Israel’s Hegemony Explained: The Case of Palestine’s Olive Harvest Season

Report by NADPLO

The annual olive harvest season, a momentous event on social, cultural, and economic levels, is a much anticipated and celebrated occasion that involves whole families and communities across Palestine. There are around one million dunums of Palestinian agricultural land, with around 100,000 Palestinian families benefiting, directly or indirectly, from the olive harvest alone[1]. The olive tree is a symbol of Palestine’s existence, resilience, and potential. Throughout history, Palestinians have continued to harvest their groves and fields to provide the country with olives and oil and celebrate our national identity and connection to our ancestral homeland.

Under the military rule of Israel, the occupying Power, harvesting olive trees has turned into an act of resistance. As Israel continues to grab more Palestinian land to expand its colonial settlement enterprise, and within the past decade alone, the Israeli occupying forces and settlers have destroyed more than 165,000 olive trees, the majority of which are centuries old, causing tremendous economic losses to farmers and the Palestinian economy amounting to $50,849,265[2].

This media brief highlights the Israeli restrictions and Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinian farmers during the 2020 olive harvest season between October and November.

Not only did Israel seize Palestinian land for its illegal settlements, annexation wall, and movement restrictions, but it has restricted the access of Palestinian owners and farmers to further lands that were subsequently isolated and closed with tens of military gates. At least 40,000 dunums of olive trees, in close proximity to Israeli settlements or cut off behind the annexation wall, were declared closed military zones.[3] Palestinian farmers are forced to obtain an access permit that, if granted, would only allow them a limited number of days annually that are not enough to harvest their fields properly. In 2018 alone, Israel rejected 72% of permit requests to Palestinian farmers.

Most olive trees in Palestine are rain-fed. When the rainfall is below the yearly average, Palestinian farmers face drought that causes a substantial olive production decrease. As Israel continues to fully control our water resources and implement discriminatory policies that deny us the right to access adequate water supplies, Palestinian farmers cannot use other irrigation techniques to improve crop generation.

While Palestinian farmers are mainly dependent on freshwater springs and groundwater for irrigation, Israel continues to control more than 150 springs in the occupied West Bank due to ongoing confiscation of privately owned Palestinian lands for the expansion of its colonial settlement enterprise. The groundwater resources also remain under full Israeli control. The largest is the Mountain Aquifer, with about 80% of its water coming from the occupied West Bank. Nevertheless, Israel annually extracts 89% of the water from this aquifer, leaving only 11% for Palestinian use, even less nowadays due to Israeli settlements’ ongoing extractions and the drought over the past ten years.

It is important to note that for irrigation use only, Palestinian farmers in the occupied West Bank need 250 million cubic meters of water per year, of which they only receive about 20 percent or about 50 million cubic meters. This, in addition to Israel’s colonial-settlement expansion, has provoked a sharp decrease in the agriculture sector’s contribution to GDP in the occupied Palestinian territory, from 36% in 1970 to 9.5% in 2000. In 2019, it was less than 3%.

If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”

– Palestine’s poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Olive Oil and Israeli Settlement Products

Israel’s olive oil production from its illegal settlements has been growing over the past few years, including in the Arab Syrian Golan and the West Bank in Palestine.[4] The stolen Palestinian produce is, in several cases, then taken to Israel proper to be processed and labeled as “Made in Israel” for all international markets. Other producers are based in illegal Israeli settlements, including “Tura Winery” in the illegal settlement of “Rehelim,” built on lands belonging to the Palestinian village of As-Sawiya, which recently announced what it described as a “historic” move by signing an agreement to distribute their wine and olive oil in the United Arab Emirates. The company’s website offers worldwide shipments, and their olive oil is being sold in Germany, UK, USA, and Hong Kong.

Another Israeli company is called “Land of Choice Olive Oil”, which operates in the illegal settlement of “Shilo” with an olive press located in “Achiya” settlement. According to the company’s website, some of its consumers are prominent Israeli hotels and restaurants, including the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem, David Citadel Hotel, and the Dan Hotel. Internationally, their products are available in China, Russia, Switzerland, and the UK. The company has also participated in international festivals used as part of the Israeli government’s propaganda to normalize its illegal occupation.

There is another Israeli producer of olive oil in the illegal colonial installation of “Einot Kedem” in the Jordan Valley. Certified by the Israeli Ministry of Health, it also offers shipments abroad. Other producers operate in the illegal colonial settlements of “Kedumim,” “Nokedim,” and “Elkana.”

The olive trees in “Canada Park”, built over the ethnically cleansed and destroyed Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu, Bayt Nuba, and Dayr Ayoob in the annexed Latrun Valley is promoted as a touristic attraction. In the eastern part of Bethlehem Governorate, visiting an Israeli settler producing olive oil in the illegal colonial-settlement of “Nokdim” is presented as an “educational and agricultural experience”.

