Picking Olives at al-Walaja: A Harvest of Resistance

Fadi Abu Saada – Al-Akhbar – 13 Oct, 2011

Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank struggle to harvest olives amid Israelis that steal their land and restrict their movement. Yet the inhabitants of al-Walaja villiage in Palestine continue to resist by carrying on the age-old tradition.

Bethlehem — This year’s olive harvesting season began in the Palestinian village of al-Walaja. Located in the West Bank on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem, al-Walaja’s 500 inhabitants live amid a landscape of pine forests, olive trees, and vineyards. Al-Walaja is surrounded by Israeli settlements that were built on lands belonging to the village. The Israeli Jerusalem train, which connects the Hebron settlements, south of the West Bank, to occupied Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, passes underneath al-Walaja.

Dozens of Palestinian girls wearing traditional Palestinian clothing arrived to assist in the olive harvest. A big crowd of villagers from the surrounding Bethlehem area also came to participate. The villagers defiantly harvested their olives before the eyes of Israeli occupational soldiers who stood guard to military bulldozers – bulldozers which work around the clock to appropriate what is left of the village’s land for settlement roads and other projects.

Director of the Palestinian Heritage Center, Maha al-Sakka, organized the community olive harvest, which attracted around 50 Palestinian girls, all wearing the traditional Palestinian dress. Al-Sakka spoke to al-Akhbar about the event: “Organizing [the event] for the season of goodness and giving, the season of harvesting these blessed trees, is intended to send a message to the entire world that the Palestinian people have been on this land for thousands of years, and will continue to exist despite all the crimes of the occupation.”

Al-Sakka explains the symbolism behind the traditional Palestinian attire. “The idea is to link the present to the past by dressing these girls in the same costumes Palestinian Canaanite women have been wearing for thousands of years. This is because we will remain on this land, just like our ancestors did.”

A 350-year-old ‘Bedouin’ olive tree, the oldest of its kind in Palestine, is located on land owned by Mahmoud and Salah Abu Ali. The Abu Ali brothers told al-Akhbar of the savage campaign by Israel occupation forces to drive Palestinian residents out of al-Walaja village.

Al-Akhbar has closely followed the participation of dozens of foreign activists in the olive harvest. These foreigners arrived in the Palestinian territories to assist the Palestinians in their harvest. They stress that their presence is a form of resistance and solidarity with Palestinians in their battle against the Israeli occupation.

The Abu Ali family invited everyone who contributed to the olive harvest campaign in al-Walaja village to a customary Palestinian breakfast. The family served traditionaltaboon bread with olive oil, thyme, and olives produced on Palestinian lands.

A Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture report estimated a production of 115,000 olives this season: 10 percent would be pickled, while the rest would be used for oil extraction. The ministry estimated the quantity of oil produced this season at 24,000 tons. This output is one-third higher than the average rate of production (18,000 tons).

On Monday, the Popular Campaign Against the Walls and Settlements launched the ‘You Are Not Alone’ campaign to support farmers in 150 Palestinian villages. These villages, adjacent to the Apartheid Wall and settlements, have witnessed the increasing frequency of attacks by Jewish settlers and Israeli occupation forces. Every year, these villages experience confrontations and attacks on farmers. Their harvests are often stolen, their trees butchered, and their lands burned to the ground. The occupation forces also prevent many Palestinian villagers from reaching their lands through the construction of security barricades and check points.

The beginning of the olive harvesting season in Palestine coincides with the Jewish Sukkot holiday. Each year, occupation authorities take advantage of the holiday to impose a comprehensive closure on Palestinian territories for more than a week. This translates on the ground to increased military checkpoints, limited movement between cities, and the barring of Palestinians from land controlled by Israeli security. These policies prevent Palestinians from harvesting their olives and expose them to harassment by extremist settlers.

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