Jalud, Occupied West Bank – As the olive harvest season settles in Palestine, a 10-day campaign to help and protect farmers has been launched in areas considered to be at high risk from attacks by Israeli settlers.
Dozens of Palestinian volunteers, young and old, arrived Wednesday morning in the village of Jalud, on the southern outskirts of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, to help landowners harvest their olive trees – as quickly as possible.
Another group of volunteers worked simultaneously with landowners in the nearby village of Qaryout.
The campaign, organized by the Union of Agricultural Working Committees (UAWC), will cover 12 villages, mainly in southern Nablus, but also in the regions of Ramallah and Bethlehem. It will bring together more than 250 volunteers including university students, farmers’ committees, local councils and villagers.
Muayyad Bsharat, UAWC advocacy manager, told Al Jazeera that the main objective of the campaign is to “strengthen control over our natural resources, by bringing Palestinian farmers to their lands in Area C and in d other areas threatened by Israeli occupation. ”.
At least 60% of the occupied West Bank is classified as Zone C, under the direct control of the Israeli occupation army, and where all Israeli settlements are located.
“The idea was to launch the campaign in one of the ‘hot spots’ in southern Nablus,” Bsharat said. “The presence of large numbers of people on the land frightens the settlers and makes them incapable of carrying out their attacks. When we bring 50 to 60 volunteers every day, it’s a banner that keeps the settlers away.
Other campaigns have also been launched by youth groups and popular committees for the season, which runs until November.
“Farmers will feel they have received help especially in the most sensitive areas, where they need to pick the olives quickly,” Bsharat said.
Palestinian villages south of Nablus face the most systematic attacks by Israeli settlers across the occupied West Bank, including Qusra, Burin and ‘Urif. The attacks include physical assaults and beatings with stones and batons, damage to property including homes, schools and cars, and the theft and destruction of crops and fields.
In 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 40 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians during the olive harvest season, including 17 in Nablus governorate, followed by 10 in the region of Ramallah.
Jalud and the nearby village of Qaryout are surrounded by three large settlements and a series of outposts bordering what remains of their land. The two small villages are subject to frequent attacks by settlers, who often do so with the protection of the IDF.
Settlers from neighboring Adei Ad, Esh Kodesh and Ahiya outposts are among the most violent in the occupied West Bank. In 2019, settlers burned some 1,000 olive trees in Jalud. More recently, in May, settlers set fire to an olive grove and cut a utility pole serving Jalud for the third time.
Qassem al-Haj Mohammad, a 52-year-old farmer, owns several plots of land in Jalud with his brothers, which they inherited from their father. The family’s land has been attacked by settlers on several occasions, including cutting down 40 olive trees they planted in the 1980s and burning 150 olive trees planted by their father in the 1960s.
He told Al Jazeera that the settlers were trying to provoke the Palestinians in order to elicit a reaction, which they can then use as an excuse for the military to prevent them from accessing their land. “They want us to do anything – just so they can take the area.”
The family struggle extends beyond the attacks of the settlers.
Qassem’s family, like many others, is denied access to much of their land in areas near the settlements, except for two to three days a year. “They give us one or two days to plant our crops, and one day to harvest them, for the whole year,” Qassem said.
“We are not allowed to do anything else to maintain the trees, so every year our yield decreases,” he continued, explaining that one year he and five other landowners collectively have lost some 40,000 shekels ($ 12,400).
“Yet we are forced to go and work on the days that are allowed to us. If we leave it, the army and the settlers will use it as an excuse to seize it, ”he continued.
Qassem estimated that Palestinian farmers in the region lose tens of thousands of shekels each year due to Israeli occupation restrictions on their land.
“Always in a group”
In the nearby village of Qaryout, Rima Qaryouti and her family spent the day working in their olive grove overlooking the large settlement of Shilo.
She said that she and her husband no longer take their young children out of fear for their safety and that they “always come in groups”.
“They want us to be afraid to come to our land, they don’t want us to come and harvest our olives. But we always come. We are resilient, ”she told Al Jazeera. “When we come as a group, at least we feel a little bit more secure – than we are together.”
She said that when she and her family arrive on the ground, they “always see the settlers coming and they are always protected by the military”.
Bashar Qaryout, a local anti-settler activist, told Al Jazeera that settlers have attacked Qaryout at least six times since the harvest began. “There isn’t a harvest season that goes without crimes against us, attacks, arson, sometimes they beat people with sticks.”
His family owns about twenty dunams (two hectares) on the neighboring hill, which the settlers have tried to appropriate, in particular by installing caravans on numerous occasions. He said the strategic location of the area between the two large settlements of Shilo and Eli – which Israel seeks to link together – makes it susceptible to confiscation.
“We are in a race against time and in a struggle against the settlements,” Qaryout said, explaining that a majority of farmland owned by Qaryout and Jalud has been designated as Zone C.
Sarah Muscroft, OCHA’s bureau chief for the occupied Palestinian territories, told Al Jazeera: “[Palestinians] are exposed to increasing violence from Israeli settlers. Many are dangerous on the way to school, at work and even at home. Their groves, especially olive trees, are destroyed, reducing their income levels.
“As the occupying power, Israel must always protect civilians against all forms of violence and systematically hold the perpetrators to account,” she added.
“We will not leave”
Returning to Jalud, the head of the local council, Abdullah Haj Mohammad, said that such protection campaigns are important to support and strengthen the resilience of the Palestinian farmer.
He told Al Jazeera that the additional aid “lightens the burden on farmers and lowers the cost of harvesting their olives” because of the high price of hiring a helping hand.
Qassem, the landowner, has pledged to continue to maintain his lands to which he is allowed access, despite the annual losses and restrictions he faces.
He said Palestinian farmers “need international intervention” to “put pressure on the [Zionist] entity (Israel) ”.
“It is our land and our right, we inherited it from our fathers who inherited it from their fathers,” Qassem said.
“We will not leave our lands to the settlers as long as we breathe. “