Eyewitness report: Hebron olive harvest

The olive harvest in Al Khalil (Hebron) began on 26 October following the end of Ramadan. In the past week, Christian Peacemaker team members have observed trends in the reactions of Israeli forces and settlers to Palestinians harvesting olives. In several cases, Israeli forces have allowed Palestinians to pick olives if they have a permit and have protected them from Israeli settlers.

Sometimes where the land very close to the settlement enclave of Tel umeida, Israeli forces have not allowed internationals to pick with the Palestinians and have required the Palestinians to get permission from the Israeli District Command Officer (DCO). On 26 October, a Palestinian who lives directly below the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, received a permit to harvest his olives. At the family's request, about a dozen internationals and Israeli human rights workers plus a number of local journalists arrived to help with the picking.

The group had to cut razor wire in order to clear the path to the olive trees. Soon after the group began picking olives, Israeli settlers entered the grove and others watched from the side of the settler caravan on the ridge above the trees.

One settler woman holding a baby began yelling at the Palestinian owner, "You are all terrorists! You want to kill the Jews! You killed my father!"

He replied, "No, I'm not a terrorist. I haven't killed any Jews, and my family protected Jews during the massacre of 1929." Then the woman also claimed the olive trees belonged to her and shouted at him, "If you want to pick olives, go to Tel Aviv to pick olives!"

She kicked one of the olive pickers causing him to lose his balance and fall. Another settler hit a Palestinian nonviolent activist in the face, injuring him slightly. The young man did not retaliate. Later, the Israeli police came. They said that the Palestinians could pick olives but the internationals could not help and only journalists and Temporary International Presence in Hebron would be allowed to observe.

When picking resumed, Israeli soldiers and police stood nearby and the settlers watched from a distance. On Friday 27 October, CPTers joined other internationals and a Palestinian family in picking olives on their land.

After the group had been picking for several hours, a settler boy came down from the settlement caravans and threw a stone at the olive pickers. Israeli soldiers and Special Forces, after determining that the family had a permit, monitored for the rest of the day. Every time settlers threw stones or tried to approach too close, the officers chased them away.

On 26 June 2006, the High Court of Justice in Israel ruled that Palestinians have the right to own, enter and work their land, and the military commander is obligated to protect this right for Palestinians. Throughout the past week, CPT has witnessed a total of five cases of Palestinian families harvesting their olives. In all cases the families were allowed to harvest their olives with the protection of Israeli forces from interference by Israeli settlers. In four of those cases, the family had to show their permit to pick the olives on their own land.

_ Abigail works with Christian Peacemaker Teams - an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world. To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, visit: www.cpt.org

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