The latest UN-OCHA Report, The Olive Harvest in the West Bank and Gaza, reminds us that olives are a centuries-old mainstay of the Palestinian economy, with the soil and climate producing some of the of the world’s highest quality olive oil. The olive tree is also symbolic of Palestinians roots in, and attachment to, the land. Some 45% of agricultural land is planted with an estimated 10 million olive trees, with the potential to produce between 32,000-35,000 metric tons of oil, with up to 100,000 families depending upon the olive harvest for their livelihoods. This year, the olive industry promises to contribute over $123 million (based on 2006/7 figures) to the fragile West Bank economy – that’s 18% of total agricultural production.
Happily, I’m here just in time to help harvest all those millions of olives! Unhappily, it’s not always very easy to enjoy these harvest parties. In the West Bank, picking olives is often full of friction, conflict, and violence, especially in the vicinity of the Israeli settlements or along the Separation/ Apartheid Wall where there are new outposts of settlers trying to steal the land. Many Palestinian farmers out working in their small fields face incidents of crop theft, tree uprooting, harassment, and physical attack during this time.
Local NGO’s and agencies do what they can to bring internationals into the fields to offer protection by their presence. The YMCA-Joint Advocacy Initiative organizes a 10-day Olive Picking Program and Tour for internationals from all over Europe. Ta’ayush, an Israeli Jewish-Arab political activist group, invites both local peace activists and internationals like EA’s and local interns to the higher risk areas. And many other organizations send email invitations when they hear of an older farmer who needs some extra help with the labor-intensive harvest of his family’s trees.
In addition to the hardship of harvesting the crops, this UN-OCHA reports tells us that tens of thousands of olive trees have been deliberately uprooted for the construction of the Wall, whose route is 86% on West Bank property. The placement of the Wall undermines the olive farming industry both by the destruction of trees, and by separating the farmers from their olive groves. So much of the essential care of the trees can’t be carried out by the farmers, affecting both the quality and the quantity of the olive yield. Yet even with all this against them, the farmers here are hopeful – they are looking forward to a good harvest this year. Those of us who stand with them will certainly do our best to make that happen!
Peace/Salaam – Pastor Pat
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