I find myself back in Palestine after 2 1/2 years for the olive harvest partly because the urge to return never leaves and partly because I wanted to share the experience with my sidekick, Payne. We signed on to the Olive Campaign sponsored by the Alternative Tour Group (ATG) and Joint Alliance Initiative (JAI). ATG is the Palestinian tour group that had arranged the 1st tour I had here. JAI is a group sponsored by the YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine with a mission of spreading awareness of the occupation and its effects on the lives of Palestinians. Olive picking? More on that in a bit.
After a brief orientation at our hotel on Saturday evening, our group of 70 or so was divided into two picking groups and sent off on buses the following morning to separate fields. In other words – we were put right to work. What a motley bunch are we ranging in age from early 20s to 70s (perhaps +) and from France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, England, Sweden, Ireland, Korea, my little group of 6 from the US and probably others I’ve overlooked. Many in the group had done it several times before. For others, like Payne, it was their first time in Palestine.
Olive picking is labor intensive and the harvest season is short. Having a swarm of worker bees like us would be welcomed by anyone who owns a grove. Our assistance isn’t elicited, however, for the sheer labor force. Rather, the farmers we help are selected because of particular hardships they face under occupation. Our first farm was situated in a valley between two illegal settlements, one of them very new and continuing to expand. It would be bad enough to have one settlement looming over your farm, watching Palestinian land being gobbled up. It is not uncommon for extremist, gun toting settlers to harass their neighboring Palestinian neighbors. There have been many instances of ancient trees being cut down and burnt and new trees being uprooted in the dark of the night in addition to more overt menacing and harassing behavior. And the Israeli police and military do nothing to protect the Palestinians – the ones who are there legally! The presence of a swarm of internationals on the fields has proven to be very effective deterrent from settler harassment and interference.