Another narrative

Palestinians and the Rabbis for Human Rights (RFHR) represent rights of Palestinian farmers.

narrattive 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
narrattive 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the West Bank Palestinian village of el-Jalud, a burning hillside consumed hundreds of century-old olive trees, and glass shards from smashed car windshields and stones lay scattered around an elementary school. Earlier, about 20 masked Jewish settlers descended from outposts in the hills surrounding the village.
The attackers split into three groups. One set fire to the olive groves. Another broke open the gate of the school and hurled stones at it while it was full of schoolchildren. A third smashed Palestinian cars.
Israeli security forces, which had pledged to protect el-Jalud from settler assaults, said afterward they didn’t see the attack.
But Fauzi, a Palestinian farmer in his 60s, looked on as almost 200 of his olive trees burned.
However, Fauzi, who since 1997 has lost over 100 trees each year to the violence, remains optimistic. He, along with other Palestinians and the Rabbis for Human Rights (RFHR) organization, believes that tension between Palestinian farmers and outpost settlers can be reduced if security forces do more to prevent the clashes.
Currently, Fauzi depends on RFHR to defend him. The organization is comprised of rabbis and rabbinical students who for 25 years has represented the rights of Palestinians and other marginalized communities in Israel. In Fauzi’s case, RFHR coordinates with the IDF to guard Fauzi while he farms. They also guide Fauzi through the West Bank legal system.
A month after this confrontation, Fauzi said Israeli security forces must accompany him more often to stop settlers who impede him from farming. He cited an incident from the previous January where settlers from the outposts surrounding el-Jalud attempted to set up a blockade to stop him from plowing his field. In a video, IDF soldiers move settlers away from Fauzi as they try to get in the way of his tractor.
However, Fauzi says he doesn’t receive enough of this “coordinated protection,” and consequently can’t access his land often enough. During the olive harvest season in the fall, he must tend to his trees everyday. But this past fall, Israeli security forces only allowed him access to his field for a week. The rest of the year, he can only rarely reach it.
Fauzi, who was once wealthy, says sorrowfully that this “is not enough.”
For every tree he is prevented from harvesting or that is damaged, he loses between NIS 400-500 of olive oil he can’t produce.
“I have lost everything. I don’t have any income anymore except those trees. I’m a farmer.”
ZAKARIA SEDDA, who is the West Bank field coordinator for RFHR and is Palestinian, agrees with Fauzi that Israeli security forces should more consistently protect Palestinian farmers. Sedda assists Fauzi and countless other Palestinians with conflicts with settlers, checkpoint problems and even medical emergencies. Sedda says that because Israel “occupies” the West Bank, “the [Israeli] army should take care of [Palestinian] olive trees. They should protect the Palestinian people from attacks from settlers.”
“This,” he asserts, “will change the situation.”
Sedda says olive trees are not just important for Palestinians economically. An olive tree to a Palestinian farmer is “like his son,” Sedda explains. To cultivate olive groves, a farmer will devote all his time and pour all of his money into his trees.
Then, “in one night, settlers come and damage these olive trees. They burn them or they cut them down.”
To prevent these attacks, Yehiel Grenimann, a director of RFHR, insists the IDF must defend Palestinians more. He cites a case from a few years ago in Havat Gilad as an example of why, in which IDF soldiers cordoned off the outpost from a Palestinian area.
“There was not one act that year of vandalism,” Grenimann says. “No attacks.”
However, beyond just defending Palestinian olive groves, Grenimann says the Israeli government should plant more olive trees to counterbalance the destruction that has already occurred. “Instead of Europeans and radicals planting olive trees in so-called state lands, because they are actually military-occupied land, the Israeli government should be planting trees,” Grenimann says. “Therefore, the local population is not going to let go of the land. That’s not happening.
So, they made a vacuum.”
Grenimann also explains that olive trees are becoming more of a staple for Palestinians because they are losing more and more land to settlers and the Israeli government. “The olive trees are a means of economic survival.” Olive trees, he says, are also “symbolic.”
“There’s been an increase in planting olive trees where you need more intense agriculture because [Palestinians] don’t have access,” Grenimann maintains.
Moreover, Grenimann, Sedda and Fauzi all stress this clash over olive trees is worsening each year. Grenimann hopes the condition of the hills below the Yitzhar settlement, where there is olive tree arson every year and settlers attack Palestinians daily, doesn’t become a reality elsewhere.
If you pick olives there, you risk being beaten by settlers.
In just the last few weeks, Palestinians and volunteers, including a photographic journalist and an elderly man were assaulted.