One’s bond to the land and its fruit, and to the olive tree in particular, is an integral part of Palestinian identity. The importance of olives is first and foremost a result of it being the main source of income for many Palestinian families, especially ones living in the West Bank. Over the years, the olive tree and its fruit, leaves, and branches have become a Palestinian national symbol.
Every year during the olive harvest season there is a wave of violent attacks, theft of crops, and damage to or destruction of trees. Violence and vandalism committed by Israeli settlers is a continuous phenomenon and does not only occur during the olive harvest season. As a result, Palestinians have very limited access to their private lands: some private lands have an official limited access status given by the Israeli army which forbids Palestinians from accessing their lands without prior military coordination. As for lands that do not require military coordination, Palestinians are often afraid to freely visit their lands. Limitations on land access has increased the popularity of olive growing as an agricultural solution in the West Bank, mainly due to the fact that olive trees do not require intensive care in comparison to other crops.
As mentioned above, and due to the increase in violent incidents, the Israeli army established a “coordination mechanism “ in which the army allows Palestinian farmers access to their private lands (inaccessible otherwise) twice per year – once for plowing the fields in the spring and once for harvesting olives in the fall. This mechanism requires Palestinian farmers to submit a request for entry which the Israeli army then must approve; the army must allocate a number of days during which farmers will be allowed to work their lands, and it should also send soldiers to accompany and protect the farmers on those days.
The “coordination mechanism” is ostensibly intended to prevent violence and vandalism during harvest season, yet in reality this mechanism works against Palestinians. Firstly, this mechanism permits only very few days during which farmers may access their lands, greatly limiting the farmers’ work. Secondly, the reality on the ground exposes how the Israeli army fails in its duty to protect Palestinians. In many cases, the army is not present on the ground when crimes are being committed by Israeli citizens, and in cases where they are present, they often avoid intervening and instead protect the Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians during the harvest. Occasionally, soldiers attack Palestinians with stun grenades and tear gas and, in doing so, support the Israeli offenders. Lastly, denying Palestinians’ access to their lands and requiring that they coordinate with the Israeli army ahead of time leads to a situation in which settlers have a large window of opportunity during which they can go to those lands and steal the crops. In many cases Palestinian farmers gain access to their lands on the days assigned by the Israeli army only to find that the crops have already been harvested.
An Overview of the 2021 Olive Harvest Season
The following data includes incidents in which offenses were committed against Palestinian farmers and their property during the 2021 olive harvest season, between October 1st and November 15th. In some of the incidents, official complaints were filed to the Israel police and Yesh Din’s legal staff is monitoring the investigation of these cases.
It is important to note that Yesh Din did not document all incidents that took place during the olive harvest season, and that this article only addresses the incidents which were reported to us. Additionally, the data addresses only incidents that were directly related to the olive harvest; during the same time period other offenses were committed against Palestinians and their property that were not related to the olive harvest, and these incidents are not included here.
2021 Olive Harvest Data
Yesh Din field researchers reported 42 offenses committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinian residents of the West Bank:
- 13 incidents relating to violence, in which Israeli civilians physically attacked Palestinian farmers while out in their fields. As weapons, the Israeli civilians used blows, wooden branches and clubs, metal pipes, stone throwing, tear gas, threats, and live ammunition.
- 17 incidents of crop theft, in which Israeli civilians invaded private Palestinian lands and stole the olive crop (this is made possible in part due to the fact that Palestinians are restricted by the “coordination mechanism”).
- 12 incidents of damage to/destruction of trees. In three of these incidents, trees were burned and in 9 incidents trees were cut down; at least 450 olive trees were damaged or destroyed.
- 4 incidents in which access to private land was denied, or there was takeover of a private Palestinian land by an Israeli civilian.
*4 incidents were counted twice due as they included violence and vandalism of private property
Testimony of a Palestinian Farmer who was Attacked in October 2021:
“[…] we harvested two trees and started working on the third, the time was between 9am and 9:30am. Suddenly we saw a large group of settlers standing on our land holding bats, bars, and pipes. Two settlers were armed with guns in their hands. They were all young men, and some had covered their faces. They got closer to me and started hurling stones at me point-blank. The workers I had hired to help me on that day ran up the hill and started hurling stones at the settlers in order to help me escape as well but they didn’t succeed. I started screaming and yelling for help […] when I did that, one of the settlers – one of the two who had guns in their hands – approached me and with his other hand he sprayed me with tear gas. I tried to get up but they kept hurling stones at me. I stand up and they throw stones and I fall. I crawled and kept crawling and barely made it to the main road. When I finally got there, it felt as if a thousand years had passed. They kept running after me and throwing stones. It was life-threatening. By the time I got to the main road, other Palestinians saw what was happening and started getting closer. The settlers started hurling stones at them to make them leave. During that time, two different police cars arrived to the scene, one from the north and one from the south. The policemen saw the settlers beating me and throwing stones at people and passing vehicles. I cried to one of the policemen “Help me! Catch them!”, but he didn’t move and instead yelled at me in Arabic “get away from the road.” I stayed there next to the main road and waited for the army and more police to show up. Afterwards a policeman approached me and took my personal information. I told him that the settlers stole my bag which had my phone, ID card, and medicine and I told him that they stole the crops I’d harvested and all of my equipment […] I asked the first policeman – the one who yelled at me – “who will bring back my bag and all its contents”? and he answered that we Palestinians deserve what the settlers do to us because yesterday he was driving on the main road and stones were thrown at him”.
The incidents documented by Yesh Din demonstrate that the State of Israel and its authorities (military and law enforcement agencies) fall-short in their duties according to International Humanitarian Law, which state that the occupying force has the obligation to protect the residents of occupied territory and their property.
As we do each year, in 2021, Yesh Din’s legal staff addressed law enforcement authorities in the West Bank in advance of the olive harvest season. Our correspondence focused on requests made by Palestinian farmers from several villages to ensure their protection when settlers attack, and to safeguard the harvest season in general. Yesh Din’s correspondence also specifically highlighted areas that are known to be problematic from our documentation over the years. In spite of our efforts, many offenses were reported in those areas in 2021.
From our documentation of this harvest season, it is apparent that in 2021 Israeli law enforcement agencies in the West Bank failed to prevent incidents of violence, theft, and destruction. In addition, soldiers were directly involved in denying Palestinian farmers access to their lands and failed to protect Palestinians from settler violence in a systematic and unjustifiable manner that opposes the Israeli army’s own protocols.