Every year, without fail, Palestinians mark the beginning of autumn with the olive harvest. A sacred cultural event, families from across the country leave their towns and cities and head for their olive groves, passed down to them from the generations before.
And every year, without fail, much of the harvest is characterized by attacks on Palestinian farmers and families by Israeli settlers and armed soldiers. This year is no different.
Since the harvest began in early October, several incidents of settler attacks on farmers and their crops have been reported by activists and organizations in the occupied West Bank.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported more than 10 settler attacks directly related to the olive harvest in the first two weeks of the month.
According to the agency, settlers physically assaulted and injured three Palestinian farmers in the Nablus area villages of Tell and Jit and the Bethlehem-area village of al-Jab’a.
More than 100 olive trees were set on fire and more than seven incidents of produce theft were reported in the villages of Burin (Nablus) and Kifr al-Dik (Salfit).
Other incidents of chopping down and uprooting dozens of trees were also reported by local news outlets.
On October 14th, Wafa news agency reported that a group of armed settlers attacked Palestinian farmers while they were harvesting their olives in the Tulkarem area of the northern West Bank “and threatened to shoot them if they do not leave their land.”
Just days later, on October 16th, another incident made headlines when a group of masked settler youth armed with crowbars attacked an Israeli Rabbi and the group of Palestinian farmers and international volunteers he was with.
The incident took place in the village of Burin — a hotspot for settler attacks given its proximity to notoriously violent settlements like Yitzhar and Har Brakha.
According to the Times of Israel, a group of some 10 international volunteers were escorting a group of farmers from Burin and the neighboring village of Huwwara when around 30 masked settlers from Yitzhar descended upon them.
Rabbi Moshe Yehudai from the group Rabbis for Human Rights was one of five people from the group who were injured, suffering blows to the head and arm.
In yet another incident in Burin on October 19th, settlers from the Givat Ronen outpost were recorded hurling rocks at Palestinian farmers. Three farmers were reportedly hospitalized after being beaten and clubbed by the settlers.
On the same day, Israeli forces temporarily detained a group of Palestinian activists and farmers in the village while they were picking olives.
Ghassan Najjar, a local activist from Burin and one of those pictured above, posted a photo on Facebook of Burin’s olive trees that were set aflame by settlers, saying “I can’t find the words to describe the state of oppression that we are in every day.”
“But be sure, we come to our land to pick our olives to send a message to all the settler gangs, that we are greater than all of them,” Najjar wrote. “We will make sure that we will grow every inch of our land, and that burning and cutting our trees will not prevent our right to farm and access our land.”
With more than 12 million olive trees planted across 45% of the West Bank’s agricultural land, the olive harvest constitutes one of the biggest sources of economic sustainability for thousands of Palestinian families.
According to UN OCHA, the olive oil industry supports the livelihoods of more than 100,000 families and accounts for a quarter of the gross agricultural income of the occupied territories.
But, as local NGO MIFTAH notes, “olive trees carry more than an economic significance in the lives of Palestinians. They are not just like any other trees, they are symbolic of Palestinians’ attachment to their land.”
“Because the trees are drought-resistant and grow under poor soil conditions, they represent Palestinian resistance and resilience. The fact that olive trees live and bear fruit for thousands of years is parallel to Palestinian history and continuity on the land.”