Palestinian olive harvest troubles: Is political tourism doing more bad than good?

Published November 14th, 2016 - 11:13 GMT
Picking Olives in al-Walaja: A Harvest of Resistance. (AFP/File)
Picking Olives in al-Walaja: A Harvest of Resistance. (AFP/File)

The olives plonking down upon the tarpaulins spread around the base of the tree sound like rain, a foreign concept under the glaring sun and amid the dry earth on a hillside outside the northern West Bank village of Burin.

"The olive tree is the pillar of the house," said Bashar Ayed, the affable owner of the plot behind a concrete manufacturer, as a way of explaining the importance of the olive harvest to his people.

Behind him, about a dozen volunteers were plucking the olives, shaking them from the branches. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, some 100,000 families earn their living from the harvest, set to reach 100,000 tons this year, the annual average.

The main reason for the volunteers' presence lies at the edge of the grove: a vineyard owned by Israeli settlers in this village south of Nablus.

"We are not here to provoke," said Shay Davidovich, a field coordinator with Rabbis for Human Rights, as he advised caution near the fence separating the olive trees from the rows of grape vines. Davidovich explained that the volunteers were there instead to help protect the farmers and record any incidents that might arise.

As reoccurring as the olives themselves are the reports of violence and vandalism by extremist Israeli settlers throughout the season that spans from early in October until the middle of November.

The settlers' actions range from stealing olives and damaging or uprooting the trees, to verbally or even physically assaulting the farmers. Compounding the olive harvest, farmers in some cases face restricted access to fields in sensitive areas to quell violence.

"During harvest operations, there were several cases of friction which are being investigated and being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agencies," Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories said in response to a request for information.

The most recent attack came Saturday, when three Palestinian men were injured, one critically, while picking olives in the village of al-Janiya, outside of Ramallah, according to the Maan news agency.

Despite efforts by the Israeli police, army and Civil Administration responsible for the West Bank to protect the farmers, these attacks continue, prompting volunteer groups to set up "human barriers."

Most of the volunteers on a recent November day had connections to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli non-governmental organization that shares veterans' critical testimonies of Israeli military practices.

Nikolina Cubric, whose family in Croatia owns an olive grove, said she had wanted to experience the solidarity the groups fostered.

"It's great that everybody gets to harvest the fruit of their land in a dignified way, with the help and solidarity of people that shared the same homeland, no mater what the borders are," the student added.

Several tourism outfits also offer olive-picking trips, which aim at giving international visitors "the opportunity to witness at first hand the conditions for farming communities in the occupied West Bank," according to Zaytoun, which also focuses on bringing Palestinian products, including olive oil, to the British market.

These tours take advantage in the rising popularity of political tourism, with participants paying firms such as Zaytoun, Green Olive Tours and Alternative Tourism Group to take them to the West Bank.

Many of them incorporate pro-Palestinian advocacy group seminars, presentations and traditional city tours into the itinerary as well.

Alternative Tourism Group, for example, on its website offers a multi-day trip that includes "a settlement tour around Jerusalem," as well as "a presentation ... on land confiscation," for 700 dollars.

However, by taking these one-sided tours, visitors reinforce the current dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Joshua Koonin, of the International Political Seminars tour group, told dpa.

"The international community has a responsibility to try to understand both sides and to encourage both sides to interact," said Koonin, who founded his political tour group in 2013.

David Beirman, who teaches tourism at the University of Technology at Sydney, said that either side in the conflict was entitled to advocate a viewpoint, as long as it didn't masquerade as education.

"It is natural that supporters of Israel and the Palestinians seek ... a hands-on experience which will reinforce their knowledge and their prevailing attitudes to their preferred causes," he said.

By Miranda Lee Murray

© 2021 dpa GmbH

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