Olive Harvest in the West Bank - Interim Report

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Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
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Nov 2 2006 09:58
Olive Harvest in the West Bank - Interim Report

I've spent a few days going out to the West Bank and helping Palestinians harvest their olive trees. The harvest itself is most enjoyable and not too physically exhausting, but the experience as a whole was severely draining, emotionally. I think you will soon find out why.

I have interleaved a mostly linear narrative (in regular type) with some commentaries (in italics). Finally, I've added words that will, hopefully, start a helpful discussion.

Thursday, October 26th

We went into the West Bank1 in a volunteer`s car. We were told by the organizers to proceed along the main road (505), and take the first left after the Ariel exit. We missed our turn, and had to double back.

This was my first encounter with a telling reality in the West Bank: the broad, well-maintained highways feature many informative signs, which are extremely useful, as long as you're looking for a settlement. The Arab "villages" (some of them are bigger than many Jewish cities) are mostly absent from these signs, while a few older cities, like Qalqiliya, Nablus or Bethlehem, do appear there; but even then, only in Hebrew and in English, not in Arabic. Judging by that, you would think that there were no Arabs around.

We met our contact, who took us to the olive groves. These belonged to a village called Jama'ein. Overlooking the groves is an extension of Tapuah, a settlement.

This is another repeating pattern: settlements tend to expand towards Arab lands until they overlook them. They then fence off a few acres, get into conflict with the owners, with the army and police backing them up, until the locals give up the struggle. Repeat until intifada...

This was mostly a positive experience, actually. We spent more than eight ours picking olives. The whole extended family was there, children to grandparents, with the accompanying good-humored banter, which I did not understand, since I do not, yet, know Arabic well enough. At one point, someone asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Tel Aviv, but that before that I was from Rehovot, and before that Nesher, etc.. I asked him where he was from, and he told me that he was from Jama'ein. I then wanted to ask him whether he was born there. That took a while, because his Hebrew, though much better than my Arabic, was insufficient. Eventually I got the idea across using a relative of his who knew some English. He then said that he was always from Jama'ein. Then something interesting happened. Another family member, listening to our conversation, went into an impromptu speech about how he was from Jama'ein, as was his father, and his father's father, a thousand years back. He was speaking very loudly by this point, and, quite moved, he finished and returned to the harvest.

Initially I thought that I had offended him in some manner. Very self-centered of me. Later I was to learn, through a discussion with another activist, that this wasn't directed at me. It was a genuine expression of suppressed emotion. To have an Israeli ask about the past, being genuinely interested in it, after generations of being told that he has no past worthy of note, that he doesn't belong here, that he simply doesn't exist triggered a loud response, that wasn't an accusation as much as it was a cry of "Jew man, listen!"

The children were cute and energetic, like children are, and everyone was very kind and warm. They were disappointed that I wasn't fluent in Arabic, but with the smidgen that I did know, along with what they knew of Hebrew and English (only the two I mentioned before could speak more than a word or two of Hebrew), we got along famously.

I left the place feeling a sense of accomplishment. It wouldn't last.

Monday, October 30th

Not much to say here. We weren't allowed to help the Palestinians in their harvest at Farata, since the groves were cordoned off as a closed military zone, only allowing security personnel and the Palestinians themselves to harvest. The alleged reason was that problems only start when evil left-wing activists enter the groves. Luckily, the police and the military did their work here (as they were recently ordered to by the High Court), and secured the perimeter successfully, so that there were no problems this time.

The previous Wednesday, due to a lack of co-ordination, the Palestinians were not protected by them or by us (in-fact, the military took the settlers` side that time, as it often does), and one of the landowner's sons got his hand broken with a metal rod. The groves in question border an outpost, called Gilad Ranch, whose owners are well-known for their violence and cruelty.

We spent the day talking among ourselves, as well as with a couple of military officers. The first of them was in charge of co-ordination, and spoke highly of his role in securing the Palestinians` right to harvest their land. When asked why the settlers weren't simply removed, he said that that's on a whole different level than his. The same kind of response came from the other officer, who also said that, in fact, their position there was to defend the settlers from the Palestinians, not the other way around.

I got the impression from speaking to them that they would really rather have the settlers removed, but couldn't do so due to pressures from up high. Don't know how much that has to do with reality.

We did get to do a little bit of harvesting somewhere else, just before we went home.

I went back home that day feeling that I've wasted everybody's time. Still, as I understand it, when there are no activists around, the military is known to neglect its duties.

Tuesday, October 31st

Our whole morning was spent emptying a volunteer`s car from diesel and refilling it with petrol. That's what happens when you have two over-confident people arguing while filling the tanks. When we got to Kariyut, the villege we were to assist in, it was too late to make the hour and a half journey to the groves we were planning on. Instead, the rest of the group was directed to the stopped fountain, while I stayed behind. I was questioned by many children, as well as a few grown-ups, about whether we were going to unstop the fountain, and clear the adjacent road. When the others returned, I was updated on this latest travesty: a shortcut to village and the groves was cut off by settlers. They did this by breaking up a huge arch that was over the village fountain, and using the rubble to block the road. They also blocked up the fountain, re-enforcing the plug with concrete. Then they set up a pump down the fountain's source, to provide for their settlement (which is, technically speaking, an outpost).

As there wasn't much we could do without using the courts to force the military into removing the rubble, or into allowing us to remove the rubble, we informing the organizers, and drove out to another grove to harvest there. That grove had a portion fenced off three years ago by yet another outpost. Speaking with a few people from the village, we located those whose lands were taken, and took their details to be passed on to the long legal struggle to reclaim them. While we worked with the villagers, a bunch of settlers came, and one of them took our pictures, perhaps as a form of intimidation. Later, when we were about to take a short-cut near the settlement, a soldier came and told us to use the road we got in through. Turns out that a bunch of settlers was ambushing us, eager for a fight. Naturally, the soldiers wouldn't escort us, or anything.

I was glad to have managed to actually do some harvesting that day, but the deepening picture of oppression revealed to me was hard to cope with.

Wednesday, November 1st

We spent the day with the same family from Kariyut, helping them finish the harvest. A man came up and asked that we look at and document his land, taken over by settlers over five years ago. He had all the documentation since the Jordanian occupation, and even complained to the police, but nothing had been done.

It was unsettling to see a 50-year-old person having to be escorted around like a child, for fear of settler violence. Settlers could beat him up with impunity, possibly even aided by the police.

Later, we went to the villege council, to look over maps. We photographed everything, got all the details from this man, and again saw the emotional excitement at having an Israeli actually listen to him. Hopefully, next week, the road will be opened, and we (or they, depending on whether or not I'm active that day) will be able to help harvest the remote groves.

On our way back to Israel, we met with a bunch of road blocks. Our guide, Zacharia, told us to just switch to the opposite lane, and continue until we've passed the block. It worked. The soldiers only gave a half-hearted yell at a yellow-plated car blatantly ignoring both their checkpoint and basic traffic laws, then went back to their work. Our confidence must have convinced them that we were settlers, the true lords of the land, who can get away with murder, not to mention a mere disregard for road etiquette.

I returned to my home with an acute need to share my experiences. This text is the result.

Before having undertaken this olive work, the situation in the West Bank was not as immediate to me. I came out of it harboring an intense hatred for settlers and their chauvinistic ideology. At times I found myself wanting to kill a settler, any settler. To erase the humanity of so many people, just because they're not Jewish and inconvenient... I find it a lot easier to understand rock-throwers and suicide bombers. Something wrong is going on, has been going on for nearly forty years. But what is to be done? Is national liberation the answer? Most leftists I've talked to in Israel seem to agree. I disagree, but am at a minority. Is Hamas worthy of my support just because it was elected by the Palestinians, and is, therefore, their "rightful" representative? An organization that sends workers to blow up and kill other workers, shoots missiles at Israeli towns with a worker or unemployed majority, attacks labor organizer centers? Fatah, Islamic Jihad, or the myriad other factions are not better. Is that the kind of liberation I should wish upon the Palestinian people?

And as for a peace between two nations, what use is that? It will be like during the Oslo years, when Palestinians provided cheap labor and cheap markets for Israeli bourgeois to exploit.

So I put this to you: what can I do? How can I make Palestine a better place for everyone?

Notes:

  • 1. Entering and leaving the West Bank is pretty straightforward if you have yellow (Israeli) plates and look Jewish enough. I even did it by accident, once.
Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
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Nov 2 2006 10:43

Update

Just learned that Palestinians were attacked at Kariyut, the same place I went to yesterday and the day before. Guess what was different about today? That's right, no activists to help them. They had it set up with the military and everything, but their military escort left after about twenty minutes, leaving them open for abuse. Then the military came back to watch.

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JDMF
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Nov 2 2006 11:55

heavy stuff mate, thanks for sharing.

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Tojiah
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Nov 3 2006 19:02

Heavy stuff is right. Thing is, going to the West Bank is a choice for me --- it's an inescapable reality for the Palestinians.

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Tojiah
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Nov 7 2006 18:09

Retraction

Apparently, I was deceived by a false memory. Going to the West Bank again, today, I have found that signs there do have Arabic inscriptions on them, just like in the "real" Israel.

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AndrewF
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Apr 16 2007 19:28

Great report you should post it to Anarkismo

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Jacques Roux
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Apr 17 2007 11:56

Interesting reading - well i only read the start, will come back to it later.

That was the first time you have been to the west bank?

Quote:
This was my first encounter with a telling reality in the West Bank: the broad, well-maintained highways feature many informative signs, which are extremely useful, as long as you're looking for a settlement.

This is one of the things which strikes me most about the occupation. You can be driving in the middle of nowhere, pass through an arab village with open sewers, rubbish everywhere, mud/dust, no pavements, lights etc. then 20 mins down the road once you manage to get into the barricaded settlement (i.e. past the private security who only speaks Russian) you are in a perfectly planned town with roads, pavements, flowerbeds beautifully maintained, shops, and perhaps most insulting of all - fountains spurting water into the air pointlessly. Of course the semi-utopian look of this place covers up the fact that its a crap-hole with nothing to do, no jobs etc. but thats the point.

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Joseph Kay
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Apr 17 2007 11:58

the OP is last november, btw

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Tojiah
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Apr 17 2007 14:10
rkn wrote:
Interesting reading - well i only read the start, will come back to it later.

Well, it's waited this long, so... wink

rkn wrote:
That was the first time you have been to the west bank?

Pretty much. I mean, that I remember clearly, anyway. I'm pretty sure my uncle used to live in Ariel for a few years, and we visited there once. And I once took a wrong turn around Rosh Ha'ain and ended up on the wrong side of the green line. It's almost transparent for Jewish-looking Israelis around those parts.