October and November are the months for the olive harvest in the West Bank. The weather begins to cool in the arid and semi-arid land. The soil, high in iron, takes on a dusty red color against the silver green of the olive trees. Families once gathered together in the groves to pick olives, picnic, and rejoice.
The Palestinian economy is agriculturally based and the olives account for about 28% of the faltering economy. The olive harvest makes a substantial difference in the lives of the people where the average per capita income is only $1,200 and poverty and unemployment is increasing. It has been a difficult year to harvest olives in Palestine because of the drought and increased violence from illegal Zionist settlers.
The city of Hebron has been torn by settler violence against people and property. At the end of October, Settlers destroyed 80 Palestinian cars and a Muslim cemetery was desecrated. Zionist extremists have attacked Palestinians, a Rabbi who is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights, international peace activists, and even their own army. Some links to news articles are below.
Three of us started for Hebron early one morning. Two Californians (who have olive trees at home) and one MPTer left Beit Sahour to lend a hand with harvesting. Patricia took the lead negotiating the transport as she worked with her Arabic phrase book.
Patricia and the bus drivers
In Hebron, we joined other internationals from Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Austria. We walked through the cemetery that had been vandalized the previous week on the way to the olive grove. The gravestones were broken and marked with blue spray paint.
Much of the West Bank is mountainous and the few flat areas are those carved out of the hills by the Palestinians. The olive groves are on terraces with rocks stacked, or dry fitted, as retaining walls between levels. The farmer had a grove directly next to a settlement and was uneasy about picking without any protection. Often the presence of internationals is a deterrent to violence.
Olive trees below the settlement
Approaching the grove, a group of Israeli policemen came up behind us and demanded that we stop. Since I was walking uphill between levels of terraces, I just proceeded slowly, speaking quietly to the policeman. He asked if I knew the people ahead and I asked if he knew them. I asked for his help climbing over a stone wall and he refused to help. As we regrouped and the police joined us, they said that we had to leave the area. There were threats of arrest. We asked to see the paper designating it a closed military are. The police said the army was coming with it.
While we waited, the farmer’s family provided glasses of hot tea. They wanted the presence of the internationals. The discussion with the police officer in charge of the team of five, Nimrod Sustiel, went on for an hour while the rest of the team picked the olives. Finally, he said in disgust, “Oh, just go and pick the olives.” I think the futility of the discussion and the realization that we were not going to be intimidated prevailed. He did not want the trouble of arresting the group, so they stood by as a rather ironic protective presence for us. They milled around the olive grove for about 4 hours and then just faded away.
The settlement was at the top of the hill and we were constantly alert to foot traffic around the grove. The farmer’s children worked under the trees separating the olives from the branches and pretending to plant one of the branches that had been pruned from the trees.
Planting a branch together
By mid-afternoon, a meal was provided by the mother of the farmer. We gathered on the earth to share the food and the hope of peace in
We picked the olives together until it was time to begin searching for transportation to get back home. The farmer and his children were grateful and gracious hosts for the day. We all left with a feeling that some small thing had been accomplished in a city filled with fear and uncertainty.