Salfit farmers cross the ‘wall’ through GATE 408 to farm their land
Harvesting, the time old activity of gathering in crops, can turn into a political act when you are a farmer in Palestine!
This is because, in 1995, the Oslo Accord designated 60% of the West Bank as Area C, and placed it under full Israeli military control. This area is largely the most fertile part of Palestine and for the Palestinians it meant that some or all of their agricultural land was cut of from their villages, which are in Areas A & B. This is compounded by the Security Fence (read Apartheid Wall) which restricts access for many farmers to their land. In Salfit, much Palestinian private land is behind this ‘Security Fence’ surrounding the (illegal) settlement of Ari’el.
A seemingly innocuous sounding word, in reality here it means asking for permission from the Israeli DCO (the District Coordination Office) so you can farm your own land. Usually the village mayor seeks permission, sometimes the Rabbis for Human Rights. Salfit farmers are given permission twice a year to farm in their olive groves once, in February or March and again for the olive harvest. This is not enough to ensure a good crop and the curtailment of agricultural practice has impacted their livelihoods.
CROSSING the SECURITY BARRIER
This day of solidarity with the farmers has been arranged by the NGO PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Development Association).
The UNOCHA map illustrates the annexation of West Bank land by Ari’el. The maroon and pink shadings are its build up and ‘outer limits’. Blue shadings are Area C, red lines show the ‘security barrier’ and the black dotted line the shows its planned route. The green crosses indicate the 3 agricultural gates.
We gathered with the farmers at 6am in front of gate 408 which is in fact two gates in the barrier fence separated by a security road and heavily laced with barbed wire. The army only allows 10 mins for their opening so lateness is not on option! The atmosphere is jovial, families with their children milling around with the donkeys, all chatting and laughing. There is a slight apprehension in the air, as the question is, will the army turn up on time?…a full day is needed to get as many of the olives in as possible.
At 6.15 an army jeep turns up and the gates are opened. Contrastingly, the soldiers are not in a festive mood, armed and with pointed guns they sternly collect the Palestinians’ IDs before letting them through. There is a slight delay for us 5 internationals, as we only have copies of our passports but this is a minor harassment and we join our allotted family to troop through the dirt tracks and start the day’s picking. The day is hard (for me that is!) but the farmers joke and sing, brew up ‘chay’ and share some delicious food for lunch. The picking has to finish at 3.30pm so that we are back in time to get through the gates that are, again, only open for 10 mins. The army calls out the names on the ID cards and I notice that the bags of olives are off loaded from the donkeys and carried across the security road the farmers – they are no light weight and I wonder if this is a further humiliation.
I ask the PARC co-ordinator, ‘Beka’ what we in the UK could do to help support the Palestinians, his reply was ‘ pressurise for a political solution and buy Zaytoun olive oil… this will encourage farmers to hold on to their land’. I am convinced that I must start buying Zaytoun again – especially as I might have picked some of the olives……!!
UNOCHA fact sheet on 2012 olive harvest on http://www.ochaopt.org