Human rights activists provide security for Palestinian olive harvesters

By DAN IZENBERG
October 16, 2007 23:34
4 minute read.
olive harvesters 298 88 aj

olive harvesters 224 88 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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There were not many people harvesting their olive trees on Tuesday in the pastoral orchards belonging to Palestinian farmers near the villages of Jit and Sarra, 15 km. southwest of Nablus. That may have been because the orchards lie in a valley below Gilad Farm, an illegal outpost established in memory of Gilad Zer, a security officer for the Shomron Regional Council who was killed by Palestinians on May 29, 2001. The farm has been the source of attacks on olive harvesters in the past. And Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that mobilizes Israeli volunteers to protect Palestinian harvesters, reported that on Monday, three masked settlers had thrown rocks at farmers from Jit who were picking their olives. Two of the farmers, a 60-year-old man and a young boy, were wounded. On that day, there were apparently no Israelis or international activists in the orchards to protect the farmers. So the farmers asked the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, to send some volunteers the following day, since some of the families planned to continue working there. The orchards are located in the "blue" zone, one of three zones designated by the IDF to determine the degree of danger that the harvesters face. The red zone is the most dangerous. No Israelis are allowed into it and Palestinians may only enter with an army escort. The blue zone is the second most dangerous area. Here Palestinians may, if they want, harvest their olives without army protection and Israelis are allowed to enter. So on Tuesday, a handful of families returned to their orchards supported by three volunteers: a woman who identified herself as Linda, 74-year-old Yona Bental and Zakariyeh Sada, a Rabbis for Human Rights staffer who lives in the area. The volunteers were situated north of the Gilad Farm when harvesters further south called to say they had been attacked by four settlers and that one of the farmers had been hit in the head with a rock and required medical treatment. Sada told The Jerusalem Post he started running toward the farmers and yelled at the settlers that the police were on their way. While Sada was rushing toward the farmers, Bental ran to the volunteers' car to keep an eye on it. According to Bental, two of the settlers ran up the hill toward the car from the orchard and began to intimidate and curse him. They also threatened to burn the car. Bental told the Post he did not take the settlers seriously and held his ground. They ran off, leaving him and the car unharmed. When asked whether he had been afraid, Bental, who has taken part in the annual olive harvest since 2004, said he had already raised his family and no one was dependent on him any more. In the meantime, Ascherman, who had heard about the incident, drove from Jerusalem to the orchards while trying to rouse the police and army to stop the incident. The police were helpful and sent three patrol cars to the orchard. But, he said, the army was uncooperative and ignored his calls, saying they knew of no incident in the area. By the time Ascherman arrived, the incident was over. The injured harvester had been taken by ambulance to Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus and his family had left the orchard to accompany him. Only one family remained behind, and they were happy to see two of the volunteers, Bental and a woman named Avia, who had taken the 4:45 a.m. bus from Tel Aviv in order to catch the RHR bus that left Jerusalem at 6. For the next few hours, the volunteers worked beside a grizzled old farmer and his three daughters, members of the Hindia family from the Tal village. The family did not appear to be fazed by the stoning incident that had taken place an hour or two earlier. They had 20 trees to harvest and worked systematically and patiently. Two of the daughters spread a large blue synthetic sheet beneath part of the tree while their sister, the apparent leader, climbed up the tree and began thrashing the upper branches with a wooden stick. The others did the same from below. Olives and olive leaves rained down onto the sheet. When the thrashing was over, the girls picked the remaining olives from the branches. When the tree was picked clean, they and the volunteers moved on to the next. Ascherman, in the meantime, had heard that there was trouble between soldiers and Palestinians in Marda, a kilometer or two north of Ariel. The army had moved into the village at 9 a.m. and had taken over the roof of a four-story apartment building overlooking Road 505. Soldiers explained that they wanted an outlook over the highway because villagers had been stoning motorists driving on it. The presence of the soldiers enraged the villagers and riots broke out. Soldiers fired rubber bullets, tear gas and other riot-control ordinance at the villagers and later imposed a curfew. When Ascherman arrived, he saw makeshift roadblocks built by the villagers, burnt tires and roads strewn with rocks. By the time he left, a tense calm had descended over the village. Marda had not been part of Ascherman's itinerary; he had driven into the village spontaneously to see if he could help calm matters down. It is not clear whether he succeeded, but it was all in a day's work.

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