Palestine's Burning Olive Groves
By Rannie Amiri
20 October, 2010
“Lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it … ”
Olives and olives oil. Nothing symbolizes Palestinian land, identity and culture as they do. They are the hallmarks of national pride and the veritable heart of Palestine 's agricultural economy.
Although the subjugation and daily humiliation of occupation takes various forms in East Jerusalem and the West Bank—demeaning checkpoint searches; arrest and interrogation of minors; preventing ambulances from expeditiously transporting the sick to hospitals; the eviction of families and demolition of homes—few situations evoke more outrage and deep sadness as do the torching of olive orchards by vigilante settlers.
Last Friday was the official start of the olive harvest season in the Israeli-occupied West Bank . Gunfire and real fire once again heralded its opening. Hundreds of trees were burned by settlers as Israeli soldiers looked on. Fire trucks were prevented from helping put out the blaze in what has become an annual ritual of despoiling the land by those who have illegally settled on it.
To coincide with the beginning of the harvest, the international relief agency Oxfam released its report, “ The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to Developing the Economy of Olive Oil in the West Bank ” on Oct. 15 in Jerusalem .
Oxfam indicates that Palestinian olive oil production contributes $100 million annually to some of the poorest, most disadvantaged families and communities in the West Bank . It is a primary source of revenue for the economy and nearly half of all agricultural land use is devoted to it. As one of the territory's major exports, the extent to which olives and olive oil contributes to employment opportunities and income for 100,000 Palestinian farming families cannot be overstated.
Yet, the Israeli government deliberately prevents access to land where olive farms are located.
“Physical barriers such as checkpoints and road blocks have restricted the free movement of people and goods within the West Bank and obstructed access for Palestinian agricultural produce, including olives and olive oil, to internal, Israeli and international markets,” the report said.
It also concluded the Israeli government sanctions settler violence against the groves, which include stealing its fruits, torching or uprooting tens of thousands of trees and attacking farmers to intimidate them from harvesting their crops.
“Settler attacks and harassment against Palestinian olive farmers are common.”
And Friday was no exception. As the AFP reported, settlers swooped down on the groves with automatic weapons, setting olive trees ablaze and chanting “Out, Out.”
Savaging the cultural heritage and economic viability of a people is an odious practice. Under any other circumstance, the deliberate, purposeful desecration of land and sabotage of livelihoods would be considered a war crime. It is time the international community call what happened in the West Bank last week just that.
Support Palestinian farmers through fair-trade purchase of their olive oil.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- A group of Israeli settlers broke into an all girls' school in the Nablus district village of As-Sawiya on Wednesday, setting fire to its storehouse containing furniture and unused sports equipment, the headmistress said.
Maysoon Sawalha said the school's cleaning woman arrived to find the lock on the main door broken as well as that of the storehouse, with all its contents torched.
The fire did not spread to the rest of school because the water main is located in the storehouse she said, adding that "otherwise the whole school would have been set on fire."
Settlers had also written racist slogans on the school's walls, including "regards from the hill tops"
"This is not the first attack on the school. Many attacks were carried out previously, the last of which was last year when settlers intercepted one of the classrooms and fired rounds of ammunition and gas canisters," Sawalha said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said a complaint had been filed with Israel's Civil Administration and that the body was now directly in touch with Palestinian Authority officials to "keep things quiet" in the area.
Israeli police, she added, are investigating the incident.
Sawalha called on international organizations to work on stopping such attacks "that put the life of the girls on risk causing them to suffer psychologically and panic out of such attacks."
The suspected arson follows a wave of reports from Palestinian farmers that settlers have been setting fire to agricultural land since the beginning of the traditional olive harvest in October.
On 4 October, Israeli settlers were suspected of setting fire to a Bethlehem village mosque, after ransacking it and setting fire to the carpets.
Director of PA Ministry of Religious Endowment in Bethlehem Muhammad Ayish at the time describing the arson as a "campaign against everything Palestinian."
On Tuesday, an Israeli rights group said that 90 percent of claims filed against settlers in the West Bank for assault to person or property against Palestinians fail to secure a conviction.
NABLUS, (PIC)-- The international Tadamun foundation for human rights has warned that the IOF troops and the Israeli settlers' attacks on Palestinian mosques have increased rapidly this year, indicating a hidden Israeli scheme against Muslim holy shrines in occupied Palestine.
Ahmad Al-Bitwai, a researcher at the foundation, explained that his group recorded 18 Israeli attacks against the Aqsa Mosque and other local mosques in occupied Palestine, including writing malicious and Nazi-like phrases on walls of those mosques.
According to Bitawi, the Israeli occupation authorities decided to annex the Ibrahimi Mosques in Al-Khalil city and Bilal Mosque in Bethlehem city and considered them as part of the Jewish heritage.
He also noted that the Israeli settlers attacked and burned a number of mosques in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Salfeet, including the mosque of Salman Al-Farsi in Bourin town, and the central mosque in Al-Libban village causing huge damage to each of them.
A few days ago, Israeli settlers attacked the Anbeyya mosque in Beit Fajjar village, south of Bethlehem, and burned it and tore copies of the holy Quran inside it.
Mosques in the 1948-occupied Palestinian cities of Haifa and Akka were also assaulted by Israeli settlers who, after they finished their crime, daubed the walls of those mosques with graffiti calling for declaring war on the Arabs and urging to kick them out of Palestine, Bitawi underscored.Bitawi urged the international community and human rights organizations to provide full protection for places of worship in occupied Palestine, to bridle the Israeli attacks on them, and to pressure the Israeli occupation authorities to leave the Muslims practice their religion freely.
GAZA, (PIC)-- Palestinian minister of religious affairs Taleb Abu Sha'ar warned that the Israeli municipal council in occupied Jerusalem intends to demolish more 220 graves in Mamanullah cemetery soon.
In a press release on Wednesday, Abu Sha'ar condemned this decision as unjust reflecting the size of Israel's hatred against Islam and Muslims and its keenness on demolishing Islamic landmarks in Palestine.
The minister expressed deep concern over this Israeli plan, especially since 300 graves were already demolished in this cemetery through a decision issued by the Israeli magistrates' court.
He stressed that this Israeli scheme revealed further the enormity of the violations committed by Israel without being held accountable by the international community.
The minister also denounced Israeli intents to build 17, 000 settlement units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying that the settlement encroachment is inevitably ongoing in light of the silence that befell the Arab, Islamic and international governments.