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The Israeli activists helping protect the Palestinian olive harvest
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By |Published October 7, 2018


Illustrative photo of an Israeli settler attacking a group of Palestinian
olive harvesters. (Olivier

Illustrative photo of an Israeli settler attacking a group of Palestinian
olive harvesters. (Olivier


It had become like the opening ceremony of the olive harvest season: last
Wednesday, Israeli settlers

uprooted 40 olive trees in Turmusaya, a small Palestinian village north of
Ramallah. Palestinian

farmers face settler violence throughout the year, but it is during the
olive harvest that the attacks

increase dramatically.

For the past 16 years, a group of left-wing organizations have banded
together to try and stop the

attacks. The Harvest Coalition, made up of groups such as Ta’ayush, Rabbis
for Human Rights, Coalition

of Women for Peace, and Combatants for Peace, among others, has enlisted
Israeli volunteers to join

Palestinian farmers in areas that are more prone to violence. The very
presence of Israeli activists

can provide the farmers with the bare minimum of protection in the occupied

“I first heard about the problem of settlers attacking Palestinian farmers
in the 90s,” says Manor. “I

was in charge of Peace Now’s dialogue committee, and traveled to many
villages. One time I received a

phone call from friends in Nablus who said, ‘We have a big problem in Burin,
they won’t let them

harvest.’ So we decided to join them. I did not understand the severity of
the issue at the time; none

of us did, since in those years Palestinians did not speak much about these
kinds of attacks. The

joint harvest did not end up taking place, since the Islamic Movement was
strong in the Nablus area,

and they didn’t want Jews going into the villages.


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“The real beginning of the joint harvests was during the Second Intifada,
when I was already active

with Ta’ayush. We received an urgent phone call from the village of Yasuf,
next to Kfar Tapuach, which

used be heavily Kahanist. I went there with Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis
for Human Rights, we saw

the settlers who invaded the village land, they attacked the Palestinians
and tried to kick us out.

The army always had an easier time dispersing the Palestinians and Israeli
activists, so that’s what

they did. Afterward we heard stories that [farmers] couldn’t harvest in all
kinds of different places.

We heard about agricultural land that had not been cultivated or harvested
for years.”

Yaakov Manor (right) at the Palestinian olive harvest. (Vardit Goldener)
Yaakov Manor (right) at the Palestinian olive harvest. (Vardit Goldener)

Over the years, Manor, a retired banker, has become somewhat of an expert on
the harvest. “The length

of the harvest period changes from year to year,” he explains. “There is
usually a good year followed

by a worse year. Good harvests, in terms of weather and rainfall, can last
for over two months.”

Because of drought conditions and damage caused by pests, says Manor, there
will be fewer olives to

harvest, meaning the season will be relatively short.

Do you always go to the same villages?

“It changes from year to year. Over the past few years the situation has
improved slightly. There are

between 25-30 villages located to the more problematic settlements. Those
are the ones we go to.”

Have you faced violence?

“Yes. I was personally attacked in Yasuf by a settler in an army uniform.
There was severe violence

next to Huwara, where settlers came down from nearby Yitzhar. We were a
fairly large group, but they

came with sticks and threw stones at us. One of our volunteers was taken to
a hospital. We were able

to quickly alert the army, not that they helped much, but the settlers
retreated when they saw the

soldiers. I was able to duck from a stone at the last moment. In the village
of Yanoun, one of the

settlers smashed the butt of his rifle into my friend’s face.”

Do you coordinate your visits with the army?

“Yes. During the first years we asked the security forces to put an end to
the settler violence. The

Defense Ministry told us that it was not the role of the army to do so, and
that the army cannot

station its soldiers in every olive grove. After the coalition’s activities
gained more exposure, the

army began coordinating with the PA in the run-up to the harvest, and
Palestinians gained access to

more of their groves.

“In the meantime, the High Court of Justice ruled that Palestinians should
be able to enjoy the fruit

of their labor, and that the army was obligated to ensure the harvest occurs
every year. The army

asked the court to ensure that the harvest take place in a way that prevents
much of the friction.

