The Olive Harvest
This is the time of year for the Olive Harvest in Palestine. It runs roughly from October through November and at this time families go to their olive groves that they have traditionally farmed since time immemorial, and pick sacks and sacks brim full of olives, ready to be sent to the olive press to make gallons of golden olive oil.
For the farming community the olive Harvest is one of the most important as it is the cash crop and has being for hundreds of years. Families will often go in a festive mood with picnic baskets full of food, enough to sustain them for the entire day.
Since the Israeli settlements were built on the West Bank there has been considerable tension between the Palestinian farmers and the settlers. The problem arises from the fact that the settlements have a 500-meter security perimeter around them which takes up a lot of land and often times this is the traditional land Palestinian Farmers held in tenure in perpetuity from the Ottoman rulers. Technically they didn’t own the land; they and their children were tenants for life as long as they farmed the land. If they stopped farming their land for three years they lost the tenancy and it would be allocated to a different family.
So the problem today is that the Palestinian families go to the olive Groves which are often close to the settlements. The settlers feel threatened or in some cases the settlers actually believe that they are entitled to harvest the olives from the same land.
Tension often erupts into violence and it is for this reason that international volunteers come from all over the world to be present – to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian farmers and support their right to harvest their olives and to reduce the tension. In many cases the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) act in a responsible way as guardians of Palestinian rights and I have experienced cases where the soldiers ordered the settlers to return to the settlement and permitted the Palestinians to harvest their olives. But these cases are few and far between – what usually happens when tension arises is that the Palestinian farmers and their families are arrested and put in prison for a few days and fined a heavy amount in the military court, (ostensibly for “disturbing the Peace”) often as much as NIS 2500 (US$650) per person. Almost without exception the settlers are never charged or fined. (On the West Bank – the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Palestinians are subject to military law while the illegal settlers are subject to Israeli Law).
So at this time of year in the olive groves you will often see a motley variety of very western looking people, many from Canada and the USA and Europe and the UK and Ireland. Often they are from peace organisations and often the are independent people of conscience longing for peace with justice for the Palestinian people. This week-end I will be joining them – looking forward to the wonderful picnic of traditional Palestinian food *( “Makloubeh” is my favourite) and feeling the warm gratitude of the farming families , because we have come a long way to make peace possible.
*Makloubeh – a Middle Eastern dish with chicken eggplant and rice (and sometimes cauliflower and other vegetables) pepper, and Arabic spice