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Jit Accompaniment - Part II

The settlers' vineyards abut the Palestinians' olive groves. Note the illegal Israeli settlement on the mountaintop.

Once again MPT received a request to accompany a Palestinian farmer in Jit, who was experiencing problems with the Israeli Occupation Forces and settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Qedumim, established in 1975. (See the October 19th posting describing the MPT accompaniment of October 14 and 15 in Jit.) The Palestinian requesting accompaniment owns hundreds of olive trees on land adjoining the settlement and estimates it would take his men a solid two weeks to harvest them all. However, the Israeli Occupation Army has been banning him from picking, or restricting him to picking only two or three hours a day; at that rate, the harvesting would take weeks and the olives will have dried on the trees. The landowner has also experienced harassment and intimidation by the settlers.

Friday, October 23, 2009
About 7 a.m. three MPTers arrived at the family’s land, less than 100 yards from the settlement’s vineyards. At 8 a.m. the Palestinians and MPTers noted the arrival of an Israeli Occupation Army jeep on the settlement road, and two Israeli soldiers watching the picking. After an interval, the soldiers weaved their way through the vineyard and called to the Palestinian landowner, informing him that picking was restricted to two hours, until 10 a.m.

Israeli soldiers, at the fence, calling out the olive picking restrictions to the Palestinian landowner.

About this time a contingent of volunteers with Rabbis for Human Rights arrived, and the leader immediately went to the fence to talk with the soldiers. After a prolonged discussion, the leader informed the group of six volunteers that they had to leave: Israelis were barred from the area. The volunteers moved a short distance away to observe, and possibly to pick out of sight of the soldiers.

A volunteer with Rabbis for Human Rights speaking to soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces.

MPTers wondered when they would receive their orders from the Israeli military. They didn’t have long to wait, as the soldiers motioned them to the fence and told them they had to leave. The MPTers responded that they were Americans and didn’t have to leave. The soldiers called their superior who came and informed the MPTers that they could stay and pick with the Palestinians but everyone had to leave at noon. Surprised at being able to pick until noon, rather than the previously stated 10 a.m., the MPTers repeated the hour, “Noon,” to make sure there was no misunderstanding. The soldier nodded, “Noon.” The next few hours were a flurry of harvesting. Two volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights returned to assist as they were not Israelis.

Israeli soldiers attempting to tell the MPTers they must leave.

Shortly after noon, a soldier appeared at the fence, announced that everyone had to be gone in five minutes, and left. The Palestinian landowner told the MPTers and the internationals that he and the other Palestinians would not stop as there were so many trees to be picked. MPTers decided they would remain with the Palestinians to provide accompaniment and help pick. Harvesting continued until 4 p.m. without any incident or appearance of soldiers or settlers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Three MPT members returned to help the family in case of further military or settler interference, arriving in the groves at 6:30am. The men had been at work since 5:30, intent on putting in as much time as possible before the soldiers arrived. Shortly after 7 a.m., six Israeli soldiers appeared in the olive grove. After checking the Palestinians’ IDs, the soldiers announced that there would be no picking of olives -- no work -- on the Jewish Sabbath. The inherent contradiction of the soldiers, who are Jewish, working on the Jewish Sabbath didn’t faze them.

Israeli soldiers on Palestinian land, in essence telling the Palestinians they must observe the Jewish Sabbath.

The MPTers argued with the soldiers that their dictum was ridiculous, and that their continual changing of the rules each day constituted harassment and intent to prevent harvesting. Every day brings a different story and order, in addition to the threat of settler violence.

The MPTers had been joined by two volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights -- young, very attractive European women who spoke Arabic. The soldiers seemed quite taken with the young women who were able to speak to the Palestinians, interpret for the MTPers, and hold their ground with the soldiers.

Internationals argue the Palestinian cause with Israeli soldiers.

The European women and MPTers prolonged the discussion with the soldiers until the area Palestinian representative of Rabbis for Human Rights arrived. With official map in hand, he forcefully made the point that the land belonged to the Palestinians and they had permission to harvest their crop. Following an animated discussion and phone calls made by the soldier in command, resolution was reached: no one could pick in the immediate area because it was the Sabbath, but the Palestinians, with the help of internationals, could pick their olives on trees farther away from the settlement. The soldiers also stated that there would be no restrictions on picking olives the next day.

The Palestinian representative of Rabbis for Human Rights advocates for the Palestinian landowner.

Sunday, October 25, 2009
Three MPTers arrived at the olive grove at 6:30am to make sure that indeed the Palestinians would face no restrictions on their olive picking that day. They joined the men in the harvesting of trees a significant distance from the settlement. Around 8:30am, 10 volunteers from Rabbis for Human Rights arrived. They had secured permission from the Israeli Occupation Forces to help with the picking. Everyone then moved to the area closer to the settlement from which they had been evicted on the Jewish Sabbath. It was opportune to harvest that sensitive area when there was a significant presence and permission for picking had been granted to the Israeli volunteers. The picking continued all day without incident.
The joy of olive harvesting . . . absent intimidation, harassment and violence.

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