In Palestine, the month of October is synonymous with the annual olive harvest.
According to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA, nearly half of all cultivated land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is planted with olive trees, and the olive oil industry constitutes 25 percent of the territories’ agricultural income.
From 2006 to the end of September 2014, OCHA recorded 2,300 settler-related incidents of violence against Palestinians or their property in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
And from 2009 through the end of August this year, “nearly 50,000 fruit-bearing trees, mainly olive trees, were destroyed or damaged in such incidents,” according to the agency.
Instagram user Zalameh, also known to The Electronic Intifada’s readers as @BDS4Justice on Twitter, has been documenting this year’s olive harvest. His photos and video give an evocative look at the practice which is threatened by Israeli land confiscation and military and settler violence.
Zalameh explained to The Electronic Intifada that he spent two days in Izbet Salman, south of Qalqiliya, the West Bank town which has become completely enclosed by Israel’s wall. Near the boundary with present-day Israel, Izbet Salman “is very close to the Palestinian villages of ‘48 [inside present-day Israel] Kafr Qassem, Kafr Bara and Jaljulia.”
“We can hear the call to prayer coming from these villages across the wall,” he added. “People from Izbet Salman are married to people from these villages; these marriages happened before Israel’s family unification laws that prohibited those marriages after the start of the second intifada [in September 2000].
“A large proportion of the village works inside Israel, not all legally; they sneak through the wall, which seems effortless although not without risks (this also demolishes Israel’s security claims – the wall is porous – as opposed to the untold goal of land grabs).”
Reputation for quality
Zalameh also spent two days picking olives in the Bethlehem-area village of Beit Jala.
“Beit Jala olive oil has a reputation for quality across all of Palestine so I decided to go check the pressing there,” he said. “The press I visited uses the traditional cold press method, although modernized with heavy machinery.”
“There are cooperatives that commercialize olive oil for export, but the ones I worked on belong to families and family members work on the land together and they split the fruits of the labor among the extended family,” he added.
Regarding the olive harvest’s social significance, Zalameh explained: “What I love about the olive harvest is the teamwork, the conversations while we pick olives, eating food outdoors and then eating the olives we picked and the of course the olive oil; somehow it tastes different when we know we picked the olives.
“I asked the villagers of Izbet Salman what happens to the olive trees in the settlements just across the wall. Do Israelis gather around the trees like us, to pick the olives, during the harvest period? They said no, the olives, which belong to Palestinians, will rot.
“For me this said it all. Generations of Israelis came here as foreign settlers; they don’t know the land as well as Palestinians do, they see it only as an object of conquest and colonization. The olive tree is thus foreign to them and this is why it is so easy for them to uproot so many trees. On the other hand, the olive tree is part of Palestinian identity, culture and folklore.”
The following photographs and videos are posted with permission from @Zalameh. Captions are edited versions of the original Instagram posts.