Olive Harvest in Burin, Saturday, 22.10.11
Translator: Charles K.
Part 1: The entrance to Burin
As you know, the villageof Burin is exposed to harassment by settlers who invade its fields from all directions. The cursed Har Bracha threatens from the east, Yitzhar’s thugs scheme from the west, while the youths of Gil’ad Farm are happy to join the festive burning of the olive trees. The presence of Israelis during harvesting provides an insurance policy (only a very partial one, but if necessary they’ll at least be witnesses more easily able to come testify) against the attacks. That’s why we agreed to Munir’s request, posted on the web, to help a resident of Huwwara whose groves are in Burin harvest his olives.
Rachel Afek, my spouse, Gid’on and I went in the morning to the villageof Burin, but were stopped by a roadblock at the entrance. A second lieutenant from the paratroopers and three other soldiers ordered all the drivers to show documents, and us also. But we were informed that Israelis weren’t allowed to enter the village. “But,” we wondered, “the village is in Area B, and as members of Machsom Watch we come through here every week, and there’s absolutely no reason to prevent us from helping the Palestinians harvest olives.” but they don’t budge: “Orders from headquarters.” We stood our ground and informed them that we know they have no right to stop us, unless they can show us an order from the GOC. They didn’t have a GOC order. Their phone call to headquarters brought a “final” answer from Dana – there’s no GOC order, but there’s an order from headquarters to prohibit entry to Israelis. We didn’t back down and asked to speak with Dana. Rachel called and again said we’re members of Machsom Watch, we come here every week, we came to help a Palestinian family harvest olives, and there’s absolutely no reason for us to give in. Dana had no choice but to go ask someone…and returned with the answer that there’s no problem, and we can enter. And so, after a delay of almost an hour, we finally entered the village - late, but at least feeling we hadn’t surrendered to the arbitrary imposition of prohibitions and unauthorized separations, and in pain at an additional distorting side effect of the occupation.
Part two: Harvesting olives in Har Bracha’s accursed shadow
Munir met us not far from the village entrance, along with the owners of the grove, members of the Ouda family: Haj Bajis Salim Ouda, who looks 15 years younger than his age, 70; and two of his seven sons and five daughters – Mahmoud and ‘Abed. “You won’t be able to get there by car,” they told us, so we left the car and got into the son’s rattling van. The vehicle went up the hill on a narrow path between the boulders until it got stuck on one. Gid’on, Munir and his brother were finally able to free it, though some parts were left dangling loosely. We then went up another 300 meters, and the first thing we saw was a few dozen olive trees that had been burned completely, and beyond them more half-burned trees. So, not more than 10-11 trees remained bearing fruit that could be harvested. The Ouda family has another large grove, but the plot here on the hillside isn’t very big, some 40-50 trees, only a quarter of which weren’t burned. Below the settlement of Har Bracha, right next to the outpost of Giv’at Ronen (an expansion of Har Bracha), we could see dry olive trees standing shamefully, whose owners don’t dare cultivate them. That grove has already become occupied territory belonging to the illegal outpost.
The Ouda family’s grove is located on the side of the hill, about 100 meters below the Giv’at Ronen outpost. On our way there, and in the grove, we walked through thorns, thistles and briars that came up to our knees. You have to plow twice after the first rain, and at the end of the rainy season, to uproot them, but the army doesn’t allow it. About four months ago the settler neighbors burned the trees. A tractor that went to plow was also torched. One of the settlers was sitting on a rock firing at it, enjoying himself. Fortunately no one was hurt – it all happened on a day that had been coordinated with the army. In other words – they can work their land with the army protecting them from hoodlums two days a year. But even on these two days there’s really no protection. They’re given an additional day each year to plow, but at a time when plowing is no longer possible. Even on those few days each year where they coordinate and are promised protection – the hoodlums are those who control the area. Today also – which had been coordinated in advance – no protection could be seen. We were lucky that the pyromaniacs didn’t show up either.
The family members spread out their canvas cloths on the thistles and the three of us picked while the sons climbed the tree, picking from the upper branches. The 70-year-old-father climbs to the treetop to saw off the tops of the trees that have been harvested. At the same time, Munir cut back sharply the partly-burned branches, hoping they will bear fruit again in 4-5 years, if no one burns them again. Thanks to the settlers we finished harvesting the remaining trees in a few hours and then had time to look at the lovely landscape of hills around us, on the Huwwara valley, the villages on the outskirts of Nablus, the checkpoint, the DCO and Awarta below us, and at the apartheid road on part of which Palestinians are now able to drive. Then we went down to the family’s large grove located among the buildings of the village.
That grove looked very different. The trees’ boughs and foliage spread wide and green, the ground beneath cleared and free of rocks. The hoodlums don’t dare come here, our host said. We met a number of the father’s daughters-in-law, and many children who clung to their grandfather. They spread a cloth beneath one of the trees and piled delicacies of all kinds on it, crisp pitas, hummus, home-made goat cottage cheese, tuna, pickles and more. Unfortunately, the women and children had already finished eating, and didn’t accede to our urging that they join us. Only those who worked in the upper grove remained to eat. After eating we said goodbye to the family and drove off.
This harvest day ended well, but the picture is unequivocal. The army, which is supposed to be sovereign in the area, leaves the settler thugs in control. Isn’t it the case that two days of coordination a year, during which there’s no protection either, and preventing plowing the land, constitutes cooperation with the settlers’ expropriations?