As has been the tradition for generations, the month of October signalled the beginning of the olive harvest for hundreds of Palestinian villages across the West Bank. Each year, the harvest becomes a bigger challenge for the farmers who face a tightening siege from the Wall, expanding settlements, settler attacks and permit restrictions, all of which serve to force Palestinians from their land.
Between the end of last year’s olive harvest, which coincided with the start of the Annapolis negotiations in November 2007 and June 2008, the Occupation built 7,974 new settlement units. This construction of new settlements has contributed to a 1.8% increase in land confiscation since 2007, with much of this land being valuable agricultural land owned by Palestinian farmers. In total the Occupation has approved the construction of 40,000 new settlement units in the West Bank since Annapolis began. The increase in land confiscation and settlement construction is fully supported by the Occupation authorities, as is evidenced by the fact that the Prime Minister is responsible for signing building permits for settlers.
Until September 2008, there were 359 settler attacks as compared with 338 attacks in all of 2007. These violent assaults are sure to increase in number during the olive harvest, and in the first few days of October there have been several reports of attacks on Palestinian lands and lives, as well as abuses of Palestinian rights. They are part of increasing racist and religious persecution of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, tolerated and encouraged by Israeli institutions and policies at large. While Palestinians in the West Bank see settlers attacking them on their lands, Palestinians in Akka see their homes torched, cars destroyed and businesses ransacked.
Summary of attacks and systematic abuses against Palestinian farmers:
Permit system and siege:
• Palestinian farmers whose lands are behind the Wall are forced to apply to the Occupation authorities for permits to leave their respective villages and harvest their olives. However, the authorities have made it very difficult for the farmers to successfully obtain permits. For instance in the village of Zbuba, in the Jenin district, of the 30 people who applied, only three were granted a permit to leave the village.
• Many of those who did receive a permit were not guaranteed access to their fields, as Occupation forces have been known to take permits from villagers and destroy them on the spot. This form of abuse was documented in the village of Taybeh, Jenin district, where twenty permits were taken from villagers on October 6 2008, thus preventing these villagers from accessing their own agricultural fields and olive trees.
• Furthermore, in some cases, Palestinian farmers were only granted permits to cross the Apartheid Wall through checkpoints that were not in the villages they are living in. For instance, a farmer living in the village of Jayyous might only be given a permit to cross the Wall through the village of Falamya, thus forcing the farmer to travel many kilometres just to reach the point where he could cross the Wall and access his farmland. This is yet another method of adding pressures and obstacles to the Palestinians in an effort to deter them from using their traditional lands.
• Another strategy used by the Occupation to restrict the movement of Palestinians is the closing of all gates and checkpoints throughout the West Bank on Jewish holy days. Since there are almost two weeks of holy days in October, which have cut down the amount of time that farmers have been able to spend in their fields during this critical harvesting season. This strategy effectively imprisons Palestinians in their own villages, as the entrances and exits are completely blocked off, and villages become isolated from the external world.
• Similarly, Occupation authorities also negatively affect the olive harvest by severely restricting the amount of time that farmers are allowed to pick the olives. For instance, in Tulkarm, farmers are only allowed to harvest their olives from October 22 to October 30. In other words, the farmers only have eight days to do the work that normally takes a full month to complete.
• There have been already numerous reports of settler attacks against Palestinians since the harvest began on October 2. For instance, on October 2, a settler from the Giv’at Shomron settlement attacked Azzoun village, damaging property and threatening lives. Occupation forces allowed the attack to go on for some ten minutes before intervening and attempting to de-escalate the situation.
• Another attack came on October 5 in Inmatin village, in the Qalqilya district, where a settler from the Kedumim settlement attacked the village, burned trees, and destroyed over ten dunums of land.
• On October 5, settlers from the Yizhar settlement near Nablus attacked a small village called Asira Al-Qibliya, throwing stones at villagers and destroying farmland.
• On October 7, a significant amount of farmland was burned and destroyed by settlers in the Jenin district.
• Also on October 7, farmland around the Hebron area was burned by settlers, and six people were injured in the settler attacks.
• On a farm near the Har Bracha settlement, outside of Nablus, four settlers began throwing stones at farmers who were picking olives in their fields. Six additional settlers arrived shortly and joined in the stoning, and it was only once the farmers began defending themselves that Occupation forces arrived to stop the attack. Before leaving, however, the settlers destroyed the farmland where the farmers were harvesting their olives.
In all of these cases of direct violence against Palestinians and their lands, Occupation forces were present, but they did nothing to prevent the violence from happening, nor did they stop the settlers in a timely fashion. In each instance, they waited ten to fifteen minutes before intervening and making an effort to stop the attacks.