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The Palestinian olive harvest: A celebration of survival

The olive season in Palestine is not only the season for picking olives, which is pressed and sold to earn an entire year’s living for families throughout Palestine. Rather, it is a national occasion, a leitmotif that paints a picture of authenticity and antiquity in an ongoing fight to live with freedom and dignity. The connection of Palestinians to the olive tree is deeply rooted in history; it has been passed down from generation to generation, even practiced by the Canaanites since ancient times; it is inherently and intrinsically linked to historic Palestine.

And yet, despite of this beautiful and unadulterated connection between Palestinians and their olive trees across history, both the Palestinian farmers and their trees continuously face Israeli brutality through tree burnings and other violations. For Palestinians today, olive picking takes place amidst massive land-grabs and military restrictions on access to plots that have not yet been stolen by the Israeli occupation. 

Palestinian perseverance 
"As long as the olive trees live, we are here in Palestine,” says Palestinian farmer, Mohamed Salim. He further explained that the harvest is like a Palestinian wedding, “where all the family members gather and pick the olives together, in unadulterated joyful moments where we sing and even dance Dabka as women bake and cook over the fire. Sometimes youth groups come and help us as well.”

Several various initiatives and activities are held each year during the olive harvesting to preserve and promote Palestinian identity. Volunteer groups gather to assist and support the farmers in this work. The ministry of agriculture also holds a big celebration welcoming the season and announcing the commencing of harvesting. Every March, Palestinians mark Land Day by planting thousands of olive trees in defiance to the Israeli attacks.

Palestinians display of love for the olive trees and the harvest is unique. Trees are planted throughout Palestine, even in the narrowest strips where people may not have land to cultivate. So it’s not strange that the area of land planted with olive trees in Palestine is about 575,107 dunums, representing 85% of all trees throughout Palestine.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, the olive crop is one of the primary elements of food security and one of the pillars of the local economy, constituting 13 percent of the value of the Palestinian national income, estimated annually at about $90 million, 30 million of which are from the Gaza Strip and the rest from the West Bank.

Occupation worries
The Israeli occupation loses sleep over Palestinians connection to their trees and their various attempts to maintain their history and identity, practices which threaten the occupation’s grip on the land. During the last olive season, Israeli settlers innovated more extreme methods to target the olive harvest, uprooting the trees few days before the time of harvesting, as happens every year, flooding trees with waste water and spraying toxic substances on the roots of olive trees, leading to their complete destruction. In Deir al-Hatab village, east of Nablus, 50 olive trees were flooded with wastewater and toxic materials, and 100 olive trees in Jalud, south of Nablus, were sprayed with toxic materials. The methods also include planting suspicious objects to appear as mines, in addition to planting iron bars in lands of citizens to damage wheels of cars and agricultural tractors. 

Meanwhile in Gaza, the occupation drones spray toxic chemicals on vast tracts of agricultural lands planted by Palestinians in an effort to damage standing crops. Additionally, sometimes they open fire at farmers who have planted their trees too close to the separation fence.

Murad Ishtiwi, Director of Anti-Wall and Settlements Committee in the northern West Bank, said that the occupation deliberately targeted the olive tree because they know what it represents for the Palestinians, stressing that it reflects the Palestinian attachment to the land inherited from their ancestors. 

Ishtiwi described several forms of violence practiced by settlers when destroying olive trees, including uprooting the trees in the first stage of cultivation, as well as stealing the fruits and destroying them completely using an electric saw at night. Ishtiwi pointed to another method adopted by the colonial settlers, which is burning olive trees, as it occurred recently in the Arraba area in Jenin, when a number of settlers burned 400 olive trees more than fifty years old. The burning of the trees caused an economic crisis for their owners, who rely on the harvest to support their family. 

Several human rights groups, including B’tselem, have documented the Israeli violations and the European Union has expressed concern over these attacks during the olive harvest season, calling for the protection of Palestinians and for the aggressors to be brought to justice. Yet, the attacks continue and the strong-willed Palestinians keep fighting in the face of the occupation.


 By Wafa Aludaini

Source :  The Palestinian Information Center



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