Olive harvest begins under the shadow of restrictions on movement

One of the “security guards” from the Eli settlement outpost threatens a Palestinian man and forces him to leave his land. (IWPS)

This year’s olive harvest season in the West Bank has begun. The harvest comes in the wake of extensive damage to the groves during the construction of the Separation Barrier, and strict restrictions on movement imposed on Palestinian farmers trying to access their land west of the Barrier. Many farmers received a permit for the harvest season, but were not allowed to reach their land during the course of the year. Since they were unable to work their fields during the year, they will now find their fields in poor condition. As a result, the harvest will be more difficult and yield a smaller crop.

The restrictions on movement due to the barrier are in addition to those the IDF has imposed for a number of years on Palestinians whose agricultural lands lie near settlements and outposts. During the harvest in 2004, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights petitioned the High Court on behalf of five villages in the West Bank, calling on the court to permit the residents’ access to fields that had been taken over by settlers with the tacit approval of the IDF. The petition even described incidents in which IDF soldiers stood by and watched as settlers attacked Palestinians who were harvesting their olives.

The IDF claimed that restricting Palestinian access to these areas was necessary in order to protect the settlers. In hearing on the petition held in September 2004, the judges sharply criticized this policy by which agricultural land is closed off and farmers are prevented from reaching their land for most of the year . Justice Beinisch emphasized that the state’s response to the court did not provide any evidential basis attesting to its claim of a connection between the closure of the territory and potential attacks against Jewish settlements and illegal outposts in the area.

Testimony of Nabil Shqair

My family owns about two hundred dunams of land, situated in the southwest part of Beit Surik. Most of the land will either lay behind the Separation Barrier, or will be used for its construction. I still don’t know exactly how many dunams I’ll lose.

Last Wednesday, June 1, 2005, I rode my donkey to my land, just as I’ve done all my life. I left at around 7 AM, taking with me a hammer, a pair of shears, and my cane. When I got there, I saw a bulldozer about twenty meters from the field I was going to work on. I got off the donkey, and stood in front of the bulldozer at the entrance to the field, so that it wouldn’t be able to enter. The bulldozer was accompanied by a Border Police jeep and about six police officers. They came over to me on foot. Their captain was Druze, and I know him from earlier incidents - his name is As’ad `Atilah. He ordered the police to remove me from the area. Four of the police officers approached me and attempted to take my cane from me. It’s a long rod made of metal, and I keep it with me at all times. They also tried to take my pruning shears, but I wouldn’t give them my tools. Then they caught me by the hands, with two policemen holding me on either side. I threw down the shears in my right hand, and kept holding on to the cane in my left. They pulled at me from both sides, and my hands were in a lot of pain, but I refused to let go of my cane. I saw that As’ad was watching everything happening.

At the same time, two mounted policemen came over to me. One was on a white horse, and the other horse was reddish-brown. While the police officers were tugging at me, one of the mounted police kicked me in the back. They shoved me, trying to make me fall, but I didn’t. Then one of the officers struck me hard on the bottom of my neck with the butt of his rifle. I felt dizzy. I was standing next to a terrace. On the side next to me it was about half a meter high, and on the other side two or three meters high. I leaned on it. After the policeman hit the bottom of my neck, the other officers let go of my hands and started to move away. I saw the brown horse racing towards me, and the policeman on it gave me a blow across the face with the horse’s whip. I responded automaticallyby hitting the horse with my cane. The horse butted me, and I fell to the other side of the terrace .

I don’t know what happened after that. I didn’t regain consciousness until the next day, when I was at the government hospital in Ramallah. They determined that I received contusions in my right shoulder and a fissure in my neck vertebrae . I was kept in the hospital until yesterday, June 6, and I’m still confined to my bed. I suffer from extreme pain in my shoulder and in the nape of my neck. I’m often struck with dizziness, as well.

Nabil Ahmad Abed Shqair, age 50, is a father of 13, and a resident of Beit Surik near Jerusalem. His testimony was given to Karim Jubran in the witness’ home on 7 June 2005.

