We committed to help harvest olives, at the boys school we were met and told how to walk up to the orchard. When we crossed the road three soldiers stopped us and asked for our passports, we both said we did not have them. Were then asked for some ID, I showed my drivers license, Mopsie said he had none. We were told it is the law that foreigners are required to carry their passports at all times. Then the soldiers said we could not continue up to pick olives, while this area is open to picking olives, no Israelis and no foreigners are allowed to pick, only Palestinians. We were told that the reason we were no allowed is that “tourists make a mess and cause disruptions.” Mopsie asked,¨who told you this? They lied to you.¨ We continued our objection saying ¨we were asked to help pick by the very farmers you say are allowed to pick.¨ They asked us how long we were in Israel, where we had been and, what we had been doing. After much back and forth the soldiers called their commander. We used this waiting time to build connection with the solider. I talked to them about their weapons (I know them and several previous versions of them from my time in the military). In the process I deliberately touched their weapons and found reason to touch the soldiers themselves. At one point one of the soldiers said his weapons, his jeep, everything even his boots were American. I think we did succeed in gaining some level of connection with them. (It is interesting that all the weapons have bright orange devises in the breach to assure they are on safety and don´t have a round in the chamber.)
A portly man in a white or light blue shirt with epaulets arrived from the settlement in a white pick-up truck – their commander. He informed us that this area was a close military zone and that during these 3 days farmers who owned land there (they had a list) were allowed in to harvest their olives. Mopsie asked to see this law. They brought out a note book and showed us a map of the area with the picking areas outlined on it and a series of “orders.” The “orders” were in Hebrew and Arabic but not English. Mopsie asked if we could copy them which they said we could. The commander offered us a larger map to copy and said we could not copy the smaller one because it has the names and numbers of the Palestinians who are allowed in each area, which he said was private information.
After we copied the orders (which were not signed) and map, he again informed us that it was the rule that we were not allowed. I said I understand that but I have to tell you why I think that is unfair. He said there is no point arguing. I said I understand that and I am not arguing, I just need to tell you how I feel. I told him something to the effect that as a farmer myself I know that when the crop is ripe you need to harvest it and harvest it then. I am used to dropping all other projects when it is time to harvest. Therefore I feel it is wrong to deny a farmer a little extra help at harvest time. If they can't get their crops in on time they will lose them. Then we procrastinated and slowed the process of leaving, I tried calling various people. Mopsie did other stuff, just delaying leaving. I sensed the commander walking over behind me I kept my head down assuming he was going to demand we leave. Instead he said he had called his commander and gotten permission for us to pick. But he said this permission was just for the 2 of us and just for today – tomorrow would be a new question. I thanked him and shook his hand (probably the third or fourth time I had shaken his hand during this encounter). I did it to build human connection, Mopsie felt I should not have because it was agreeing with his saying that he was not giving us permission to pick tomorrow.
While we were picking another half dozen of our group showed up, the soldiers stopped them. Once again their commander came down in the white pickup (I should note when ever he got out of the pickup he had to reach back in and get his weapon to carry slung over his shoulder). Had a shorter conversation than we had and then were allowed came up to join us with the same admonition that this permission was just for today and just for them.
|Our friends talking to the soldierś commander|
While we were picking 4 boarder guards showed up. They chatted with the farmers. It was obvious to me the guards were chatting, but the farmers knew they had to engage in the conversation. It even seemed the guards were telling the farmers how to farm. At 3:30 the guards returned to said we all had to leave the orchard – the permission ends at 4PM.
Given that 3 days was not enough time for them to harvest the olives, delayed us, their helpers, getting to the orchard for 45min and now chased us out of the orchard at 3:30 was further shortening the harvest time. Even though time for the harvest was of the essence the farmers were insistent the that we stop for coffee, for tea and, for a wonderful lunch.
These olives were riper than ones we had picked before, and more of them had fallen to the ground. It is worth noting that the Palestinian farmers had permission to pick their olives. Then a settler ran in to a small boy (hit-and-run) by the Huwarra check point. In response to this no settler was arrested, instead the occupying army postponed the permit for Palestinians to pick 10 days.
Curiously the farmers talked to the Border Guards who told them that we, the internationals, should come tomorrow by crossing the main road to the East, out of sight of the Army, and come up the long way around and that way we would avoid the Army – we wondered if this was some bureaucratic competition or some trap. The next day we did make it in that way.
The occupying Army had 3 to 5 jeeps in the olive orchards each day. The occupying Border Police had 2 to 7 jeeps in the orchard each day, stating from an hour before anyone was allowed in.
|view across the valley from were we picked a settlement is on top of hill above Burin|