma’aleh Levona. Suddenly, three Israelis showed up, unmasked and armed, and ordered him threateningly to get off his land. Fuqaha told them it was his property − and then was assaulted by them; he sustained slight injuries to his forehead and arm. The military and police forces that arrived on the scene arrested him. He was questioned at the police station about assaulting Israelis until 3 P.M. and then released. Tomorrow morning, however, Fuqaha will return to his grove to pick his olives, he asserts, come what may.”

If you want to read the whole article, go to: http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/twilight-zone/.premium-1.555707

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