The OPT Department of RHR works with approximately 30 Palestinian villages in the West Bank, particularly during the olive harvest season (October – December). During that period we bring, almost daily, bus loads (about 25) of Israeli and foreign volunteers into the Samaria and south Hebron hills areas to participate in the olive harvest. This occurs in areas of conflict or tension with radical Jewish settlers and/or where there are issues of access with the Israeli army. This is accompanied by legal work and advocacy work from our Jerusalem office.
We are in regular contact with the Army’s Legal Advisors’ Office and regional offices of the Civil Administration (DCO, i.e. military coordination with local P. population). We leave a paper trail of cases we come across of abuse, neglect, or local collusion between local army officers and settlers (unfortunately not unusual) and sometimes also resort to the courts. A supreme Court decision in 2005 affirming the right of local Palestinian farmers to access their lands unharrassed by settlers was a landmark achievement in this regard.
Since the army has been more cooperative, at least during the olive harvest, even posting guards near areas of conflict with the most extreme Jewish outposts. The rest of the year we accompany farmers, either physically or through lobbying with the appropriate authorities through the cycle of planting, pruning, ploughing and other harvests (almonds, wheat, barley) but this is more low-key than the olive harvest.
Destruction of trees (particularly olives) near settlements, army bases and major roads is a serious problem. Approximately 3000 trees were destroyed during the years 2008-10. This past season we replanted some 2000 in 17 villages.We also work in coordination with other active human rights groups (BeTzelem, Yesh Din, Taayush) in reporting and dealing with other kinds of human rights issues – arbitrary arrest, collective punishment, confiscation of equipment (such as tractors) and the heavy limitations in area “C’ (65% of the OPT) placed on building and development. We have an ongoing relationship with the Israeli police in Judea and Samaria on these issues. In 2009, in conjunction with the Viento deTerra (Italian NGO) we helped build a school for Bedouin children in the Judean desert at Chan El Achmar. These children had suffered from lack of adequate access to education, and though a demolition order was issued against the structure it still serves the needs of the 60 attending 1st to 3rd graders two years later. Over the years we have run summer camps, and ongoing language classes (Hebrew and English) for the seriously underprivileged Jahalin Bedouin tribe in the area east of Jerusalem. Over the last couple of years this has been done in conjunction with the Combini Sisters – a convent in east Jerusalem concerned with the plight of the Bedouin. We have also been active in East Jerusalem (particularly in Silwan and Sheik Jarrah) on issues of housing discrimination and home demolitions and evictions. Over the past seven months we have been investing developing programing in the area of environmental education and conservation in the West Bank, and have developed some contacts with young Palestinian and Israeli activists (including some moderate second-generation settlers) and plans for a pilot project near Jericho (still looking for a budget).