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8 novembre 2013 5 08 /11 /novembre /2013 01:15


The Olive Industry in Palestine

Published on Tuesday, 05 November 2013 12:05

Melica Rochi/Alternative Information Center

For centuries olive trees have been a vital component of Palestinian tradition, culture and economy. The majority of Palestinian farmers depend almost entirely on the cultivation of olives, which are a major contributor to the national income. Nearly 45% of agricultural land in the occupied territories is planted with olive trees, with at least 12 million trees, predominantly in the West Bank. It is estimated that in a year of good weather, the land can yield 34,000 tonnes of olive produce, the equivalent of 160 million to 190 million dollars, or 15-19%, of all agricultural output - about one quarter of the gross national income in the agricultural sector. Approximately 95% of the harvest is intended for the production of oil, of which, albeit with many difficulties, a very high percentage is exported worldwide. The remaining 5% of produce is divided between wood processing and the manufacturing of soaps.

While many statistics show that the olive oil sector could contribute more to economic security and the generation of income and employment, several obstacles limit production. A number of factors directly attributable to the Israeli occupation negatively impact possibilities for increased or sustainable production: land confiscation; barriers dividing farmers from their lands; and violent settler attacks on Palestinian farmers, properties, and the vandalism of their trees.

The construction of the Wall, which is now 62.3% complete, cuts farmers’ access to their lands and necessary water resources. A 2004 report revealed that 86% of the lands confiscated during the construction of the Separation Wall were used for agriculture. This is compounded further by the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian lands for the expansion of Israeli settlements, a process that continues unabated. According to UN estimates, once the wall is completed, up to one million olive trees (approximately 10% of the total number of olive trees in the occupied territories) will fall into the Seam Zone, inaccessible to Palestinians.  

Furthermore, areas designated as Israeli settlements and military bases have imposed bans, prohibiting access to Palestinians. Many of the imposed barriers separating Israel from the West Bank are only open during the olive season, preventing the regular maintenance of the trees throughout the year and reducing the quality and yield of the harvest. This mechanism forces Palestinian farmers to depend on receiving permits from the Israeli authorities to reach their land, which are never guaranteed: in 2012 around 40% of permit requests were rejected during the entire harvest period. Additionally, access to lands adjacent to Israeli settlements is severely limited, with farmers given only certain days and hours to gather olives.

A number of issues stem not only from physical barriers, but also from the persistent harassment and intimidation perpetrated by settlers. The majority of acts of violence directed against Palestinians occur during agricultural or grazing activities and peak during harvest season. Over the years, farmers have had to adapt in order to prevent the damage, or even theft, of their crops. Following the official start of the harvest season of this year, settlers destroyed over one thousand olive trees in October alone.

Since the beginning of 2013, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has recorded the damage and destruction of more than 8,300 trees and saplings, compared to just over 8,500 counted in 2012, however the season has yet to finish. Such violence seems designed to instil fear among Palestinians in hopes that they will abandon their lands.

On October 3, a group of Israeli settlers from Neve Daniyel settlement surrounded two Palestinian farmers working in the nearby area of Al Khader (Bethlehem), verbally abusing them and preventing them from working the land. When Israeli forces arrived on the scene they arrested the farmers and seized their tractor and other farm equipment, declaring the land “State land”.

In the district of Bethlehem alone, approximately 790 hectares have been seized for the construction of over 20 settlement neighbourhoods and outposts. The vast majority of these lands were confiscated illegally, while those purchased legally carry high price tags. One farmer, Mohammad Abdeh from Beit Fag'ar village, near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, has on a number of occasions been offered up to $15 million to sell his land to the Israeli government - offers which he has categorically refused. Not all farmers can refuse such offers however, with one of Abdeh’s cousins selling his land for the construction of an outpost settlement that still houses over 60 settlers.

The lack of security and protection provided by authorities continues to jeopardize the already precarious economic situation in Palestine, and to fill this void, a number of NGOs organize annual solidarity camps and alternative tourism during the olive-picking season to assist farmers in the harvest. A large percentage of the agricultural workforce has responded to the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), one of the many organizations active in this field. Ultimately however, it is not enough.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced during a speech on October 26 in Bethlehem’s Manger Square that the Palestinian Authority would compensates farmers for damages caused by Israeli settlers by planting of 750,000 olive trees throughout the West Bank. Someone should however point out to the Prime Minister that farmers do not need new trees -they can easily be destroyed - but protection for those already standing.

This article was originally posted by the Alternative Information Center.


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