Photos by Ryan Rodrick Beiler
As the 2012 olive harvest season draws to a close, the challenges facing Palestinian farmers will remain throughout the year: violence from Israeli settlers, restrictions on movement by the Israeli military and barriers to land access because of the separation wall.
Palestinian farmers, joined by local and international volunteers, harvest olives in the West Bank village of Burin, which is a frequent target of attacks by Israelis from the nearby settlement of Yitzar who have cut and burned the village’s trees.
Red paint thrown by settlers stains a window overlooking village olive groves in Burin. The UN reported 70 such attacks by Yitzar settlers on Burin and neighboring villages in 2011—the most of any settlement that year.
On land belonging to the West Bank village of Nahalin, Israelis from the nearby settlement of Beitar Illit removed some 70 olive and almond trees, cutting younger trees and completely uprooting others. According to UN reports, by mid-October 2012, some 7,500 Palestinian olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers. According to the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, of 162 complaints filed against settler attacks on Palestinian olive trees since 2005, only one has led to an indictment of a suspect.
An international volunteer picks olives on land in the West Bank village of Beit Jala, with buildings of the Israeli settlement Gilo visible on a nearby hilltop. In addition to violence by some settlers, expansion also remains a threat. Israel recently announced plans to build 800 more housing units on Gilo’s western slopes, land belonging to Beit Jala that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 war in a move no other nation recognizes as legitimate. All settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.
A girl from the Palestinian village of Awarta in the northern West Bank watches as Israeli jeeps pass by her family’s groves. According to the UN, the Israeli military’s response to settler violence has been to implement a system limiting Palestinian farmers’ access to olive trees near 55 settlements to a few days a year, but to deploy soldiers to support their access during these periods. In areas near Israeli settlements, Palestinians must coordinate permission to harvest their olives with the Israeli military or sometimes even with the settlement itself. Access is often restricted to short periods, and in the areas nearest volatile settlements, Israeli and international solidarity activists are prohibited from accompanying and assisting the family, sometimes making a complete harvest impossible.
Settlers from an enclave in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood stand in a Palestinian olive grove with an Israeli soldier. Though the Palestinian owner of the trees won an Israeli High Court case granting him access to harvest his olives five years ago, he continues to face harassment from some of the most ideological settlers in the West Bank.
As settlers watch and take photos, Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth who had himself been filming the situation in Tel Rumeida for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. When the military intervenes in conflicts between settlers and Palestinians, Palestinians invariably pay the price. A Palestinian neighbor and an international activist were also arrested in the same incident. Though the soldiers later admitted to the Palestinian owner that he had the right to harvest his trees, they ordered him to leave his land for the rest of the day.
A Palestinian in the West Bank village of Saffa harvests his trees near the Israeli separation wall. According to the UN, “Thousands of Palestinians are denied permits to access their olive groves located behind the Barrier for ‘security reasons’ or because they are unable to meet Israel’s criteria to prove a ‘connection to the land’.”
An Israeli volunteer harvests olives with a resident of the West Bank village of Awarta. The presence of Israeli and international activists typically helps to reduce instances of settler violence and improve Israeli military behavior towards Palestinians.
International volunteers organized by the YMCA Joint Advocacy Initiative carry ladders and tarps for harvesting olives along a dirt road while circumventing an Israeli military checkpoint near Wadi Ahmad in the West Bank town of Beit Jala. Access to Wadi Ahmad is restricted by the Israeli military, making it difficult for families there to harvest all of their olives without help.
Israeli soldiers deny passage through a gate separating Wadi Ahmad from the rest of Beit Jala to international activists who have just spent the day picking olives. After a long delay, they were eventually allowed to pass, giving insight to the daily frustrations and humiliations faced by many Palestinians trying to access their land.
An Israeli activist (light green cap) and Palestinian farmer (right) negotiate access for a busload of volunteers to enter land belonging to the West Bank village of Awarta to assist in the olive harvest. Though initially denied entry by the army, the activists were able to confirm their permission to be there and assist in the harvest.
A Palestinian farmer (center) shares with Israeli volunteers about his family’s life and challenges in Awarta, which faces frequent harassment by soldiers as well as settlers from nearby Itamar. In 2010, two teenagers from Awarta were shot dead near Itamar. In 2011, the entire town was put under military closure and some 300 residents were arrested and interrogated after the murder of a family of five in Itamar. Two young men from Awarta were later convicted of the killings, which were widely condemned by Palestinians.
Palestinian youth from the Ramallah area help to harvest olives in the village of Saffa. Many Palestinians without their own family groves volunteer to help with the olive harvest as an act of community solidarity and cultural learning.
A Palestinian from the West Bank village of Saffa harvests his family’s trees. Nearly half of the occupied Palestinian territory’s agricultural land is planted with some 8 million olive trees.
A resident of the West Bank village of Burin picks her family’s olives, in this case, all of which will be pressed into oil rather than pickled for eating. Olive oil production is an integral part of Palestinian culture and economy, and supports the livelihood of some 80,000 Palestinian families.
An international activist helps Ahmad Najjar from the village of Burin fill a sack of olives. Because of the nearby settlement Yitzar, Burin residents are required by the Israeli military to coordinate permission to access their olives. This day however, solidarity activists were present without permission in order to try to harvest them on time.
Ahmad Najjar carries a full sack of olives toward his home in Burin. Though help from activists improved his yield, many of his olives were later stolen by Israeli settlers before he could complete the harvest.
At the end of a day of harvesting in Awarta, Palestinian farmers haul a wagon of pruned olive branches past an Israeli military patrol. According to the UN, the system created by the Israeli army for reducing violence between settlers and Palestinians, “penalizes farmers by limiting their access, rather than enforcing the rule of law on violent settlers,” and “is ineffective in preventing the vandalizing of olive trees throughout the rest of the year.”