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The unreported tragedy of Palestine's olive harvest


October 19, 2012 - The olive harvest has always been a time of heart-warming celebration in Palestine. It gives a sense of fulfilment to families and communities alike. In recent years, however, the occasion has been marked by bitter despoliation. Israeli settlers have waged a callous campaign against this economic lifeline of ordinary Palestinian farmers. Between January and October this year, more than 7,500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers in the occupied West Bank. The right to private property is an inalienable right of all members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property." (Article 17)...

[91971]



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The unreported tragedy of Palestine's olive harvest

Dr. Daud Abdullah

October 19, 2012

The olive harvest has always been a time of heart-warming celebration in Palestine. It gives a sense of fulfilment to families and communities alike. In recent years, however, the occasion has been marked by bitter despoliation. Israeli settlers have waged a callous campaign against this economic lifeline of ordinary Palestinian farmers. Between January and October this year, more than 7,500 olive trees were damaged or destroyed by settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The right to private property is an inalienable right of all members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property." (Article 17)

According to UN estimates, almost half (48 per cent) of all agricultural land in the occupied territories is used to grow olive trees; most of these are in the West Bank. The local economy depends largely on the farming and marketing of olives, olive oil and other derivatives. In fact the olive oil industry supports around 80,000 families; the average size of a Palestinian family in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is 6 people. This year, officials in the West Bank expect the yield to be between 18,000-20,000 tons of oil.

In Gaza, about 33,790 dunums (one dunum is equal 1,000 sq metres) is now under olive cultivation. The Israeli military has levelled 7,300 dunums of land previously planted with olive trees along the border with the coastal strip. Even so, Israeli soldiers regularly open fire on farmers to prevent them from reaching their own land.

Faced with this annual onslaught by the Israeli army and settlers, the authorities in the West Bank have this year ordered farmers to begin the harvest early. So far, this measure has failed to avert the attacks.

When the settlers are not cutting down olive trees, they burn them or spray them with poisonous chemicals. Sometimes, they simply rob farmers of their crop at gun point. On still other occasions, they prevent the farmers from accessing their land. Invariably, in all cases, these depraved acts are carried out with the protection of the Israeli army. In the area of east of Yatta, in the Hebron governorate, more than 200 trees have been destroyed. Similar attacks were recorded near Nablus and Ramallah.

Having to contend with settler attacks is bad enough, but negotiating the restrictive measures enforced by the occupation is even worse. Farmers who manage to obtain permits to access their land must use the "agricultural gates" built along Israel's apartheid wall. Most of these are open only for a limited time during the annual harvest. Although the number of gates increased to 73 in 2012, the vast majority (52) remain closed throughout the year. Inevitably, the farmers' inability to plough, prune and fertilise their trees often results in a substantial decline in the quality and quantity of produce harvested.

Thousands of Palestinian farmers are denied permits to access their olive groves located on the other side of the wall either for "security reasons" or because they are unable to prove a "connection to the land". The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA) reported that 42 per cent of applications for permits to access olive groves behind the wall submitted prior to the harvest season were rejected in 2011. In 2010 it was 39 per cent. If this trend continues, a higher percentage will be rejected this year.

Even in countries where it is not native, the olive tree is an enduring symbol of peace. In Palestine, however, its wanton destruction by Israel's state-funded settlers symbolises a negation of any desire for peace. On another level, the longevity of the olive tree is also a symbol of resilience and steadfastness. Thus Palestinians view the relentless assault on their olive trees as part of the on-going process to dispossess and uproot them from their land.

Despite the damning evidence, the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din reports that since 2005 only one of the 162 complaints regarding settler attacks against Palestinian trees has led to the indictment of a suspect. In such an environment where the law of the jungle reigns supreme it seems only reasonable that the victims should be allowed to protect their property.

In civilised countries like Britain, the law allows people to use "reasonable force" to defend themselves and protect their property. Indeed, the newly-appointed Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced measures recently to allow householders to deploy "disproportionate" force to defend their homes and families. He told delegates at the Conservative Party conference: "Being confronted by an intruder in your own home is terrifying, and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side. That is why I am strengthening the current law." The proposed measures would allow householders to use force that they "believed was reasonable in the circumstances but was actually disproportionate when viewed with the benefit of hindsight".

Since foreign policy is often a reflection of domestic standards and values, Britain's Foreign Secretary should, without delay, support openly the right of Palestinians to protect their property. Failure to do so, for whatever reason, will demonstrate that the British government treats Israel as if it is above all laws and conventions.


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:: Article nr. 91971 sent on 20-oct-2012 23:57 ECT

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