In the week that saw the first tentative autumn showers, the annual olive harvest began to take shape in Palestine. The harvest is a period of dedicated work and celebration but is also a dangerous time when settler attacks against farmers and their families often reach a peak.
The olive tree is a symbol of Palestine, its roots hold steadfastly on to the sacred land. Its aged and weathered bark talks of Palestinian history, and it is in Palestine that the world’s oldest living olive tree is reported to live. The famous al-Badawi tree in the Bethlehem village of al-Walaja was dated at between 4,000-5,000 years old by European and Japanese scientists.
According to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), an estimated 1.2 million olive trees have been destroyed by Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since 1967.
Settler attacks against farmers and their trees have begun already in the current harvest. Since the start of October, farmers have been attacked and trees burned and uprooted in villages in the Salfit, Nablus and Bethlehem districts.
In the village of Beit Rima near Ramallah, the Union of Agricultural Workers Committee (UAWC) began their annual olive harvest campaign on Saturday. Under the banner ‘Our Olive is Resistance’, the campaign aims to provide volunteers and support to farmers in various villages that are in close proximity to settlements and therefore at potential risk of attack. UAWC volunteers from the Hebron and Ramallah districts joined farmers as they picked olives in Beit Rima on the first day of this year’s campaign. Although not built directly on Beit Rima’s lands, the settlements of Halamish and Beit Ayre lie alongside the village.
Supporting the olive harvest is important for political, economic and social reasons according to Khaled Hidmi, the director of UAWC Ramallah:
“Agriculture is a major factor in the Palestinian economy. The olive harvest brings whole families together with different family members having different roles, from the children to the elderly. Trees have been passed down through generations. Israel is trying to colonise our land and destroy our history and communities, so supporting olive farmers becomes a political act.”
UAWC reports that the ‘olive oil industry makes up 14% of the agricultural income for the oPt and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families’.
As Beit Rima’s Abdul-Latif Awad organised volunteers around his trees, he reminded people that discussion of ‘settlements’ sidesteps the bigger issue:
“The problem is not about so-called ‘settlements’ [in the West Bank]. Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Umm al-Fahm are all ‘ours’ – that is all Palestine too. Our trees are everywhere and our land is everywhere.”