The struggle for Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and for the rights to their land has been underway for more than a century. The olive tree is one of the defining symbols of this effort.
Palestinians harvesting their olives in the West Bank village of Burin (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)
It is the time of the year that Palestinian farmers harvest their olive trees, trees that are sacred to Palestinians, trees that through the production of olive oil have remained one of the largest sources of reliable income in the West Bank. The tradition of planting and harvesting olive trees in Palestine is one that has gone on for thousands of years. For generations families have cared for their orchards, passing responsibility from father to son, keeping the family lineage alive through the cultivation of land. As the saying in Palestine goes, “they planted so we can eat, and we must plant so they can eat.”
Palestinians commonly grow Roman Olives. The Roman olive tree is preferred because it can live hundreds years, and of course, produces a fine olive. But these old olive trees are getting harder and harder to find. Since the beginning of the Zionist project, and particularly with the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the olive tree has become a favorite target for the occupiers. Thousands of dunams of land and trees that have been cared for by Palestinian families for generations have been confiscated, annexed, stolen, uprooted, bulldozed, burned, and destroyed through the building of illegal Israeli settlements, the violence of Israeli settlers, and a range of tactics and “laws” used to take Palestinian land for Israel. The struggle for Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and for the rights to their land has been underway for more than a century. The olive tree is one of the defining symbols of this effort.
The Israeli army, often seen as the face of West Bank violence and Israeli land-grab policies, are not the only group responsible for implementing colonial strategies. Over the last ten years it has been Israeli settlers, who work in cooperation with Israeli military personal and Israeli government policy, who initiated some of the most serious violence and destruction on land and trees. Year after year, during the month of October, when most Palestinians are out harvesting their trees, settler attacks onPalestinian farmers and their trees show a marked increase. Settlers are, by Israeli law, legally allowed to bear arms, and most carry loaded weapons. Some Palestinian olive farmers lose their lives while others sustain serious injury. This form of direct violence is what has inspired many internationals in solidarity with Palestinians to join the olive harvest in an effort to discourage Israeli settlers from implementing these sorts of territorial, violent, and oppressive practices.
In the first week of this year’s olive picking season, farmers whose trees are located nearest to settlements have suffered the most intense attacks, though attacks are happening all across the West Bank, giving the impression that the they are organized and not by chance. There are more than 220 illegal settlements in the West Bank. These settlements consist of permanent structures that house around 600,000 Israeli settlers. Reports of violence and vandalism directed at Palestinians have been reported every day since the start of harvest.
Farmers from Ras Karkar, located northwest of Ramallah, were forced to leave their land as settlers from the Mirya settlement threatened them at gunpoint. Later, more settlers came and uprooted 40 olive trees in the same orchard. In the Almughair village, east of Ramallah, settlers from Shilo cut and damaged 250 olive trees. Nearby, settlers attacked dozens of farmers who came to harvest their trees in the Mukhmas village. Most of the settlers were armed and attacked when the farmers didn’t leave voluntarily. Palestinian farmer Nidal Abdulla, 25, was injured by a thrown rock in the physical clashes that ensued. In another example the Qaryout village, south of Nablus, suffered greatly when settlers cut 120 olive trees belonging to numerous families from the village, the second settler attack on the Qaryout village in one week.
Historically and recently, the presence of soldiers has done nothing to stop settlers from attacking. Moreover, in many cases the soldiers aid settlers by releasing teargas. An example of this took place in Kufr Qadoum, a village in the northern West Bank. When dozens of settlers attacked farmers during their harvest, and the farmers did not leave, the Israeli soldiers released thteare gas, preventing the farmers from continuing their work.
Taking into account all that has happened during this first week of the 2012 harvest, it is not difficult to be concerned about the prospect of violence in the coming weeks. Resistance against the Israeli occupation is futile if we cannot succeed in blocking the efforts of settlers in the West Bank. Attacks become more organized, intense, and frequent in the life and livelihood of Palestinians. Farming is getting harder and harder. Of course, this the point… to make things so unbearable that one day the Palestinians will slink away from their trees and their land for good. For those who believe in human rights, the time is now to put a force stop to these settler attacks.