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October 16, 2011

It is olive harvest season in Palestine and fears of not being able to carry out the collecting due to land seizures, road closures, violence and arrest are high. It would seem that these fears are well founded. In the months, weeks and days leading to the harvest hundreds of olive trees have been uprooted and dunams of land set a blaze by illegal Israeli settlers aided by the Israeli occupying forces in the areas surrounding Nablus and throughout the West Bank.

But it is not just the direct destruction of the agricultural land that is halting the harvest of the olives and denying many Palestinians of their only source of income. The village of Kafr Qaddum is a small village situated around 13 Kilometres outside Nablus. The village depends heavily on the agriculture industry and its links to Nablus and other cities for trade. However since 2004 the direct road to Nablus which has existed for over 300 years was closed by Israeli military due to so called ‘security reasons’. The road runs directly past one of the three illegal Israeli settlements that surround the village. Villagers explain however that the road ran close to the settlements for almost 20 years with very little incident. They continue to say how the villagers and settlers have never had much interaction and that the closing of the road was decided and enforced by the Israeli military. The road closure has seen the distance to reach Nablus from the village more than double. The village has no hospital or Doctor and relies very much on Nablus for health and emergencies. The village also depends on Nablus for schooling and work. The extra cost of the journey to Nablus is a huge burden on a village that already suffers the financial implications of an occupation. After the second intifada and construction of the Apartheid Wall and the restriction of Palestinian workers in Israel, Kafr Qaddum saw a rise of 75% in unemployment. In a bid to have the road opened again the village council has lodged a legal complaint and is attempting to fight the closure through the courts. However for the last 4 months the villagers have also held demonstrations on the road in order to collectively express their concerns and call for the road to be once again opened.

These demonstrations are often met with armed force from the Israeli military who stop the villagers from crossing the ‘red zone’ (a security buffer zone around the illegal settlements) through the means of firing tear gas and bullets at the villagers. In the first days of the Olive harvest Friday 7/10/11 after attempted negotiations with the Israeli military, farmers in the village of  Kafr Qaddum were told under no circumstances was they permitted to enter their fields to harvest their crop that day. The villagers were told that anyone entering the fields ‘would be shot at’ and that the villagers would not be able to return to their fields again if this order was not adhered too. The villagers decided to hold a small demonstration in protest to this decision. The demonstration on the part of the villagers was very peaceful from the start, with the elders of the village taking great care to ensure this. The demonstration was met by a large number of armed Israeli military who were situated around 100 yards behind a barbed wire fence they had erected in the middle of the road. The military, all wearing gas masks looked at any moment ready to fire tear gas and other weapons on the villagers often pointing these weapons towards the demonstration. The military also began to flank the village, appearing over the hilltops to the side of the protest again fully armed. The demonstrators took it upon themselves to attempt to defuse the situation by sitting on the floor of the road and expressing their demands of opening the road and allowing them to harvest through a megaphone. After a short while the villagers decided to end the demonstration in the hope that this would result in the Israeli military allowing them to harvest on the coming Sunday.

Orders to not harvest the olive trees in the last week have not been exclusive to Kafr Qaddum other villages around Nablus such as Qaryut and Azmut were blocked from harvesting on Friday 14/10/11. Other villages around Nablus and throughout the West Bank have suffered the same fate on different days. Attacks from settlers have also brought a halt to harvesting throughout the week. On Sunday 9/10/11 settlers attacked farmers from the village of Awarta with sticks and stones as they attempted to harvest their olives, with farming equipment also being stolen by the settlers. The following day Monday 10/10/11 settlers from the Elon Moreh settlement attacked villages from Azmut whilst attempting to harvest their olives. These two incidents are certainly not isolated as cases of settler violence since the harvesting has begun can be found throughout the West Bank.

In the last week the mainstream western media has seen fit to attribute some of its valuable airtime to the situation in this region. The prisoner swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who have been detained in Israeli jails for years for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been portrayed by the Israeli PR as the homecoming of a national hero, with little mention of the lives, conditions and reasons for detainment of the Palestinian prisoners discussed. The mainstream western media has been complicate in framing the story in this manner. The return of anyone who has been forcibly detained should be celebrated but context is needed in order to properly represent the story. Little has been said of the hundreds who are to be released with most media outlets framing the swap as between the Israeli government and ‘Hamas’. This is unsurprising as this is a formula typically followed. The portrayal of Hamas as nothing but a terrorist organisation and not the democratically elected political party that it is sees mainstream media outlets discuss attacks on Palestine, in this case the arrest and detention of hundreds of Palestinians, as somehow attacks on an organisation that is separate from its people. Under no terms would an attack on the UK ever be described as for example ‘airstrikes on Tory targets ’ or prisoner swap agreed with ‘Tory party’. This type of rhetoric, taken straight from Israeli PR, allows for the story to be framed in a humanitarian sense on the side of the Israeli soldier but not for the soon to be released Palestinian people. What is also missing from this story is the over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners that still remain languishing in Israeli prisons. Many of which are kept in solitary confinement. These prisoners for the last number of weeks have been on hunger strike, in protest to their status and the terrible conditions under which they are detained. These protests again have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

As already said, the release of any prisoner who has been detained under the circumstances that the people in this region find themselves is worthy of celebration. However the rate at which Palestinian people are being arrested and replacing those soon to be released can be seen as alarming. In just over a week in and around Nablus at least 11 people have been arrested and detained by Israeli military. At least one of these detained was a minor, a 17 year old medical student named Abbas, from the village of Kafr Qaddum. The young man was taken from his home in the early hours of Wednesday 5/10/2011, after Israeli military entered the family property unannounced. The soldiers after waking the family demanded everyone left the house and present their ID’s outside. After taking all ID’s and handing them back to Abbass’s parents and six younger siblings the soldiers kept Abbass’s and detained him. He was taken from the family home with no reason for the minor’s detention given. The family knew nothing of where Abbas was being kept for nearly six days. His father explained how Abbass had no political affiliation and that he had no time for such activities due to his studies. Much to the relief of Abbass and his family the 17 year old student was released a week after his detention. Another four men were taken from the village on the same night, another four men were taken from the village of Beita near Nablus on Saturday 8/10/11 and another two from Beita today 16/10/11. Many others just in the last week have been detained throughout the West Bank. Reasons given for these detentions usually consist of ‘…the men were taken for routine security questioning’.

This pattern of violence, land seizures, road closings, destroying of agricultural land, violence and arrest has seen the olive harvest become another factor in the hardship of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people who attempt to make a living for their families are faced with the economic difficulties of little job opportunities due to travel restrictions and permits, the cost of travel being hiked up due to road closures and diversions and the health risk of longer journeys to hospitals, violence from settlers and Israeli military and the daily risk of arrest. This all beggars the question, how does the Israeli government and its forces expect the Palestinian people to survive and live under these conditions and create a platform for stability and peace?

This suffering discussed coupled with the anti climax of the UN bid and the subsequent halting of a third of US aid to Palestine by the US congress (a punitive measure in retaliation to the Palestinian bid for statehood) which has already resulted in large numbers of job losses and will continue to do so in the future. Would seem to suggest that there is little consideration or care being attributed to how the Palestinian people are to make a living or live a life consisting of any sort of stability. Instead it would seem that they are expected to continue to live in such hardship and then be punished and condemned for any attempts to change and improve their situation.

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