On Wednesday, Oct. 28, two MPTers along with other internationals and Israeli peace activists responded to the call for an international presence so the harvest could continue. When they arrived, the rough dirt road to the olive grove was clogged with two Israel army jeeps, sixteen soldiers and a couple of Palestinian farmers’ tractors filled with eager Palestinian olive pickers.
The vehicles were adjusting positions and we were motioned to stay back by the Palestinians. Shortly the entire group of soldiers and police of the Israeli occupation forces, Palestinians and internationals began to move up the road, past Palestinian farmers picking their olives to an disputed area in an olive grove. The Israelis activists were particularly helpful in aiding the internationals to gain access to the olive grove. In this disputed area there were about 18 long rows of olive trees with the settlers “owning” the six rows on either end and the Palestinians owning the six rows in the middle, a most unusual and hard to comprehend arrangement.
MPTers observed that the settlers’ trees were very heavily laden with ripe olives while many of the Palestinian trees had almost no olives on the lower branches, but generally a good amount up high. The suspicion by the internationals and Israelis was that lower olives might have been stolen in a quick harvest by settlers , or possibly the lower area of the trees had been strayed with something, or maybe the settlers’ access to piped in irrigation water allowed their trees to flourish.
The harvesting started with men, women, children, Israelis and internationals working together and, at times, up to twenty Israeli police and soldiers standing guard at the edge of the grove. Shortly after a traditional communal picnic lunch, a Japanese journalist, a Japanese photographer and a Palestinian journalist arrived to interview the Palestinians about the olive harvest and the situation regarding the occupation and the illegal settlements.
One of the Palestinian woman readily and passionately spoke of the difficult situation.
A few minutes later two settlers arrived driving small utility vehicles. They circled the Palestinian area hanging markers in “their” trees.
This activity continued on and off for a number of hours, giving the Japanese crew, internationals and Israelis a chance to photo them. A couple of internationals and several of the Israelis tried to communicate with the settlers in the utility vehicles. The settlers just continued to repeat that the land was theirs and all should leave. The Israeli military and police finally moved into the center of the grove. One settler drove right through the middle of the Palestinian trees and stopped to talk to the Israeli police.
Although there was concern and tension in the air, the Palestinians were able to complete most of their harvest in their area and then load all the bags of olives, ladders, kids and workers into the trailer and drive back to town.
Israeli soldiers and police stayed “to escort” everyone out of the area. The Palestinians were not able to complete totally the harvest nor collect fallen olives which can be used for making oil or olive oil soap. As the MPTers and three other internationals enjoyed the cooler air and pleasant mile plus walk back to the village, they pondered the effects of the occupation on every detail of Palestinian life.