March 02, 2003
Exhausted from this year's olive harvest? What if you had bullets whizzing overhead while you were doing it. The Palestinian Israeli conflict has once again affected the olive harvest. For years some Palestinians have been thwarted from picking their olives by nearby militant Israeli settlers in the "Olive Wars". Israeli settlers have declared a clear zone around settlements near Aqraba, Yanoun and other Palestinian villages to prevent terrorist acts. Occupants of the illegal Israeli settlements feel that the olive-picking season may be used as a trap to enable Palestinians to attack Israeli citizens so have tried to prevent the harvest and destroy the olive groves
In previous years Palestinian villagers felt that income from the olives did not justify the sometimes lethal encounters with the Israelis at harvest time but with the increased violence in the Middle East many Palestinians can no longer commute into Israel to earn money. As in centuries past, villagers can fall back on the olive trees for income, oil and pomace which is burned for heat. Palestinian extended families may own a few hundred trees, each of which will yield $5 worth of oil in a good year.
But the pickers are seen as a threat and are often attacked and forced from their fields. Israelis from the outposts, bitter over suicide bombings and roadside ambushes, feel justified in shooting at olive pickers to stop the harvest and punish the villagers economically. This has caught the attention of several international activist groups such as the International Solidarity Movement which now send volunteers to try to prevent the harvest violence. This season over 100 international activists were in Palestine to help with the harvest and to try to prevent the destruction of olive groves. The peace activists have gone home with stories of having been beaten along with Palestinian women, children and the old as they were forced from the groves.
The actions of the Israeli militants and private security squads has been decried by the international community and members of the Israeli parliament. The Israeli government has not been successful in preventing the violence or stopping the expansion or building of new illegal settlements. Peace activists claim that over two hundred thousand Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed during the last two harvest seasons.
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