The Palestinian Authority and the international community could do more to help
Palestinian olive farmers who already struggle to harvest their crops under
stiff IDF restrictions and the dangers of settler violence, according to a
report being released by Oxfam in Jerusalem on Friday.
The report, which
was timed to coincide with the official start of the olive harvest on Friday,
chastised the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the international community for
failing to help one of the most ancient forms of West Bank
“With limited investment [by the PA and international
donors], and simple changes in farming methods, Palestinian olive farmers could
double their incomes and produce a consistent supply of high-quality olive oil
able to compete at home and abroad,” explained Oxfam International Executive
Director Jeremy Hobbs on Thursday.
He cautioned, however, that “such
investments can have little effect unless Israel, which has occupied the West
Bank since 1967, refrains from actions that restrict Palestinian farmers from
access to their land and means of livelihoods, and to foreign
According to the report, 45 percent of the Palestinian farmland
in the West Bank and Gaza is used for farming 10 million olive trees, with the
potential to yield 34,000 metric tons of oil in a good year and 5,000 tons in a
It added that olives and olive oil are two of the main
agricultural exports from the Palestinian territories.
According to the
report, the olive sector contributes up to $100 million in yearly income for
some of the poorest Palestinian communities.
accounts for 10% of the GDP, but the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture
allocated only 1.21% of its total budget in 2009 to those farmers, stated
Out of this sum, “59% is spent on salaries and operating costs,
leaving little support for the farmers themselves,” Oxfam
“Similarly in 2009, donor support for the development of
agriculture was limited to less than 1% of total funds,” the report
It added that ineffective management and poor production practices,
as well as environmental issues such as climate change, had caused the
Palestinian olive industry to stagnate.
In particular, the report noted,
Palestinian farmers could become international leaders in the organic olive oil
and fair trade markets.
The report also took issue with settler violence
and IDF restrictions on water, movement and access for Palestinians in the West
It noted that according to the UN, in the first half of 2010,
vandals from the settlements had damaged thousands of olive trees. Oxfam added
that according to the left-wing group Yesh Din, no action had been taken to
bring the vandals to court.
The report further charged that settlers, and
sometimes soldiers, had harassed Palestinian olive farmers.
IDF roadblocks and checkpoints make it hard for Palestinian farmers to bring
their crops to local and international markets, said Oxfam.
time delays, increased transport, labor and equipment costs, security checks,
lack of access to proper storage facilities and damage which occurs during the
handling and unloading of the produce, reduce the competitiveness of Palestinian
agriculture produce and introduce high levels of unpredictability in terms of
quality and delivery times. All this prevents Palestinian olive and olive oil
traders from penetrating global markets,” stated the report.
the trucks wait for 15 to 20 hours to cross a checkpoint, which can seriously
affect the quality of the olive oil through deterioration in direct sunlight.
Often the bottles are damaged and oil leaks,” said Oxfam.
charged that Israel’s security barrier kept Palestinian farmers from properly
accessing their land. Palestinian farmers have had difficulty obtaining the
necessary permits, it added.
“Barrier gates are open infrequently and
only for a limited time,” stated the report.
But an IDF civil
administration spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that in general,
“the entrance of Palestinians to the security fence area for agricultural
purposes is carried out according to established procedures, and requires [that
the harvesters] submit a request together with documents that prove linkage to
The statement continued, “In recent months, the civil
administration turned to the heads of [Palestinian] councils and asked them to
submit requests in a centralized manner in order to coordinate the entrance of
landowners and their workers to the security fence area and allow a reasonable
amount of time to examine the requests.
“Despite these requests, the
heads of councils chose to submit their requests in a centralized manner only on
October 11, and therefore the requests will be examined in the coming days
according to procedure,” the statement said.
A defense source added that
the civil administration had begun asking Palestinian landowners to submit the
requests six months ago, and the majority had responded to the requests, while a
few had not.
When requests are sent, the source said, “there is no
We’ve had harvesters reaching their land from Bil’in, Ni’lin,
Jenin, and things are fine. In Wadi Rasha, a request was not put forward until a
few days ago.”
The source added that the permit system was essential to
ensure that smugglers and other elements were not allowed free access past the
security fence, from which they could easily reach the rest of the
“Within a week to two weeks, the forms are usually processed if
there are no security issues,” the source said.
Those who have submitted
the requests late “won’t lose their olives. A solution will be found,” he
Away from the security fence, special arrangements for harvesting
olives are only needed in cases where groves are situated within settlements, in
which case soldiers have been deployed to secure the harvesters.