The olive tree has become a symbol of Palestine due to its resilience and ability to flourish in the toughest conditions. The olive harvest is the main source of livelihood for thousands of Palestinian families in the occupied territories, but they face many obstacles due to the Israeli occupation – including Israeli restrictions on land access and settler attacks.
Under occupation, settler violence peaks during the olive harvest, which begins annually in October. What was once a joyous community and family celebration of natures bounty has become a time fraught with violence and fear.
This year, the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs in Palestine reported that the olive harvest season, which started on 7 October, was disrupted by Israeli settlers in 19 incidents: 23 Palestinian farmers were injured, over 1,000 olive trees were burnt, or otherwise damaged, and large amounts of produce were stolen.
Trees and harvesters were attacked by both settlers and Israeli forces.
B’Tselem documented Musa Abu Hashhash’s heartbreak as he discovered 300 of his trees had been destroyed:
Last Saturday, 10 October 2020, I went to my land to check on the trees. I was thrilled to see the fruit and planned to come back a week later to start harvesting. Three days later, on Tuesday, 13 October 2020, my wife and I were harvesting olives in another plot we own when I got a phone call informing me that my trees in Jab’ah had been damaged. I left everything, drove to my plot and met my neighbor there. I was shocked by what I saw! I can’t describe how I felt in those moments. I cried, not only over the olive trees but also over the hard work I’d invested in them for twenty years. My wife and I tended to the land from morning till night. We cared for the trees the way you care for children.
I called the Israel Police and told them that 300 olive trees, six of them 100 years old and the rest 20 years old, had been cut down. The next day, police officers came to the plot and photographed what was left of the trees. Then an officer from the Israeli DCO spoke to me on the phone. I think the vandals were settlers from Bat Ayin.
Every year, as Palestinian families set out to their olive groves, they are inevitably met with violence from the Israeli military and Israeli settlers, who are known to coordinate attacks on Palestinian farmers and their crops during the harvest. Farmers cannot access their land except by permit, with long waits in hot weather effectively making them sitting-duck targets of violent settlers.
Each of these incidents affects a family and community economically and socially as well as having a grave effect on mental health and wellbeing for the farmers and their families.
Olive Trees play a very significant role in the Palestinian Tradition. They have been always considered both an indispensable element of Palestinian livelihood and a symbolic token of peace and prosperity.
The months of October and November mark the Olive Harvest season in Palestine and are the perfect time to showcase the wares produced from this vital crop.
Markets, festivals and tours take place selling and celebrating the rich, healthy olive oil, olives and olive oil soaps and beauty products as well as traditional handicrafts and ceramics.