On Saturday the 22nd of October, an ISM affinity group went into the fields near Salim village to join locals in the olive harvest. A family had contacted us to help them to pick olives in a plot of 100 dunums of land that they had been unable to harvest for the past five years. A small settler outpost had been built very close to their land, which was already close to the larger Elon More settlement. As we drew near to the relevant plot we met the Palestinian family – they were being denied entrance by the Israeli military. At first the soldiers told us to leave or we would be arrested by the Border Police who were about to turn up, and that the family would not be allowed to pick today because they had supposedly not organised it with the DCO (district co-ordination office – the joint Israel-Palestinian Authority civil administration). Their story changed, however, because they also told some of us that it was a closed military zone – of course they could not produce a map of the alleged zone as they are required to do. The Commander referred to a Jewish ISM activist as “the lost Jew”, and told her he was ashamed of her. When challenged on his poor treatment of these people he responded that “Arabs aren’t people”. After about half an hour of waiting and some negotiations, a DCO representive and some Border Police arrived and we were allowed onto the land to pick after everyone was searched. They also watched us while we picked. Due to their enforced neglect over the last five years, the olive trees were not as fruitful as many trees in other plots that we had picked from in Salim the previous day.
During the previous two days, we did not get such problems. In Azmut on the 20th, the areas we helped pick in were only accessible by foot (or donkey) so the military just watched us from the nearby Elon More settlement (we could make out the jeep’s flashing yellow light in the distance). On the 21st we first went back to a different plot in Azmut – a farmer there was too afraid to pick from his land because of the rather menacing presence of two settlers who had parked their cars up on a nearby hill and were watching. We moved to Salim where we found the encouraging sight of hundreds of Palestinians out in the land picking olives. Military jeeps regularly rolled down the track in the valley, patrolling and occasionally asking Palestinians how much longer they were going to be. These were DCO sanctioned harvest days too and the military were there to “facilitate” this, supposedly. Rabbis For Human Rights had brought a bus load of people out that day to help, so the presence of Israeli activists in the land almost certainly helped persuade the military to be on relatively good behavior. The 22nd was a Saturday, so it was shabbat and the Rabbis did not turn up. Fortunately, it meant no settlers turned up while we were there either, although a single armed settler did arrive before we got there and reportedly shouted at the military a lot.
Our guess was that the military only turned up on the 22nd because the settlers had complained to them. The villagers had been able to pick with few problems the previous day, and the DCO permit lasted for the whole period up to the 25th, so it seemed that it was only because the settlers can’t stand the sight of Arabs that the military gave the Palestinians problems. If this is indeed the case, it shows once again the Israeli military (despite it’s PR claims) siding with settlers against the indigenous people of the land. If we can bring ourselves to see propaganda for what it is, this should come as no surprise to us. After all, colonial settlement in the West Bank is at the fundamental level a project initiated and encrouaged by the Israeli government, with big “financial benefits and incentives to citizens – both directly and through the Jewish local authorities”, according to B’Tselem the Israeli human rights organisation.
While he was being prevented from accessing his land, a Palestinian named Sala’din made the frustrated comment that “this is the Israeli peace! The whole world thinks there is peace here now”. I can imagine that in similar circumstances British farmers would certainly not stand for such treatment by a foreign occupational army. The fact that majority of Palestinians continue to resist in a non-violent manner, even by simply living in their land as normal is a testament to their courage and humanity.
Click here to see more photos from that day.