Testimony of Ibrahim Kataneh

I live in Qaffin. I have eight brothers and sisters, and we own several fields that we inherited from my father. We are all married and have children. We have farmland in three different areas: one ten-dunam plot to the east of the wall; a twenty-two-dunam plot south of our village; and four plots, covering forty-five dunams in all, that are spread out west of the village and west of the wall. Twelve dunams of the farmland that lie south of the wall have been confiscated to build the wall and have been ruined.

Before the wall was built, we worked our farmland throughout the year. We looked after it without interruption, save during rain or at the season’s end. In January and February, we’d plow and clean the area, and plant wheat, barley, and legumes. During February we also pruned the olive trees and sprayed them with insecticides, weeded the wheat and barley fields, and also sprayed weed-killers over the untilled land. In May and June, we harvested the wheat and barley. We did it manually, so as not to harm the olive groves.

Each family member, young and old, shared in the farm work. After gathering the harvest we rested for a while, and in September we’d get back to work. We had to clear away the thistles and weeds that had grown up over the summer, in preparation for the olive-picking season. By the end of September, we began picking the olives and choosing fruits for preserving and for the family’s use.

In October and November we continued picking olives. The whole family took part – in the morning, the adults worked in the olive groves, and at noon the children joined them. When afternoon came, we went home with the olives and sorted them. Once the olive harvest ended, we rested again for a little while. Then we busied ourselves with pruning the trees and tending to them.

Today, everything has changed. It’s almost impossible to reach our farmland under the current situation. In August and September 2002, tractors started to work on the village’s land. They began to clear the land in the area of our southern plot, and around twelve dunams were confiscated during the first stage of operations. The harvest that year was about half the normal size. This was because of the land confiscation, and also because we began picking the olives earlier than usual, which damaged the quality of the fruit. Our work conditions that year were also horrible. We couldn’t go to the grove with a car or tractor. We were often delayed by soldiers, and sometimes they prevented us from going altogether. At the end of the 2002 olive-picking season, the army closed off the areas in the western and southern parts of the village, and prohibited residents to enter their own land.

Construction on the wall stretched into the beginning of 2003. We weren’t allowed access to our land that year, and we couldn’t do the plowing. In the picking season, they made us request permits to enter our lands, so that we could harvest the olives there. We submitted requests for many of our family members, but the permits came too late. By then the army had already decided that picking season was over, and locked the gate. It was closed. I didn’t get to my land at all, not even once. Some of my family members managed to get through, but we only managed to harvest enough olives for six containers of oil by the end of the season, rather than more than sixty, which we usually obtained.

Likewise, in 2004, the army denied us access to our land after the harvest season, and we couldn’t work the land. In the middle of the year, the army dismantled a part of the wall – we could reach our plots of land in the southern part of the village again, which was now east of the wall. About half of the trees in this plot had been damaged to build the wall. Because of the long period of neglect, the other half was in poor shape, and the trees didn’t bear much fruit.

In the 2004 harvest, the permits for my brother and me were delayed. My wife and some other family members received permits. The season was quite poor, because we hadn’t plowed or weeded throughout the year. We couldn’t trim the olive-tree branches either, which damaged the yield. The thistles had grown long, affecting the quality of the harvest, as well as our access to the trees. My wife and nephews had a very hard time gathering the olives.

When our fields were west of the wall, people living on the other side of the Green Line used some of them for grazing their flocks. The smaller trees – those under a meter and a half – were left without leaves or fruit.

Since the end of the olive-picking season, November 2004, we haven’t received permits to enable us to get to the forty-five-dunam plot we own west of the wall in order to work the land. I am afraid that they’re going to confiscate the land. In any case, the fields are already in bad shape from all the neglect. The weeds and thistles are growing, and a fire might break out.

Ibrahim Muhammad Kataneh, 58 is a father of five, a farmer and a resident of Qaffin. His testimony was given to `Atef Abu a-Rub in Qaffin on 11 May 2005.

Related Links

  • B’Tselem
  • Israel’s Supreme Court: Israel should provide security for West Bank olive harvest, ACRI (3 November 2004)
  • BY TOPIC: Restrictions on Movement