At the beginning of November, the olive harvest started in the Palestinian territories;
it will last two months. The Israeli minister of Defence, Peretz, had promised
that this year the harvest would have been different and even an injunction from
the Israeli high court which imposes a duty on the army to protect the Palestinian
harvesters and to allow them access to the olive fields, seemed to confirm this
The Obstacle Course.
From June until today however, the situation has changed: Sanctions have been
imposed by the European Union, export tax has been withheld by the Israelis, the
capture of Corporal Shalit and the continuing raids in the Gaza Strip, the war
in Lebanon and the end of the Olmert plan for the withdrawal from Trans Jordan
and finally, the entry of the extreme right of Liebermann into the Israeli government.
All of these factors have aggravated the poverty of the Palestinians. Always
more people in the occupied territories rely on the olive harvest to survive.
But even this year, the difficulties have been numerous. Volunteers from an
Israeli organisation for human rights who have monitored the situation of the
harvests, state that the Israeli army have blocked entry to the cultivated zones
of five villages, in another six villages the fields have been closed or confiscated
and in another ten, access has been consented on only specific dates.
The colonists and the wall.
The difficulties for the olive harvesters come in the form of violence from
the colonists and the wall that separates the Israeli and Palestinian territory.
In a village near Tulkarem, for example, the fields and the village are divided
by the wall and the gates are opened only three times a day and for only a few
minutes. The wall can be crossed only with a special permit, of which the criteria
are very restricted. The olive harvest requires a lot of labour, and yet it often
happens that only the owner of the field manages to obtain permission from the
Israeli army, which demands a special permit even for the donkeys. As for the
colonists, the number of their attacks against Palestinian agricultural workers,
even in the presence of international observers, are countless. The colonists
are responsible for aggression and theft and are very rarely punished. According
to an ordinance from the Israeli High Court, the violence of the colonists is
not a sufficient reason to stop access to the cultivated land. One Israeli judge
has declared, “to impede the Palestinian residents from reaching their fields
to protect them from attacks of colonists is like ordering people not to enter
their own homes for fear of thieves.” Despite this, in many cases, it has been
decided to prohibit the harvest in areas at risk of violence. Even this year,
many cultivated areas have been declared inaccessible but in order not to violate
the order of the court, the reason given is that of “protecting the colonists.”
The economy of the Olive tree.
Almost half the Palestinian families in Trans Jordan live below the poverty
line and the rate of unemployment is above 27%. In the Gaza Strip, the statistics
are even worse. Besides the olive field owning families, the olive harvest directly
involves thousands of people, from harvesters to the workers of the olive presses,
to those who are involved in the transport and sale of the oil, which represents
22% of the agricultural production of the territories. It has been calculated
that the obstacles placed between the Palestinian growers and the cultivated fields
is more than 500, to which can be added all the complications linked to the presence
of the wall which today is more than 700 kilometres long and is still not finished.
When it is completed, of the nine million olive trees in the Occupied Territories,
one million will be unreachable.