On 28 September, Israeli military bulldozers destroyed 250 olive trees, all of the trees at least a decade old, in the village of Kufur Al-Deek. Olive farmers are wondering if this will just get worse.
Nidal Abu Zuluf, director of the Joint Advocacy Initiative of the YMCA and YWCA, which runs a campaign to protect Palestinian farmers, explained why farmers are apprehensive. “Usually there are attacks by the Israeli military and settlers, burning the crops, and stealing the olives before or after picking,” he said.
Olive trees are more than just a source of food for many Palestinian families; the trees are treated with great care because Palestinians have a deep connection to their land. Olive picking has always been a family activity in October and November each year, and Palestinian children are let out of school so they can work the trees with their parents. Olive trees are seen as an integral component of Palestinian history, culture, and religious identity.
Olive trees are important also for the Palestinian economy. In the West Bank, 60% of the trees are olive trees, and approximately 14% of the Palestinian population is involved in farming.
This means between 80,000 to 100,000 families rely on the olive harvest for their income— including more than 15% of the working women. The Palestinian olive sector is worth between $160 million to $191 million in a good year.
But olive farmers in the West Bank are often forbidden from accessing much of their land in the areas close to settlements, and violence by settlers and the Israeli military is a major concern for them.
During the year 2022, no less than 7,636 olive trees were destroyed by settlers and the Israeli military. During October and November 2022 olive picking season alone, settlers destroyed more than 800 olive trees, both young and mature, burning 45 of them. Settlers also vandalized 13 cars belonging to harvesters or activists that were parked by the groves, torching three.
Abu Zuluf hopes this year’s olive harvest doesn’t bring even more destruction. “I would like to see protection offered by international solidarity groups and church-related organizations,” he said.
Fact sheet: Olive harvest season, October 2023