Jalud, occupied West Bank – With the arrival of the olive picking season in Palestine, a 10-day campaign was launched to help and protect farmers in areas considered highly vulnerable to attacks by Israeli settlers.
Dozens of Palestinian volunteers, young and old, arrived on Wednesday morning in the village of Jalud, on the southern outskirts of the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, to help land owners in picking olive trees as soon as possible.
Another group of volunteers worked simultaneously with the landowners in the nearby village of Qaryut.
The campaign, organized by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, will cover 12 villages, mostly in the south of Nablus, but also in the Ramallah and Bethlehem areas. It will bring together more than 250 volunteers including university students, agricultural committees, local councils and villagers.
Muayyad Bisharat, head of advocacy at the Union of Women and Young Children, told Al Jazeera that the main goal of the campaign is to “strengthen the control of our natural resources, by bringing Palestinian farmers to their lands in Area C, and to other areas threatened by the Israeli occupation.”
At least 60 percent of the occupied West Bank is classified as Area 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 ‘hotspots’ south of Nablus,” Bisharat said. “The presence of large numbers of people on the ground frightens the settlers and makes them unable to carry out their assaults. When we bring in 50-60 volunteers every day, this is a sign that keeps the settlers away.”
Youth groups and popular committees also launched other campaigns for the season, which runs until November.
“Farmers will feel that they have been helped, especially in the most sensitive areas, where they have to pick olives quickly,” Bisharat said.
south of Nablus
Palestinian villages south of Nablus face the most systematic attacks by Israeli settlers across the occupied West Bank, including Qusra, Burin and Urif. The assaults include physical assault, hitting with stones and batons, damaging property including homes, schools and cars, and stealing and destroying 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 picking season, 17 of them in the Nablus governorate, followed by 10 in the Ramallah district.
Jalloud and the neighboring village of Qaryut are surrounded by three large settlements and a series of outposts on the edge of what remains of their land. The two small villages are frequently attacked by settlers, who often do so with the protection of the Israeli army.
The settlers in the nearby outposts of Adi Ad, Esh Kodesh and Ahya are considered one of the most violent outposts in the occupied West Bank. In 2019, settlers burned about 1,000 olive trees in Jalud. Recently in May, settlers set fire to an olive grove and cut off the electricity pole serving Galud for the third time.
Qasim Al-Hajj Muhammad is a 52-year-old farmer who owns several plots of land in Jalud with his brothers that they inherited from their father. The family’s land has been attacked by settlers on several occasions – including in one case the cutting down of 40 olive trees they had planted in the 1980s, and in another the burning of 150 olive trees planted by their father in the 1960s.
He told Al Jazeera that the settlers are trying to provoke the Palestinians with the aim of gaining a reaction that they can then use as an excuse for the army to prevent them from reaching their lands. They want us to do anything – just so they can control the area. “
The family’s struggle extends beyond settler attacks.
The Qasim family, like many others, is denied access to most of their land in areas close to settlements, except for two to three days a year. “They allowed us a day or two to grow our crops and one day to harvest them throughout the year,” Qassem said.
“We are not allowed to do anything else to preserve the trees, so every year, our revenue comes at a loss,” he continued, explaining that in one year, he and five other landowners collectively lost about 40,000 shekels ($12,400).
However, we are forced to go there and work on the days we are allowed to. If we leave it, the army and settlers will use it as an excuse to capture them.
Qassem estimated that Palestinian farmers in the area lose tens of thousands of shekels every year due to the Israeli occupation restrictions on their lands.
Always in groups
In the neighboring village of Qaryut, Rima Qaryouti and her family spent the day working in an olive grove overlooking the large settlement of Shilo.
She said she and her husband no longer bring their young children out of fear for their safety, and they make sure to “always come in groups.”
They want us to be afraid to come to our lands, they don’t want us to come and harvest our olives. But we always come. “We are steadfast,” she told Al Jazeera. “When we come in groups, we at least feel safer – that we are together.”
She said that when she and her family got to the land, they “always see the settlers coming, and they are always protected by the military.”
Bashar Qaryout, a local activist against settlements, told Al Jazeera that settlers have attacked Qaryout at least six times since the beginning of the harvest season. “There is not a single harvest that passes without crimes against us, assaults, arson, sometimes beating people with sticks.”
His family owns about 20 dunams (two hectares) on the nearby hill, which he said settlers have attempted to seize, including by setting up caravans on numerous occasions. He said that the strategic location of the area between the two large settlements of Shilo and Eli – which Israel seeks to link together – puts it at risk of expropriation.
“We are in a race against time, in a struggle against settlements,” Qaryut said, explaining that the majority of the agricultural land belonging to Qaryut and Julud has been designated as Area C.
Sarah Moscroft, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, told Al Jazeera:[Palestinians] They are subjected to increasing violence by Israeli settlers. Many of them are unsafe on the way to school, at work and even at home. Their orchards, especially olive trees, were destroyed, which reduced their income levels.
“As the occupying power, Israel must always protect civilians from all forms of violence and constantly hold the perpetrators of such violence to account,” she added.
We will not leave
Returning to Jalud, the head of the local council, Abdullah Al-Hajj Muhammad, said that these protection campaigns are important to support and strengthen the resilience of Palestinian farmers.
He told Al Jazeera that the additional assistance “reduces the burden on farmers and reduces the cost of harvesting olives” due to the high price of hiring a helping hand.
Qasim, the landowner, vowed to continue preserving his land to which he is allowed access, despite the annual losses and restrictions he faces.
He said Palestinian farmers “need international intervention” in order to “pressure [Zionist] entity (Israel).”
“This is our land and our right, and we inherited it from our fathers who we inherited from their fathers,” Qasim said.
“We will not leave our lands to the settlers as long as we breathe.”