I’ve been in Nablus now for about 4 days, leaving at 7 every morning to pick olives in solidarity with farmers in Burin, a beautiful village nearby. Burin is the 2nd largest village surround Nablus, in terms of land, but has a population of only 4,000 meaning that most of their village is green farm land. The houses in the valley are surrounded by olive, lemon, almond, apple and fig trees, that climb up the side of the hills surrounding Burin. At the hilltops live Illegal Israeli settlers.
Last month, settlers from Yitzhar burned 200 olive trees while Burin’s villagers were celebrating a wedding
Unlike Palestinians, who must submit to checks constantly and randomly by Israeli soldiers and police, these Israeli settlers are free to carry arms, despite their violent reputation. For the crimes they’ve committed, none have served more than a few weeks, even for murder. More often they get off without charge. Israeli soldiers are supposed to protect the Palestinians from these settlers, yet they often watch as the crime is committed, and will arrest Palestinians for retaliating or complaining. Even though Israel politically claims to distance itself from these fanatics, the workings of their entire state seem to support them.
A few months ago, settlers descended and burned hundreds and hundreds of olive trees. The earth is just black and bare. Almost every man I have met here has served time in prison, without charge, or with a ridiculous charge (like cleaning the streets of garbage!).
At any moment, these Israeli settlers can descend into the village, heavily armed, and harass & attack the Palestinians who are not allowed to carry arms. If they do, they are called terrorists and are blamed. If they do, the whole village will face army violence. The soldiers are supposed to protect the villagers, but they don’t. Palestinians shouldn’t have to ask permission to the Israeli authorities to farm their own land. Palestinians shouldn’t have to be constantly aware of settlers descending or arbitrary arrests. Palestinians shouldn’t have to have us internationals follow them to the groves, because if Israeli settlers or soldiers come, they will be treated more violently, more illegally, and less humanely if no one is watching.
Harvesting Olives as a State of Resistance: For the settlers of Yitzhar, a burning Palestinian olive tree signifies exactly what a burning cross signified to the Ku Klux Klan in the US of the 1950s — in either case, the message is racial intolerance, and the purpose is ethnic cleansing. “The settlers use fear, they intimidate people to leave their homes … they say ‘we cut down the trees because a Palestinian touched this and made it dirty. This is our land and we can do whatever we want,’” Najjar said.
The Survival of Olives: Olives have been cultivated in Palestinian land for thousands of years. Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, with the remainder for pickles, table olives, and soap. The harvest is worth around 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the fragile Palestinian economy, struggling under the burden of occupation. Up to 100,000 families depend upon the olive harvest for their livelihoods to some extent, according to the UN. Olives are also symbol of Palestinian culture and a connection to the land. Olive picking contains a strong political dimension; particularly in villages which are vulnerable to settler attacks and interference from the Israeli military…