Rabbi Kobi Weiss describes his impressions from the events of the olive harvest. We learn that the State of Israel’s strategy of controlling the “seam” areas turns the Palestinians into desperate and frustrated people. Landowners can not access their lands and they are prevented from working their fields. Their lands are surrounded by construction sites and they can not work properly.
We recently went to help harvest the olive groves of Biliin that are located on the Israeli side of the barrier (and on the Palestinian side of the green line). The fields are virtually swallowed by the ultra orthodox town of Modiin Elite. In Modiin Elite, houses are built only for the ultra orthodox population, a group that is facing a housing shortage – because of their fast natural growth – and are thus obligated to leave the centers of the ultra orthodox population such as Bnei-Brak and Jerusalem and live in less expensive places. These new residents, who will live on top of Omar’s and his neighbors’ lands (lands on which we harvest last season until they were turned into land that is designated for building), are not aware of the human drama that they are a part of it. So Palestinian desperation and Jewish unawareness join together as a tool of Israeli politics. Is this a recipe for a future peace?
The closed gate
When I arrived on Thursday November 11th as a volunteer to help with the olive harvest in the Biliin area and to see the reality in the field, a “routine” harvest day turned into a nerve-racking drama and as a representative of “Rabbis for Human Rights”, I found myself responsible for our side of the cat and mouse game underway with the army and its coordination headquarters.
Around 07:30 the bus with the first group of volunteers arrived at the area of the separation barrier in order to wait for the farmers from Biliin on the other side of the barrier. The gate to the olive groves was closed. The army was not present in the area. We immediately starting making telephone calls, both Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann (Head of the Territories department) and myself, to the local security forces. We asked them to open the gate.
The army’s responses ranged from: “we are dealing with the situation, be patient” to “the patrol is at the near gate. When they will finish they will get to you.” Later on the responses were “we arrived at 8:00 o’clock and no one was there and we left” – which was a lie that made the people on both sides very angry. After two hours of the army deliberately wasting time while Rabbi Yehiel Greniman sought to increase the pressure (he was on the phone for 6 hours), we started to receive replies that had nothing to do with what was going on in the field, Omar’s family, who waited near the barrier, or with the coordination with the army, such as: “the harvest was finished yesterday, there is nothing to harvest any more”, or, “there are no farmers who want to harvest”. After discussions about all the factors in the field, they tried to convince us again and again that Id El Adha (the sacrifice holiday) is coming and there is no point in harvesting now and that permits will be given next week after the holiday.
How to fight desperation
We started to despair. Yariv, the spokesman for Rabbis for Human Rights, turned to local newspaper and Rabbi Yehiel turned to the lawyers of “Yesh Din,” but all of them received the same answer. It was clear to all of us, ten volunteers who remained, after 5 hours of waiting in the open field, and to Omar, the farmer on the other side of the barrier, that this was a case of deliberate foot-dragging done to cause all of to despair and to and to give up on the strange idea we’d had of the land owner to harvest his trees on his land.
At 12:00 o’clock we, Yehiel and I, decided to give up and return home in order not to waist more of the activists’ time. But as Rabbi Arik Ascherman Always reminds, crossing the red see started only after the water reached the People of Israel’s noses. Two minutes after we started returning back home, Yehiel told us excitedly that an order to open the gate was just given. We returned quickly and picked up Omar and his children (the women left earlier because one of them was pregnant and did not feel well).
What happened afterwards was described by one ofthe volunteers, Edna Morduch, in a letter she sent to me:
“We arrived to one of Modiin Elit‘s extensions, very close to the separation barrier. We got off the vehicles and walked after Omar to his land. We got down to the Wadi (not an easy walk), we passed burnt olive grove to get to down the mountain, on the other side an additional extension of Modiin Elit is being built. During all the hours of the harvest we heard the noise of the bulldozers.
Omar and his family’s olive grove is located on both sides of the Wadi. For year the olive grove was not taken care of because it was impossible to access it with proper agricultural tools. The trees were not pruned and around them there is are weeds and overgrowth growing wild. But there were waking trails on it, and it seems that there were people there before we arrived. We also found food scraps and plastic bottles of soft drinks were scattered all over the place.
There were almost no olives on the trees, due to other people who came and pocked the olives. In three hours of work we picked only 2 buckets of olives.
This is an example of how the seam areas are turned gradually into the State of Israel’s assets. When I asked him, Omar said that for 4 years he had not been on this land. He was not angry or bitter, he accepted this reality quietly and submissively, even when we ran into trees that were aggressively harvested and the branches were broken. For me the whole day was a very difficult experience. The occupation in all its ugliness was present all the time.
Hope to see you in better days.
Accepting the loss
Omar lives now in Ramala, not in Biliin, and it is possible that his desperation and indifference come from his having accepted the fact that he lost the land and he cannot make a living from agriculture. Edna has volunteered with the organization for a very long time, she participated in many harvest seasons and her testimony, especially on the indifference and desperation of Omar, show the process that many Palestinian farmers are going through, from being angry and protesting against the injustice to submissively accepting it and giving up. Is it an indication to the “victory” of the system? The fact that the forces on the other side seem to be less ideological forces, and more economical, can complete the picture.