Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Vandalising the olive groves

Israeli settlers are routinely destroying Palestinian olive groves and ruining livelihoods in the occupied territories, writes Saleh Al-Naami

features
features
Al-Ahram Weekly

Mohamed Kamel, 48, urged his wife and children to go to bed early in order to get up at dawn. It was time for the family to head out to their olive plantation near the village of Karyut south of Nablus in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The family woke up early and having performed the dawn prayers drove off to the olive farm. However, as the car approached the farm, Kamel slammed on the brakes so hard his head almost hit the steering wheel.
What made him stop so suddenly was the scene of havoc that greeted him. No olive tree was left standing on the farm, and all of them were either cut down or uprooted. The entire farm was a jumble of twisted roots and branches.
The family contemplated the scene in silence for a moment. Then the children started to cry, having realised the extent of the damage. The farm, which had provided the family with much of its livelihood, was no more.
For the members of this family, the identity of the culprits was not a matter for debate, as the family knew that the inhabitants of Tafouh, an Israeli settlement situated 200 yards away, were the ones who had done it.
The settlement is known to belong to Kahane Chai, a Jewish religious organisation which says that the Palestinians in the occupied territories should be placed in trucks and thrown out over the borders.
The members of Kamel’s family had no option but to collect whatever olives they could find in the branches of the dead trees and then leave.
According to Kamel, the Israeli settlers are following such tactics in order to drive him and other Palestinian farmers off their land. The nearby settlements are interested in buying the land, and this is their way of making their offer more attractive.
Kamel says that it will take years for the trees to grow back, but he is not selling. “Despite everything they do, we will not back down. We will hold on to our land until our blood runs on its soil,” he said.
Bilal Eid, 48, who lives in Burin, a village southwest of Nablus, paints a grim picture of life in the village, noting the attacks that the farmers often suffer during the olive harvest.
Over the past five years, he says, nearly 16,000 assaults have been mounted by Israeli settlers on his village. Thousands of olive trees have been uprooted, and many families have been shocked to see olive trees uprooted on their farms. Eid says that it is clear that the uprooting of the olive trees is meant to drive the Palestinian farmers away.
“Settlers from the nearby settlement of Brakha have distributed leaflets saying that the land of Burin belongs to the Jews and that unless the Palestinian families leave the village in the next five years the settlers will drive them away by force,” Eid says.
This is not an empty threat, since the Israeli settlers have already taken control of some 14,000 dunums (14 square kilometres) of the village’s total land of 33,000 dunums (33 square kilometres).
The settlers also attack the houses closest to the olive farms. When Eid and his family were away a few months ago, 100 settlers looted and destroyed his home.
Eid is frustrated at the inability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to bring the attacks to an end. The most that it has done, he says, has been to file a complaint with the Israeli army, known for its bias towards the settlers.
In fact, the Israeli army prevented Eid from rebuilding his house, meaning that he now lives at a considerable distance from his olive farm.
Eid also says that he has far fewer trees on his farm than he did before. The Israeli settlers kill the mules and donkeys that Palestinian farmers use to transport their harvest, he says, also killing the cattle that graze near the farms.
Eid says that the settlers have also poisoned some of the wells the Palestinians rely on for drinking water.
A week ago, dozens of settlers attacked Palestinian farmers collecting olives near the village of Orif on the West Bank, wounding several.
Ghassan Duglas, an activist following up the attacks by the settlers, says that they routinely pelt Palestinian farmers with rocks and that the Israeli army acts to protect the settlers, not their victims.
In some cases, the settlers have shot at farmers collecting olives. In Al-Zahriya in the south of the West Bank, several farmers were the victims of gun-shot wounds two weeks ago when settlers shot at them while they were collecting their olives.
In some cases, the settlers have stolen the harvest. Khadra Abul-Rab, a farmer from Jenin, says that when she went last week with members of her family to their farm, they saw dozens of settlers collecting their olives.
“I screamed at them to stop stealing the harvest. But they threatened to kill us and continued to collect the olives. I had no option but to leave the farm, as I was afraid for myself and my family. We didn’t go back until they left,” Khadra says.
