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‘In Palestine, even the olives are bleeding…’

October 27, 2023 at 11:00 am

During the toy release protest, a Pro-Palestinian group held a banner saying “O land of olives and lemons were with you”, in istanbul, Turkiye, on 21 October 2023 [Onur Dogman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

It’s 2pm on 24 October and time to check in with the many colleagues and friends I have on the ground in Palestine. I give ‘Mo’ a ring, a friend I met back in 2019 when he was doing his PhD at Queen’s in Belfast. He answers the call. There’s noise and lots of laughing in the background. It seems like he’s outside somewhere. “Where are you, man?” I enquire. “I’m picking olives, bro… it’s olive season, remember? I’m in Battir.” Amidst the carnage and chaos of the past few weeks, I had forgotten. “How’s it going? Is it a good harvest?” “Nah, not really,” he replies. “This time round, even the olives are bleeding.”

Christy Moore’s beautiful refrain in Viva la Quinta Brigada, a tribute to the brave Irish men and women who boarded ships from Ireland to embark on a campaign to fight Franco’s fascists in Spain, captures the sheer levels of destruction that was being meted out against the Spanish people and the countryside itself. It is a harrowing affirmation that the scourge of war affects everyone and everything. Hearing my friend recite the refrain on the phone reaffirmed to me the importance of maintaining our transnational bonds of solidarity, a need that is greater now than ever. At the time of writing, and since the start of this latest round of grossly asymmetrical violence, around 7,000 Palestinians civilians have been killed during Israeli air strikes in Gaza, with many thousands still trapped amidst the rubble. It is not lost on me that by the time this piece ever reaches the printing press, these figures will be painfully out of date.

Israel’s latest assault on the Palestinian people, one that has benefitted from the tacit approval of Western leaders, takes place as the olive harvest season in Palestine is in full flow. Harvest time is sacred. It is an opportunity for Palestinians across all generations to come together to tend to the trees, connect to the land, occasionally aided by international guests who would travel in ‘normal’ times (a term I use advisably). It is an act that is synchronously routine and one that embodies the very essence of steadfast resistance. Olive picking reaffirms the non-negotiable connection that all Palestinians have to the land itself. It is more than a gathering of the harvest, or the squashing of olives to make the rich and highly sought after oil, it is defiance in its most beautiful form, an affirmation of the rootedness and indigeneity of the Palestinian people.

A mural depicts the solidarity between Irish and Palestinian prisoners of war on display in Belfast, Ireland [Brendan Ciaran Browne]

A mural depicts the solidarity between Irish and Palestinian prisoners of war on display in Belfast, Ireland [Brendan Ciaran Browne]

The heart-wrenching reality for civilians in Gaza: A wake up call for the world

Since 7 October I’ve been more consciously than ever trying to stay connected with life on the ground in Palestine. I’ve contacted as many of my colleagues and comrades as possible, those friends I’ve gathered since 2009, with whom I now grieve. Many of them have spent time visiting Ireland, being welcomed as guests in both Belfast and Dublin. Some have even been afforded the title of Visiting Professor at Trinity College Dublin. My friends in Palestine are scattered across the West Bank, yet each is connected by their shared experience of collective trauma. Gaza rightly remains the focus of our attention, yet amidst the horror of a genocide being live streamed across the globe, an increasingly violent crackdown on life and livelihoods across the rest of historic Palestine has meant that friends now live under siege in Bethlehem, with all checkpoints in and out of the city closed. Others are having to minimise outdoor life on the street in Jerusalem for fear of violence meted out by an emboldened and rampant settler community.

Some even manage to reply to my communications, despite being on the run. Mass internment, a phrase that should leave shudders down the spine of any historically conscious Irish man and woman, has become the order of the day. Since 7 October, according to the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, the number of Palestinians left languishing in the Israeli colonial prisons has doubled, reaching approximately 10,000 detainees. Many of those incarcerated have been subjected to brutal levels of inhumane and degrading treatment tantamount to torture. Videos leaked online have shown Israeli army personnel mocking Palestinian detainees, making them sing Israeli patriotic songs and having them pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag. Two Palestinian men have been killed whilst held under Israeli custody thus far.

Read: Palestinian solidarity and support for Israel in South Africa

Like the olive groves in Palestine, Ireland’s connection to the Palestinian cause is rooted deeply, too. It is a relationship that is based on a shared experience of combatting colonialism, of struggling for self-determination and defying British colonial attempts to erase culture, heritage, language and identity. For many, this solidarity with Palestine is a unifying factor on the island of Ireland and one that makes a mockery of partition.

The Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza expects the enclave to harvest 24,000 tonnes of olives in 2020, a 30% drop as a result of climate change [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

A Gaza farmer at an olive farm, 26 October 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The practicalities of solidarity have seen swathes of Irish men and women, everyday grassroots activists of conscience, travel to the region to form partnerships that are cultural, sports based, and academic. In the age of social media, our comrades in Palestine have been able to witness the masses of people across the island who have come out in support of the Palestinian cause. The energy this brings and the strength and determination it provides must not be taken for granted.

When this latest round of western backed Israeli destruction of Palestine draws to a close, which it will, we must make sure that we continue in our pursuit of realising a liberated and free Palestine. Our solidarity must not be reserved to moments of catastrophic crisis. We are all too aware that Israeli settler colonialism is omnipresent and remains at its most pernicious even when the cameras aren’t rolling.

As I listened to the noises of laughter and frivolity on the call with ‘Mo’, as I heard tales of the bad olive harvest and what was planned for the next few days, I could have sworn in the background I heard ‘adelante… around the hillside’, to borrow again from Christy. ‘Adelante’ is the rallying call, not only across the hillsides in Battir, but also for us all when it comes to our transnational solidarity and our commitment to realising a free and liberated Palestine.

‘Adelante’. Forward. Onwards.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.