Olive harvest brings new dangers for Palestinian farmers

A 24-year-old Palestinian olive farmer, Hani Yusuf, was shot and killed yesterday by Israeli settlers while attempting to harvest olives on his property, situated near Nablus. The settlers quickly escaped to their settlement after the killing. No one has yet been arrested for the murder. Local residents said that they had been wary of an impending attack by settlers in the area, which is, unfortunately, not unusual in the West Bank.

Olive farmers have been consistently complaining of attacks from settlers as they try to farm their land, ranging from the theft of the harvests, burning and chopping down of trees, to violent physical attacks, including shootings. Elderly farmers are not spared from the vicious assaults. Ghaleb Jibril , a 70-year-old farmer from Kufr Qalil, north of Nablus, went with his sons and brothers to check on his land after hearing that settlers had been harvesting his olives. Before he could reach his property, the family members were attacked by settlers wielding sticks, stones and guns. Jibril was severely injured, with bruises all over his body. The settlers escaped to the Brakha settlement with three large bags of olives.

Last season, settlers killed another 70-year-old farmer, Mohammad Zalumud, while he was picking olives on his farm. The settlers crushed his skull, reportedly with large rocks, before escaping back to their settlement. Most attacks occur with impunity, with Israeli police ignoring attacks or releasing suspects without a proper investigation, according to local residents.

In the case of Mohammad Zalumud, the suspected killers were set free after only a week in detention when police claimed that there was insufficient evidence from Palestinian witnesses. Palestinian farmers say that they are asked to provide extremely detailed information to police, such as the attacker's full names, address and other personal details, before police are willing to conduct an investigation. Olives are traditionally the main source of income for a large number of people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, olive harvest account for about 15-20% of the total agricultural output in the Occupied Palestinian Territories about 4.6% of the GDP. The current harvest, which lasts from mid-October to the end of November, is thought to be particularly important to farmers, due to the extremely difficult economic situation brought about by the current curfews and closures in the territories.

Currently, approximately 50% of the Palestinian workforce in unemployed, with two-thirds of Palestinians living below the poverty line, surviving on aid. But attacks by settlers, the 'bantustanization' of the territories and closures of main roads are combining to make harvesting this year's olives a difficult prospect for the besieged farmers. One step they are taking is to organize themselves into larger groups of harvesters, in attempt to ward off attacks by settlers. How they will manage to transport their harvests to the markets and oil-producing factories is another question.

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