The morning of October 6 was a tragic one for our local Palestinian farmers Abdul and Younis ~ even the trees wept …
Our team responds to a call from our contact in the village of Al Khadr, 5 km west and a bit south of Bethlehem. We arrive to find that approximately 120 olive trees and 70 grape vines have become the latest victims of settler violence. The trees are saplings, 2-4 years old, and were not yet producing a crop of the coveted olives. Branches are broken, the small trucks are cut near the root. The grape harvest is just concluding and bunches of grapes are strewn about. Vines are already wilting in the morning sun.
Settlers have left a telltale sign of their presence the night before ~ a village sign defaced and made to resemble an Israeli flag. This senseless destruction is one more way that Israel is asserting its presence in and control of the West Bank where, according to Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, the settlement project is in contravention of international law which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
It’s now early morning on October 9. Travel north with me to the village of Qaryut, 15 km south of Nablus. Our EAPPI colleagues in the village of Yanoun respond to a call. They arrive to a heartbreaking scene. Many trees on this land are ancient ~ the villagers have named some of the older ones “Roman trees.” On the eve of the olive harvest, settlers have come in the night and used a chainsaw to deface and desecrate approximately 120 of these ancient trees. Branches are strewn about, some trunks are burned; they stand like haunted specters against the sky. One villager cries in desperation. “This is my livelihood. From my 9 trees I would have harvested 180 liters of oil” ~ And these ancient trees cry in return: “We have witnessed empires come and go, but have now fallen victim to Israel’s illegal occupation.”
The Israeli Civil Administration (an arm of the military) maintains a permit system for Palestinians harvesting olives in areas near West Bank settlements: although the farmers own both the land and the trees they have to apply for Israeli permission to access their land. Permits are usually granted for impossibly short periods of time: in this case, the Qaryut farmers had permission to harvest for either two or three days (traditionally harvest lasts between four and six weeks). The October 9 attack came the night before the first “legal” harvest day, thereby devastating the harvest before it even began. Figures released last year by the international aid group Oxfam show there are approximately 9.5 million olive trees in the West Bank, where olive farming is a vital source of revenue for Palestinian farmers. In a good year, the olive harvest contributes approximately $100 million in income to some of the poorest Palestinian communities. And yet the with the beginning of the olive harvest, from October 7-10, the Israeli Human Rights Organization, B’Tselem, documented five cases of injury to Palestinian farmers and their olive trees in the Ramallah and Nablus regions alone.
This senseless destruction and wanton violence comes at the end of a week of festivities celebrating the Jewish festival of Sukkot ~ a festival of joy and rejoicing for the harvest, a festival which also remembers the stories of the desert wanderings related in Jewish sacred texts. I am left wondering ~ How can one celebrate a harvest for one’s own people while depriving another people of theirs? ~ This year, on this festival of joy and celebration for Jews, many Palestinian farmers in Al Khadr, Qaryut, and countless other places in the West Bank wept ~ and so did the trees.