For the past 19 years, Rabbis for Human Rights has been accompanying vulnerable Palestinian communities during the harvest, providing a protective presence from settler and security force harassment, and also to help speed up the olive harvest. Farmers are only given a short period of time to harvest and the work may be stressful for the communities.
The accompaniers went to the village and surrounding area of Awarta, which sits in the shadow of the Itamar settlement. A harvester from the Awarta community explains: "It is very important for us to have protective presence. Two days ago armed settlers stole many sacks of our harvested olives. We managed to retrieve some of them, but they managed to steal over 150 kgs of olives. We called the police but they just told us 'to go to court.’ ”
Unfortunately, olive theft, vandalism and even attacks against harvesters in the field are not uncommon during the harvest.
One of the accompaniers, Rabbi Amnon, who left the hi-tech industry in order to become a rabbi, reflected on why he was joining this activity: "I am in the more privileged position here and I cannot ignore this reality. For me this is part of the concept of Tikkun Olam ('repair the world'). In other words, to do good!"
For Daniel Roth, who coordinates Rabbis for Human Rights’ activities in the occupied territories, it is also about identity:
"Rabbis for Human Rights is a central expression of my identity as a Jew and to build a world based on equality and self-determination. The issue here starts and ends with Palestinians living under an occupation that denies their rights. There is a lot of opportunities for being here together, Israelis and Palestinians; sitting, talking and learning together. It’s about me as someone who is not occupied; being in solidarity with those that are."
Jack Munayer, WCC-EAPPI local program coordinator, reflected that a core component of accompaniment is supporting local initiatives that hold the same principles of human rights and a just peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. “Our office is committed to supporting vulnerable communities even though we are still facing many obstacles due to COVID-19,” he said.
Rabbi Nava Hefetz, director of education at Rabbis for Human Rights, said that the solidarity effort is vital during the olive harvest. “On too many occasions the army has limited the access of Palestinian farmers to their land and hinders them in being able to complete the harvest and to have free and constant access to their land while settlers somehow are able to enter Palestinian fields and damage or destroy olive trees and thus limit the harvest and cause irreparable harm to the farmers’ income,” she said. “This is especially egregious in times such as these, in the shadow of the virus and its restrictions.”
Harvest activities are taking place in the Palestinian villages of Burin, Yassuf, Kalil, Awarta and Khawara.