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Plowing Olive Groves under Israeli Occupation

The day after the plowing near Jit, MPTers were called to be present at a plowing of an olive grove near the Howwara checkpoint and behind the Israeli army base in the village of ‘Awarta near the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar.

At 7:15 a.m. an Israeli woman rabbi, member of the Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights, drove the MPTers to ‘Awarta and then followed the tractor for about fifteen minutes to the land of the Palestinian owner who had hired two tractors for the day’s plowing. Upon arriving another tractor appeared and both tractors began work immediately. There was the possibility that plowing would not be permitted by the army, so the owner had all his property documents, dating before 1940, with him. The olive grove was about ¾ down the hill and only a couple outposts of the settlement could be seen at the top of the hill.

The olive grove was near the foot of the hill,
but was considered a desirable addition to the illegal hilltop Israeli settlement.

The tractors worked continuously.
Both tractors were hired for a day's work.

Soon Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights, another Israeli, and a Swedish photojournalist arrived. The tractors had completed about 20 minutes of work, when an Israeli army jeep arrived with three soldiers. The Palestinian tractor drivers continued working. Two soldiers, Arik, and the Palestinian land owner with his land documents in hand conversed with the Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian's papers were in order, but any pretense of
a possible dispute about them would cause hours of delay.

Arik called the Israeli Army District Coordinating Officer (Officer (DCO) giving them all the information from the land documents. [Reception for most cellphones was impossible here.]

MPTers and the Israeli woman rabbi waited for the DCO decision.

The property owner waited but the tractors continued.
First, the DCO asked for more documents, and then decided they needed more time to study the information from the present documents because they said ownership of the land was disputed. The tractors continued plowing.

The Swedish photojournalist who was working on a documentary about Israeli peace activists filmed what was happening. Arik was translating and explaining continuously. One of the soldiers recognized him because he had seen him filming in Hebron. It is probable that the army only allowed the photojournalist to continue because Arik was present.

It was now about 10:00 a.m., as everyone waited.

The owner was still hopeful.
The soldiers returned to their jeep and a settler came down to them; the soldiers reported to the group that settler claimed that he had bought the land. This day was Holocaust Remembrance Day and all Israeli were to keep a period of silence at 10:00 a.m. The woman rabbi with RHR noted that the settler did not observe this moment of silence.

Finally the Israeli soldiers returned to where the tractors were plowing (and where the Palestinian owner, the three Israelis, two MPTers, and the photojournalist were), to announce that there would be a delay of at least an hour while the DCO looked into the land dispute. There was no guarantee of an outcome favorable to the Palestinian owner or as to the exact time of the decision.

The Israeli soldiers announced a delay of undetermined time, maybe an hour, maybe the rest of the day. This is a common method of harassment.

While the Palestinians decided what to do, the older Israeli man, a retired economist and an Israeli military veteran, talked to one of the soldiers. Later the Israeli man told MPTers that the soldier questioned why he was there supporting Arab terrorists. The Israeli asked the soldier if he thought the tractor drivers were terrorists. The soldier said all Arabs (Palestinians) could be terrorists. He ranted against the Palestinians. The woman rabbi told us the officer corrected the soldier for speaking the way he did to the people in the group or speaking to them at all.

The Israeli man in white attempted to converse with the Israeli soldier. The soldier ranted about Arab [Palestinian] terrorists.
The Israeli accompaniers and the MPTers noted the youth of the soldiers. MPTers would want no youth anywhere to serve in the military forces, particularly as an occupying power.
In a short time the Palestinians decided it would be a waste of their time and money to continue in the olive grove and to pay the tractors to wait, when no favorable decision was in sight soon. An MPTer spoke to the Palestinian land owner, a Palestinian teacher, who was angry, frustrated and sad. He had to pay the tractor drivers for work that could not be completed and he had lost a day of teaching since he had taken the day off for the plowing. His right to plow his fields, for which he had legal documents, had been violated. Not even half of the olive grove had been plowed. He was forced to submit to the illegal and illogical decision of the Israeli army.

The Palestinian farmer/teacher accepts his fate, but not without resentment. He has lost time and money for no good reason.

The Israeli army jeep stopped both tractors from plowing the Palestinian's land. A "land dispute" was the reason given by the Israeli army, but harassment was the name of the game.

One of the Palestinian tractor drivers asked the Israeli rabbi and the MPTers to accompany him to finish plowing a field in an area a short distance away. This work was finished about 2:00. MPTers left for the day at that point, while Arik Ascherman and others continued working to secure the rights of the owner at the first location to finish the plowing on his fields.

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