|Olive Picking Campaign in Palestine|
Tuesday, October 8, 2002
Chris Green and Mike Prior from Hebden Bridge are taking part in the International Solidarity Movement's Olive Picking Campaign in Palestine, taking place for a month, starting in mid October.
Chris is taking a sabbatical from his lecturing job, while Mike is setting aside time from his energy management consultancy.
"The purpose of our visit is to support and strengthen the work of the Palestinian and Israeli justice groups. In previous campaigns members of ISM have removed roadblocks, ridden with ambulances, delivered food and water during curfew and acted as witnesses." said Chris.
The Olive Harvest
Aware of the importance of the Olive Harvest, the Israeli army and illegal Israeli settlers have been making life almost impossible for Palestinians to access their fields.
According to an Oxfam report publsiehd earlier this year, in one typical community Salfeet region, near Nablus, 70% of the roads have been closed by the Israeli Defence Force, 7000 olive trees have been uprooted, and several tankers of olive oil have been emptied out by soldiers at roadblocks. The road blocks are part of the "closure" policy implemented by tge Israeli government in 1991. This is a form of collective punishment against the entire Palestinian community, and a violation of the fourth Geneva convention. There are at least 140 checkpoints in the West Bank alone, which may take several hours to pass through, and some towns have been under almost constant curfew.
Olive oil needs to be picked and pressed on the same day. but because of closures there is a risk that the oil will be of poorer quality. This results in an inability to export, and a fall in local demand because of the lack of work for Palestinians, and the difficulty for merchants to come to the villages to buy. It seems very likely that this year's price will be lower than that fetched last year.
Maintenance of the olive crops is also neglected because of the threat of violence against individual farmers working in their fields. According to Oxfam " the biggest impact of actual and threatened violence by settlers comes during harvest, when damage to crops can devastate rural livelihoods." and the report concludes "Parties to the conflict must take steps now to prevent this humanitarian crisis turning into a full-blown humanitarian disaster."
"The recent escalation of violence in Palestine including the rocket attack by the Israeli army in Gaza which injured over 50 people gives us great cause for concern- but at the end of our visit we will be able to leave,said Chris, but for 3 million Palestinians it is their home."Chris and Mike will be sending back regular emails during their visit which will be posted here on the Hebden Bridge Web.
Just a first quick note to say we've arrived easily and safely.
We've had a very friendly welcome from the people we are staying with in East Jerusalem, but there are very few tourists, although I've counted 5 news teams.
Talked to interesting Palestinians and Fransiscan friars, and have had a chat to the ISM co-ordinator on the phone.
Questioning on entry wasn't as traumatic as we might have expected, as some people are still coming in as independent tourists.
Our hotel the Mount of Olives is ideally placed for looking over the whole city but the restaurant wasn't open, and we had to walk 5 minutes to a recommended eating place where we were the only customers, but we had an excellent salad.
We visited most of the ancient Christian sites on the first day, where Jessus taught the Lords Prayer, where he wept for Jerusalem (a very moving sight with the chapel window overlooking the city, and with Fransiscan friars having a go at Blair and Bush for their war mongering- Also visited Via Delarosa (Way of the Cross) and the very interesting Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where every square inch is holy and has been graffitied by visitors. Temple Mount has been out of bounds to tourists for 2 years. The Garden of Gethsemane with 2000 year old olive trees was also moving- how much suffering have they seen ???
The only reason we are in the cafe is Jayoos, the place we were going to has been declared a closed military zone. Even so we could not travel there directly but only through roadblacks and on dirt tracks as the good roads are settler only (and a few taxis). Palestinians on these roads woiuld be arrested.
Some of us went to Jayoos last week for a small demonstration; 10 internationals and 30-40 locals, while others kept on protecting olive pickers. Jayoos is where they are building the wall at the moment and bulldozing all the olive trees. "We will replant them for you," say the military. "No-one will get shot," say the military. On the day we were there that was the case. The kids shout back, "Let us throw stones and die!"
The private security company guarding the bulldozers have machine guns. The brave woman from the Red Crescent runs up and tries to pull back the young men who are having their arms thrust behind their back for plastic handcuffs and several times she succeeds in getting them away.
We also succeed in getting the younger crazier squaddies to not point their rifles at people. "I'm only using the site to see what is going on," they indicate. Then another stun grenade goes off. The tear gas is worse, probably 20 rounds before we had pulled back far enough to satisfty the army.
Of course, we can't show how bad it was.
Two video camera tapes and two still cameras were confiscated!!Read more about the Wall or Separation barrier on www.btselem.org. It's a bit dry but you can find other articles and pictures. 80% of the agricultural land of Jayoos will disappear behind the massive wall, trench and free fire footprint zone.
It is the wailing and keening of the older women that is the worst. It is hard for me and you to understand the vital importance of the Olive Crop. 25% of the West Bank economy depends upon it. It has been people's lives for hundreds of years, and yet they are too frightened to pick in areas near settlements or near roads in case they get shot at, and in other areas like Jayuoos the fields are being destroyed.
The mayor, a brilliant negotiator, declared it a successful day. No-one was killed and no-one arrested but lives were destroyed. (he also declared us heroes for going with a detainee and sitting with him for 2 hours (he was blindfolded and handcuffed with head down) until released. He worked the blindfold up and smiled at us. His brother burst into trears when he saw his elder brother return
We never have enough people observing in Palestine. If anyone fancies the political and great educational experience contact us Perhaps the most useful thing we can do is buying Palestinain goods. We hope to import some soap and oil later in the yearChris Green Mike Prior
Eighty per cent of existing agricultural land moved behind the wall, no travel to work in Israel for the last 2 years. Olive crop income, what is left of it, reduced because the market price has fallen and people had to harvest early becfore the bulldozers knocked their trees down. One man , I.K, is a teacher his degree paid for by his father's income from olives. He has now had all his 800 trees either bulldozed or taken behind th fence/ wall the 100 metre wide construction we see being built every day. ( It's due to be finished in 7 months. ) He daren't tell his 80 year old bedriiden mother about the trees being stolen "It would kill her" he said
[Falami, Qalqilya] Tear gas and sound grenades have just been thrown at Palestinian villagers and international civilians engaged in a wedding celebration out in the olive groves of Falami.
Traditional dress, singing and dancing was part of the villagers plan to change the mood on the ground and assert their presence on land that is being destroyed by the Israeli military. This nonviolent act of protest is being attacked by Israeli soldiers who have already used tear gas, sound grenades, and now have their weapons aimed at the unarmed civilians. The group of Palestinian villagers and internationals are refusing to be dispersed.
Yesterday the French Consul General visited Falami and attempted to negotiate with the Israeli authorities over the destruction and isolation of this agricultural land, which is the source of livelihood for thousands of Palestinian farmers in this region. The French government, which has invested in an agricultural irrigation project on this land, failed to persuade the Israeli authorities to halt its destruction. The Israeli military accompanied bulldozers to the olive groves this morning to find the wedding celebration in full swing.
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