During the olive harvest season in Beit Umreen, a northern village in the Occupied West Bank, many families’ daily routines shift to the vast green hillsides and fields peppered with olive trees.
The delectable fruit and the precious oil it produces represent a staple income source for many rural Palestinians. Grossing around 25 Sheikels per kilo, a family can earn around $900 per day harvesting olives.
(For me, the sound of olives plopping onto the plastic tarps below reminded of raindrops on a tin roof, but I’m sure others also hear the “ka-ching” of a cash register.)
A tree is relinquished of its fruit by first beating the branches with hardwood sticks. Any leftover olives are then picked out by hand.
Nestled within dusty branches, the vibrant green and purple olives are easy to spot.
The leaves and sticks are eventually sorted out, leaving just the olives to be poured into a burlap sack.
After an hour of work, we reclined in the shade of an olive tree and ate pomegranates, falafel and za’atar – a Middle Eastern spice made from thyme, salt and toasted sesame seeds.
My friends’ mother gathered fallen olive tree branches and made a fire for tea. Passing me the first steaming cup, I saw that her hands were worn from many harvests past.
The serenity of our break was interrupted every few minutes by the sound of passing cars, their drivers honking to greet neighbors in adjacent fields.
Anytime a car drove by I instinctively checked the color of the license plate (yellow would have meant Israeli settlers). Especially during the olive harvest season, settlers frequently attack Palestinian farmers, often razing crops in their wake.
International activists often visit the Occupied West Bank during the olive harvest. The extra manpower reduces the amount of time farmers spend exposed in their fields and the mere presence of foreigners is sometimes enough to deter settler attacks.
In the past, even Israeli rabbis have come to the defense of Palestinian farmers. Just last month, Jewish settlers clashed with activists of the Rabbis for Human Rights movement near the southern city of Hebron.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “activists were going to 40 Palestinian villages to protect olive growers and uphold their right to work the land, and harvest. They would act ‘as human shields’ if necessary.”
Christopher Cottrell is an independent American journalist based out of Nablus. Currently working as a part-time volunteer at An-Najah National University working with journalism students. You may also follow Chris at www.chris-cottrell.com.