26 Nov. '09: Olive harvest 2009: Army better prepared to protect farmers
On 30 May 2010, two suspects were indicted for stealing olives at al-Mughayir, a theft documented by a B'Tselem volunteer in the video presented here.
Testimonies given to B'Tselem and reports from Rabbis for Human Rights and OCHA indicate that the army was better prepared this year to protect Palestinian farmers from settler violence during the olive harvest, though the army did not prevent it completely. The army also continued to limit access of Palestinian farmers to land lying adjacent to settlements or on the other side of the Separation Barrier.
The 2009 olive harvest was poor, about one-tenth of the amount in a good year. This occurred in part because a poor year generally follows a good year in olive harvesting, and also due to environmental factors, among them the lack of rainfall. In certain areas, the crop was even smaller because of neglect of the groves, a result of Israel's having prevented the farmers from entering their land regularly for years to care for the trees and land.
For these reasons, the harvest period was much shorter than usual, meaning that Palestinian farmers were less exposed to settler violence. In addition, the Israeli authorities took a series of measures to protect farmers. For example, entry of Palestinians was coordinated with the Palestinian liaison office, friction areas were mapped and closed to settlers, two settlers were ordered not to enter the West Bank for six months, and a special battalion of Border Police officers was assigned to sensitive areas.
The army's and police's preparation indeed brought about a drop in the number of attacks by settlers and reduced their severity. Where there was prior coordination with the authorities, the olive pickers were able to work without disturbance by settlers. However, there were cases of attacks on Palestinian olive pickers, of picking of trees belonging to Palestinians and theft of the crops by settlers, of uprooting or cutting of trees by settlers, and of harassment of farmers on their way home from the harvest.
Also, the army continued to limit access of Palestinians to olive groves that had been annexed to settlement lands or groves that lie next to the Separation Barrier. For example, during the week of 7-10 October, security forces did not allow farmers from the villages of a-Luban a-Sharqiya, Sabastia, a-Naqura, ‘Azmut, Kfar Qadum, and Yasuf, to go onto their land, which lies adjacent to the settlements of Eli, Shavey Shomeron, Elon Moreh, and Kfar Tapuach, claiming that the farmers had not coordinated their arrival. In the Bethlehem area, the army imposed more stringent conditions for obtaining permits to enter farmland on the other side of the Separation Barrier, causing bureaucratic delay and late harvest of the olives. The permits were given only on 1 November, and even then only to the owners of the land, who were not allowed to bring relatives or laborers or farm equipment to their groves.
The farmers, who were appalled at the condition of their untended groves, demanded that the Civil Administration change the conditions for receiving permits and enable entry of equipment and additional laborers. According to the farmers, the Administration's representative promised such permits would be issued, yet in fact, the permits that had been issued were cancelled and no others were issued. Consequently, the farmers in the area could only tend their groves for a few hours this year.