Olive Harvest: Issues and Challenges
1. Denial of Access
Internationals are not allowed to go through gates in the Apartheid Wall or into land which is inside settlements. We therefore had to turn down some requests from villagers. The exception was a mass PARC event going through the gates into Ariel settlement, but it was a one-off arrangement between PARC and the Israeli army.
In the areas south and west of Nablus internationals were sometimes turned off land by the army where it was close to aggressive settlements such as Qedumim, Bracha and Yitzhar. In these areas we encountered “closed military zones”. Both the German-speaking and the British groups associated with IWPS also encountered this problem and were sometimes prevented from picking. This raises the whole issue of whether some farmers feel that internationals are a liability rather than a help because they too may be prevented from picking when accompanied.
2. Refusal of Co-ordination
In Burin (and maybe in other places too) some farmers refuse to accept army co-ordination. This is a matter of principle, as they refuse to accept they have to get the occupiers’ permission to pick olives on their own land and to accept the restrictions of time that arise from co-ordination. IWPS supports this position and was always willing to accompany these families, but it means that our position and that of the farmers is more vulnerable and uncertain. In fact none of us experienced direct harassment or attacks from settlers, though we heard of some aggressive actions of settlers before we arrived on the land.
3. Itinerant Workers
Another issue, which we confess to knowing little about, is our relationship with itinerant workers for whom this season is no doubt an important way of earning much-needed income. We believe we did not encounter any of these people, neither is their presence a substitute for the presence of internationals, but it would be good to know more about paid workers.
Transport and its expenses is inevitably an issue when we have to meet early morning deadlines, and we feel it is necessary to pay taxi fares when farmers don’t lay on transport for us. There is more flexibility at the end of the day though we sometimes resort to taxis then too. The team feels this expense is entirely justified.
As can be seen from the list of villages we have covered, we work in a very wide geographical area covering all of the Salfit Governorate, east of Qalqiliya and south and west of Nablus. This increases our need for taxis. We are free to travel in this way because many farmers from Deir Istiya and nearby villages are helped by international groups coming into the village and staying here under the direction of Riziq, Naima and Zuhair. Clearly they provide a protective presence which we would have to fill if this were not a village with wide international contacts.
5. Accurate Assessment of Need
It is very difficult to confidently assess real need for a protective presence. Sometimes it is clear but often it is not. The mere proximity to a settlement does not necessarily mean there is danger. But the fear of danger is an incalculable thing, and we remain at a grave disadvantage when we have no common language to discuss the issues. We rely very much on the suggestions of local co-ordinators, and when we are approached directly by farmers we try to seek advice and we usually make arrangements through an English speaker. We always ask relevant questions (see OH Report 2011) to probe need for international presence but it doesn’t mean that we get the right answers. We believe this will always remain something of a grey area for us.
Overview of Work
From the day we started picking on 6th October the house team picked olives virtually every day until 2nd Nov. fielding numbers between 2 and 7 and sometimes dividing between 3 farmers and destinations. A typical day started at 7.30 or 8am and ended at 4 or 4.30pm. There was a welcome lull during the 3 days of Eid but it wasn’t until the rains started during the 1st week in November that requests really started to diminish. There was certainly enough work for all 7 volunteers, bearing in mind that we all had to take our days off and we needed time in the house to rest and write reports, do domestic tasks etc. We found that a rota of 3 days on and 1 day in the house was a useful guideline. At the time of writing the harvest is not quite completed but requests have finished.
Not only were the days busy but the evenings were too as the team had almost nightly meetings to decide priorities for the next day, and we usually had to make phone calls to both co-ordinators and farmers. Finalising all details was very time consuming and sometimes difficult. Sometimes we needed to use English-speaking go-betweens and there was considerable scope for confusion. However, we never turned up in the wrong place and we were never late. Sometimes farmers came to pick us up at the door, sometimes transport was paid for by PARC, but usually our journey to the fields was by taxi from the company in DI. The olive harvest is an expensive time for IWPS. However, all food during the day is provided by the families and it was always varied, tasty and nutritious. Sometimes we were invited for the evening meal as well.
We were invited to more PARC-organised pickings this year and we always participated as they are well-organised events which we all feel are well worth supporting.
For 2 weeks in October we had contact with 2 international groups, as last year. One was a group of 6 people from Austria and Germany which was organized by our IWPS German volunteers. They were resident in Kufr Qaddum and a separate report was written about their experiences. The second group of 30 people was from Britain who are organized independently by ex-volunteers with IWPS. They are the Friends of Burin and Madama and were resident in those villages. As indicated later in this report, all of these villages are among the most severely threatened by settler harassment in the West Bank.