When the settlers learned that Khadra had come back to collect the remaining olives on her farm, they uprooted all the trees.
In some instances, the settlers resort to arson. Two weeks ago, the inhabitants of Hawara, a village in the north of the West Bank, saw columns of smoke rising from olive trees near their village.
The fire raged for five hours because the inhabitants of the nearby Yitzhar settlement had blocked the roads to prevent fire engines from arriving at the scene.
Palestinian farmers in the central and northern parts of the West Bank say that local councils in Jewish settlements even often bring hundreds of wild boar and release them in the heart of Palestinian farms in order to ruin the crops.
Itmar Ben Gaffer, a young settler, boasted to Israeli television recently that he was the one who had come up with the idea of using wild boar to wreck Palestinian farms.
Large swathes of Palestinian farmland have been caught behind the annexation wall that Israel built across the heart of the West Bank in 2005. Entire villages have become inaccessible to farmers, unless they get an Israeli army permit to visit their land, which is not always easy.
In Al-Tiba, a village just west of Jenin, farmer Ahmed Mahajna says that 3,000 dunums (three square kilometres) of his olive groves are now out of reach, as the Israeli occupying authorities often refuse farmers permits to go onto their own land.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli settlers have destroyed nearly 7,500 olive trees since the beginning of this year.
Nearly half of the Palestinian agricultural land is planted with olive trees, in all about eight million of them generating 14 per cent of income in the Palestinian territories. The olive industry is said to support nearly 80,000 Palestinian families.
OCHA officials say that the Palestinians have filed 162 lawsuits with Israeli courts, all involving attacks by settlers on farmers and their land. However, of these lawsuits, only one case has been investigated and brought to trial.
Jewish clerics have been issuing religious edicts claiming that attacks on the Palestinians are in keeping with the Torah.
Rabbi Shlomo Melmed, one of the most influential religious figures in Israel, has said that the settlers are entitled to steal and pillage Palestinian olive crops.
Melmed has led students from the religious institute in the Yitzhar settlement in the north of the West Bank on a mission to pillage the Palestinian olive crops, and this was aired on Israeli television.
Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the Council of Rabbis in the Israeli settlements, has also told settlers to uproot and burn Palestinian trees.
The situation in Gaza, an area in which there are no settlers or Israeli army, is no better.
Most of the agricultural land in Gaza is situated close to the border line with Israel. The border area is currently being bombarded by the Israeli army, on the pretext that Palestinian fighters are using it to fire rockets at Jewish settlements.
Farmers, desperate to collect their harvest, have to take great risks in order to reach their fields.
Gamal Selim, who owns an olive farm just east of the Karara village, said that he had had to recruit 30 of his relatives and friends in order to finish collecting the harvest for fear of Israeli gunfire.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have formed groups for the defence of the olive farmers, and a youth campaign called “You Are Not Alone” has been offering support to farmers through volunteers who help them collect the harvest and stand guard to repel the Israeli settlers.
The volunteers include college and school students, members of youth clubs, as well as foreign sympathisers.
One of the youth groups supporting the farmers is “The Youth Rally against Settlement”, which organises patrols to guard the farms.
Mondhir Ziyada, a member of the group, says that he and his colleagues have foiled attempts by Israeli settlers to steal the olive harvest from several villages.
“Many times, we have caught settlers stealing. Then the Israeli army intervenes and takes their side against us,” Ziyada said.
Ashraf Amr, a member of “Steadfast”, another farm-protection group, says that members of his outfit have foiled more than one attempt by settlers to steal the olive crops from villages close to Hebron.
Khaled Mansour, an anti-settlements activist, said that current measures were not enough to protect the farmers or deter the settlers. “It is not enough for the PA to denounce the attacks. There must be real measures taken to protect and support the farmers,” he said.
Mansour said that it was wrong for the PA to continue security cooperation with the Israeli army while the latter covers up for the settlers’ assaults.
The PA was asked by farmers to send security personnel to guard the olive farms, but it ignored the request.
The assaults are bound to have a political outcome, Mansour says.
“The assaults are a cause for an explosion in the Palestinian territories. The people cannot tolerate more assaults against their land, livelihood and houses. They are ready for a new Intifada against the occupation,” he adds.

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