Harvesting olives in disappearing Palestine

Rada Daniell, chair of Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Campaign, shares her experiences visiting the occupied West Bank last year

Nabi Saleh protest

Nabi Saleh protest. Credit: Rada Daniell

After being an avid follower of developments in Palestine for decades, I had the shock of my life when I first visited the West Bank as a volunteer in 2009.

Upon my return home I showed my photos to a friend. In one of them an Israeli soldier was assaulting an activist. My friend asked what happened to the soldier. I said “nothing” and he replied in disbelief: “How is that possible? You caught him in the act.”

Ordinary folk find it difficult to believe that people can be killed, injured, have property stolen, basic rights denied, and all of that with impunity, even when there’s evidence.

Since 2009 I have been to Palestine four more times, once to Gaza and three times to the West Bank, as an international solidarity volunteer with two organisations, the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Both IWPS and ISM are activist organisations non-violently supporting the resistance of Palestinians against occupation.

We wish to witness, report, and mobilise responses by the United Nations, Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam, and global media. Most of my time in the West Bank I spend with the IWPS team of women from the world over, in the beautiful hilltop village of Deir Istiyya. From here we provide international presence in the neighbouring areas.

The atmosphere on my arrival in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem last August was ominous. Israelis, accompanied by soldiers, were making daily provocative visits to the Al Aqsa Mosque and clashing with worshippers. There were repeated bans on men entering Al Aqsa and people were praying in narrow streets.

Kufr Qadoum protestors gased

Kufr Qadoum protestors gased. Credit: Rada Daniell

The violence was not restricted to Jerusalem. A young Palestinian couple and their baby were burned to death in July in their home near Nablus. Their four-year-old son Ahmed survived 60 percent burns. The perpetrators were illegal settlers.

Palestinian rage was on the increase as they found themselves humiliated, helpless and abandoned, especially since Israel’s war with Gaza in 2014, in which more than 2,200 people died. Protests were erupting across the West Bank with people waving flags and demanding justice and youths throwing stones at the soldiers.

Violence escalated further in October when a settler couple were killed while driving between
two illegal settlements. The olive harvest was just starting and IWPS were assessing which farmers needed international accompaniment most badly. We would usually prioritise those with land near the illegal settlements and with a recent history of violence against their
farms. But suddenly, everybody fell into this category.

There was no safe place to pick olives or live in the whole of the West Bank. Israel’s army was invading villages at night, including our village of Deir Istiya, taking over houses and arresting people.

Settlers, accompanied by the army, would descend from hilltop colonies stoning houses and
throwing Molotov cocktails on the Palestinian cars and houses. Fanatical Ytzhar settlers attacked villages Burin, Madama and Huwwara night after night, burning hundreds of olive trees and injuring many farmers, including a UK volunteer.

We picked olives with Abu Said, an elderly man from Hares village near the illegal Revava settlement. Soldiers tried to turn us away but then decided to stay with us for the duration of harvest. One of them followed our every move through a sniper sight.

In Urif village, near Ytzhar, more than 50 olive trees were burned in early October. Settlers
descended from their enclave together with soldiers who fired at Urif farmers, who could only watch as trees planted by their ancestors went up in flames. Frequently we would be called late at night to villages being invaded, to gather evidence and report.

Protests are often organised on Fridays against illegal settlement and the infamous ‘apartheid wall’, which snakes inside Palestine far away from the internationally recognised border. These demos have always been dangerous. After midday prayer, villagers march with flags and banners towards the area of stolen land and are met by soldiers firing tear gas and so-called ‘rubber bullets’, which are anything but rubbery.

Last autumn, however, everything changed. Live ammunitionbecame the Israeli army’s weapon of choice at protests which had mushroomed. The first village protest I attended was in Kufr Qadoum, near Nablus. Three people, one of them a journalist, were shot and wounded by snipers.

This scenario, often with more tragic consequences, has been repeating all over the West Bank and Gaza. Since October more than 180 Palestinians, many in their teens, have been killed and more than 16,000 injured. Many of those killed were accused of knife attacks. The videos and photos throw doubts on those claims, and Amnesty International likened them to extrajudicial killings.

The cost in young lives is enormous and so is the injustice Palestinians live with. A couple of
years ago on a local bus I met two students, who asked: “Was life without dignity worth living?” Palestinians increasingly think it isn’t. As Nelson Mandela once said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”


 

Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Campaign meet on the second Wednesday of each month. For more information:

Email sclondon@gmail.com
Visit wfpsc.blogspot.co.uk
Facebook facebook.com/walthamforestpsc