Thus, the agricultural land was split into three parts: the ‘green zone,’
which is open for harvesting

every year, and where Israelis can harvest alongside Palestinians; the ‘blue
zone,’ which is further

away from the settlements but still in their range, where Palestinians can
go but without the

volunteers. According to the army, once the volunteers arrive, it is seen as
a provocation against the

settlers. The closer one gets to the more problematic settlements, the more
our volunteers’ access is


A girl from the West Bank town of Awarta harvests her family`s olives in the
midst of frequent patrols

by the Israeli military, October 13, 2012. Because the Israeli settlement
Itamar lies on a neaby

hilltop, the residents of Awarta are forced to coordinate permission to
harvest their olives from

Israeli authorities.
A girl from the West Bank town of Awarta harvests her family’s olives with
Israeli army jeeps seen in

the background. (

“The third area is the ‘red zone,’ which are very close to those
settlements, where Palestinians can

only enter in accordance with coordination between the army and the PA.

“We sit down with the Civil Administration every year for a meeting and
coordinate the maps of the

different zones. The problem is not with the orders. The various army units
want to protect the

harvest because they don’t want riots or bad press. But when we get there,
many times the local

commanders do whatever they want, and don’t always act according to orders.
We file complaints,

sometimes that helps. The struggle was successful because Palestinians are
simply coming to harvest.

Usually there is trouble during the first two weeks, after that things calm

Alongside the convoluted division of agricultural land into zones, there is
also the story of “trapped

land,” which can be found between the separation barrier and the Green Line,
and which most

Palestinians cannot access. “We’re talking about no less than 197,000 acres
from the Jenin area to

Qalqilya,” Manor says. “The fence was built east of the Green Line,
swallowing up agricultural land

that Palestinians have a very hard time cultivating because of entry permit
issues. Around 40 percent

of the fruit and vegetable produce in the West Bank came from the trapped
land. These are the most

fertile areas with a great deal of Palestinian agriculture, including
greenhouses, chicken coops, and

more. Apart from a few areas, the fence has put an end to that.”

“There was a period in which the coalition split into two: Rabbis for Human
Rights focused on the

villages near the settlements on weekdays, while the seculars among us
visited the trapped lands on

the Sabbath. We mostly focused on the permit policy, which is also complex
and makes it very difficult

for Palestinian farmers. At first, they allowed only close family members of
the landowners to enter,

nowadays they allow a few workers here and there.

Volunteers organized by various solidarity groups join local residents in
harvesting olives in groves

in the village of Walajeh, West Bank, October 14, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick
Volunteers organized by various solidarity groups join local residents in
harvesting olives in groves

in the village of Walajeh, West Bank, October 14, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick

“Imagine a farmer whose plot is 50 meters from his home, but the gate to
allow him through the fence

is located five kilometers away. He needs to travel the five kilometers to
reach the fence, and then

another five kilometers until he reaches his land. He wastes two hours
walking just to make it there.

There are additional problems, such as how to bring the olives to the
village. The best olive oil

makes it to the press within four hours. Because of the permit policy, there
are farmers who cannot

finish harvesting themselves. We come and help them. In these cases we do
not need the approval of the

army, since as opposed to Palestinians, the trapped land is open to

Why do you need volunteers? Why doesn’t the army play a bigger role in
protecting the harvest?

“They claim that the army allocates a very large number of soldiers for the
harvest. It makes sense:

they cannot be at every village and every grove — that is why we go out. The
army does not want the

settlers’ provocations, but according to government policy soldiers cannot
touch the settlers, which

renders them helpless. Take issues such as vandalism, arson, uprooting
trees, or massive theft of

olives. The army, because of the political power of the settlers, does
nothing. I do not know of a

single case of theft that was brought to court.

Does one need to know how to harvest in order to participate?

You learn quick. There is a sense of a family event. You interact with the
farmers’ family, you eat

together and hear stories. We have family harvests where children are
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