Fully backed and protected by the occupying forces, Israel’s settlers often intimidate and physically assault the Palestinian farmers while in their fields. They also burn and uproot their olive trees and, in many cases, steal the farmers’ produce. The Israeli Human rights organization Yesh Din found that between 2005 and 2019, 91% of investigations into settlers’ attacks against Palestinians and their properties were closed without holding the perpetrators accountable for their terror attacks.

An explicit example took place during the olive harvest season in 2019 in Nablus Governorate that usually accounts for the highest rate of Israeli settlers’ attacks. The Israeli occupying soldiers collaborated with the settlers to disrupt the Palestinian farmers’ work in the villages of Qaryut and a-Lubban Ash-Sharqiya for five consecutive days and deny them access to their lands. During this time, Israeli soldiers defended the settlers of “Eli” settlement and demanded that Palestinian farmers leave their lands using the pretext of a “closed military zone.” When the farmers resisted, Israeli soldiers fired stun grenades and tear gas canisters.

Since US President Trump took office in 2017, Israeli settlers committed over 2,200 attacks against Palestinians and their properties[5]. The year 2019 witnessed the highest rate of settlers violence with at least 48 attacks against Palestinian farmers and their olive trees, half of which occurred in Nablus Governorate, damaging more than 1,700 olive trees[6].

In 2020, since the beginning of the olive harvest season in October, Israeli settlers carried at least 40 attacks, nearly half of them in Nablus Governorate, resulting in the injury of 26 Palestinians, the damaging of more than 1,700 olive trees, and the theft of olive crops of more than 1,800 trees.[7]

  • On 7 October, farmers from Huwara town (Nablus Governorate) were attacked by settlers who threw stones and beat them up with sticks. The Israeli occupying forces did nothing to the settlers but fired tear gas canisters at the Palestinian farmers. One farmer was pushed to the ground by an Israeli soldier and subsequentially beaten by settlers[9].
  • On 9 October, Israeli settlers from “Mevo Dotan” settlement, illegally built on Palestinian land south of Ya’bad town (Jenin Governorate), set on fire around 446 olive trees in the nearby Palestinian field. The settlers also prevented Palestinian farmer Rafa’ Abu Baker, a resident of Ya’bad town, from harvesting his field located near the settlement.
  • On 12 October, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian farmers in Burqa village (Nablus Governorate), resulting in light injuries to five of them. At the scene, Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets, sonic bombs, and tear gas canisters at the farmers while the settlers were pushing them out of their lands.
  • On 12 October, Israeli settlers from “Etz Efraim” settlement, illegally built on stolen Palestinian land in Masha and Bidiya villages (Salfit Governorate), stole the olive harvest. They destroyed the branches of around 60 olive trees, isolated by the annexation wall, belonging to Masha villagers.
  • On 14 October, Palestinian farmer Khaled Masha’leh from al-Jab’a village (Bethlehem Governorate) discovered that Israeli settlers uprooted 200 olive trees from his field located to the north of the village.
  • On 12 November, the Israeli occupying forces assaulted with their guns an elderly Palestinian man, Muhammad Salibi, 77 years-old, while he was harvesting his olives in his land near the illegal settlement of “Beit Ain”, illegally built on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar land (Hebron Governorate). Israeli forces brutally beat Salibi after refusing orders to leave his land.

The Government of Israel and its settlers, encouraged by an unprecedented culture of impunity, continue to push the agenda of annexation and forcible displacement/ transfer of Palestinians to further expand their settlement enterprise. To this end, Israeli violence and terror attacks against the Palestinian farmers and fields during the olive harvest season, which has also become a Palestinian symbol of steadfastness, aim to threaten Palestine’s national identity and existence.

It has been four years today since the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2334 that reaffirms Israel’s obligations as an occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the illegality of Israeli settlements. The resolution demands full cessation of Israel’s settlement activities, respect of international law, specifically Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. It also requires member states to abide by their legal obligation and distinguish in their official dealings between the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.

In addition to holding Israel accountable for its well-documented violations and impunity granted to those responsible for attacking the people of Palestine, the international community has a legal and moral responsibility to ban all Israeli settlement products and services, including, in this case, the settlers’ olive oil production.

[1] Palestine’s Ministry of Agriculture

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Israeli Olive Oil producer “Halutza” refers to a part of occupied Palestine as “Samaria” and part of Israel: http://halutza.co.il/olive-oil-israel/?lang=en

[5] PLO-NAD, The Palestinian Monitoring Group

[6] UNOHA — oPt

[7] Ibid

[8] The main source of incidents: PLO-NAD, The Palestinian Monitoring Group

[9] Yesh Din