The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture opened the annual olive harvest season in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Ministry officials also watched the olive pressing process as part of a recently sanctioned and implemented monitoring programme.
The start of the harvest was marked by a national celebration attended by the Minister of Agriculture, Ali Abdul Aziz al-Tarshawi, deputies from the Palestinian Legislative Council, and representatives of local municipalities, civil society organisations and agricultural groups, as well as farmers.
The Minister explained that the total area of land planted with olives in the Gaza Strip stands at approximately 8,400 acres; of that, around 5,000 acres has fruit-bearing trees. He said that the olive harvest per acre of land this year is expected to average out at 4,300kg, with the total harvest weighing in at around 17,300 tons. Of this, 5,500 tons will go for pickling, while the rest will be pressed and used in the production of olive oil. He hinted that this quantity would only fulfil 40 per cent of Gaza's requirements.
Mr. Al-Tarshawi went on to explain that in the occupied West Bank, settlers had forestalled the olive season in order to attack and intimidate farmers, as well as to steal their crops. He pointed out that there are over 87 hot spots for settler attacks close to settlements and the Apartheid Wall.
Illegal Jewish settlers have, alleged the Minister, cut down over 300 olive trees recently, notably on the land belonging to the residents of al-Mughira village east of Ramallah. Prior to that, settlers uprooted around 120 olive trees in the fields of Karyut Village to the south of Nablus. He also confirmed that settlers have carried out daily attacks against Palestinian farmers during the first few days of the season in the West Bank. Al-Tarshawi expects the attacks to escalate in the coming days and called for the necessary protection to be afforded to farmers in the occupied territories.
The government monitoring operation extends to all 22 olive presses in the Gaza Strip and aims to guide workers and owners, as well as farmers, to help them to achieve higher olive yields as well as a better quality of olive oil. It will also help to get a better idea about Gaza's olive oil needs and how best to protect national production.
Provincial agricultural directors in Gaza, in co-operation with the General Administration for Guidance and Rural Development, have conducted a series of lectures on olives to educate hundreds of farmers on how to get the best from their trees.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad