Providing Support for Palestinian Olive Farmers

Categories: Israel
By Bracha Ben-Avraham

A couple of weeks ago I finally decided that it was time to stop bitching and go out and do something.  So…its olives again – this time near Shchem, more specifically between
the village of Jitt and settlement of Kedumim.  I established contact with one of the many groups who are going out to help the Palestinians with the harvest – and reserved myself a place on a minibus going with the Rabbis for Human Rights.

The group is part of the “Olive Harvest Coalition” – a joint effort that includes most of the peace movements in Israel.  We were collected at the train station at Rosh HaAyin and were soon turning towards Ariel and the landscape became that of the West Bank that I have not seen for many years.  Rolling hills were dotted with villages of which I was reminded when I went to Jordan last year.
Hilltops are, of course, dotted with red-roofed Jewish settlements.  We passed through one checkpoint but were not stopped and continued on until we reached the olive press in the village of Jitt.

On the way we were told that the Rabbis for Human Rights is an organization  that is not affiliated with any political party or any stream of Judaism, but is a non-violent organization that seeks to uphold the rights of the Palestinians.

The Palestinians were first ambivalent towards the idea of Israelis coming to join them in the harvest, since the settlers had already filled them with mistrust.  The first attempts were thwarted by the army, which drew a separation line between the Palestinians and those seeking to enter the area and help.  Objections were made that if the settlers could enter the area, why couldn’t they, and a woman run forward and crossed the line.  Tear gas grenades were launched, a scuffle broke out, but the line had been crossed and the volunteers won.  There were going to be Jews around the harvest other than the settlers from then on.

I soon began to realize that our role here was not to provide manpower to help with the olive harvest as much as to serve as protection and to provide a human shield against settlers who constantly harass the Palestinians and attempt to prevent them from harvesting their olives and working their land.  The organization also works to plant fields that have been uprooted by settlers as well as
plow new fields.  We were given instructions that if there was any trouble we were to stand between the farmers and settlers and try and defuse the situation.  Difuse the situation?  I wondered just how I would do that – as such a situation would probably have me so hot-headed that I’d do exactly the opposite!

We soon reached the grove and trekked up a stony hillside to the grove.  We were met by three young farmers and were soon standing under the first tree pulling off olives that were far more plentiful, far more beautiful, and larger than our fruit in Ben Ami.  I was soon up a ladder and gazing out over the landscape.

I had hoped to talk more with the Palestinian farmers, but my as of yet inadequate knowledge of Arabic and their lack of knowledge of Hebrew and English prevented striking up a real conversation.  I did talk with the other volunteers as well as the reporter and photographer, who continued taking pictures with a camera that had a lens the diameter of an RPG.  I put him to work with my own camera as well.

At midday we all sat down to a meal in the field – real olive oil, labaneh, pita, and oh yes, olives….then back to the pick.  It soon became evident that the main difficulty we would face that day was not settlers, but the weather.  Suddenly the wind whipped up, the sky began to turn
black, and thunder rumbled in the distance.  Pretty soon the mother of all thunderstorms was upon us and large drops of rain were falling.  Everyone ran for their backpacks to grab raingear, but before long we were all under one of the tarpaulins attempting not too successfully to keep dry.   It was then decided that we were going to have to quit – and we began the ten minute trek back to the road, where we all boarded the bus laden with at least two kilos of mud.  We stopped at the olive press, where I purchased some genuine olive oil – glad to patronize the local farmers.  (This is truly the real stuff!)

Before I left on this day’s venture, I had told myself: “I want to see what is going on over there.”  Luckily we did not see any violence, but there has been a lot.  It did not take an incident to impress upon me the vastness of the situation:  to see the new roads that wind around the villages,
connecting Jewish settlements and inconveniencing the local people to drive longer distances between their villages, the newly built settlements that look so very out of place in the landscape.  The realization that this is it – this is what is being talked about and this is the “situation on the ground” made me feel that we are truly up against a reality that we are powerless to change unless the government does some true soul- searching, changes policy, and stops giving in to the settler enterprise.  I ask myself why we have to go and serve as human shields against our own people so that Palestinians can farm their land?   Will the tiny trickle of Israelis who are doing this truly make a dent in the Palestinians’ attitude when they are surrounded by what is going on there on a daily
basis?

It was encouraging to work beside people, to hear them thank us when we left – but at the same time I feel discouraged – the Palestinians are so powerless, and are being ruled by a military government who has not lifted a finger to even take responsibility to protect them against
Jews who are breaking the law and harassing them.  The Jewish volunteers have been covered in the press, but I am afraid the settlers are making a bigger impression on the Palestinians and the world.

Bracha Ben-Avraham is originally from Chicago where was active in the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement, participating in the 18th workshop at Kibbutz Urim. After making aliyah she joined Kibbutz Adamit on the northern border and was a member there for 21 years.  Bracha now live in Moshav Ben Ami near Nahariya, and is a professional musician, translator and technical writer.  She blogs at www.ismargad.com/daily.

About Bracha Ben-Avraham

Bracha Ben-Avraham is originally from Chicago where was active in the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement, participating in the 18th workshop at Kibbutz Urim. After making aliyah she joined Kibbutz Adamit on the northern border and was a member there for 21 years. Bracha now live in Moshav Ben Ami near Nahariya, and is a professional musician, translator and technical writer. She blogs at www.ismargad.com/daily
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