This article is part of a series produced for the World Council of Churches olive harvest initiative, a global effort in 2020 to highlight the spiritual, economic and cultural importance of the olive harvest for Palestinian communities, and to witness to the impact of the occupation.
By Anne Casparsson
In fields where one group often challenges their neighbours who own and work the land, two peace activists, Israeli Amos Gvirtz and Palestinian Issa Souf, are busy picking olives and building bridges of justice and peace together.
Gvirtz is an Israeli peace activist born in a Kibbutz. Founder of the organization Palestinians and Israelis for Non-Violence, he identifies himself as a pacifist working against the occupation of Palestine.
He has recently published the book "Don't Say We Did Not Know" based on his belief that many in Israel don’t want to know about injustices in the West Bank.
“As a peace activist I have opposed the occupation since its beginning. It is a criminal, horrible action and an obstacle for any peace possibilities,” he says. “I am active in all kinds of peace activities, like demonstrations, writing articles, public discussions and writing books. It is a way of saying ‘no' and a way of taking responsibility.”
In solidarity, Gvirtz has joined the annual olive harvest since 2002, seeing it as a constructive way of protesting against the occupation. He joins Rabbis for Human Rights visits to the West Bank as much as he can, often every weekend, during the harvest time.
“It is to show that we are ready to take the consequences of what Israel does towards the Palestinians, and sacrifice for it even personally. There are attacks even towards us Israelis, from settlers. It is also to do something practical. In a way it is much stronger than any other kind of protests, working shoulder to shoulder. “
He says that one of the very beautiful things in joining the olive harvest is that people from across the political spectrum come to help.
“All kinds of people are joining the harvest in solidarity. It is very beautiful. This is a way to open the gate for people less radical than us.”
One of his friends is Issa Souf, a Palestinian peace activist. He was shot by the Israeli army in May 2001, and has been in a wheelchair since then. But instead of turning his suffering into anger, he chose to work for justice with non-violent methods. He is today a well-known peace activist working within a big network of peace activists from both communities.
Two years ago he received the Wilson/Hinkes Peace Award. He calls himself a bridge builder and together with others he takes part in many different peace activities, demonstrations, and silent stand-ins. He also give practical help and accompaniment during the harvest.
“Radical settlers are not seeing us Palestinians as human beings and this is the mentality they also encourage in the next generation. That is very hard to see, especially when you are out on the field helping the farmers.”
But he wants to focus on positive signs of hope. This is his challenge and he inspires others to also be hopeful. The activists from both Palestine and Israel regularly gather in his house on the West Bank, only twenty minutes from the green line, for meetings as well as meditations and sharing. He works together with several Israeli organizations, such as Ta’ayush, Yesh Din and Combatants for Peace.
”I have a very good relation with many Israeli groups and individuals. I am happy about that. But what makes me very sad is the silence from the global community, despite the extreme injustice for us Palestinians.”
*Anne Casparsson is a freelance journalist who focuses on justice and peace.