Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Accompanier Karin Brown reports from Younan

Karin Brown, an ecumenical accompanier with the World Council of Churches' EAPPI program, provided this report Nov. 1. Karin is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

A new EAPPI-US web site is up:

The WCC EAPPI web site is under improvement at this time, but it's worth a look:

The Olive Harvest

There is an air of anticipation building in the village of Yanoun, as all gather outside of their homes in the early morning waiting for the military to make their presence known. This morning is scheduled to be the first of four days designated for olive picking in the groves above Upper Yanoun- where the village's olive trees touch the border of Itemar settlement and are thus out of bounds for the majority of the year. The Israeli military is required to be present during this time to offer protection for the villagers picking olives by warding off the harassment of the settlers.

No clear signal is given, no direct conversation is had, no explicit directions, neither written nor verbal are provided. It is a matter of waiting and guessing as to when the farmers and their families are permitted to ascend into the controversial groves. For fear of settler attacks, the farmers do not normally venture into these groves to tend to their trees or plow their fields. This means that hundreds upon hundreds of olive trees are left uncared for throughout the majority of the year- new growth fills out the body of the trees not allowing the olives enough sunlight, thick undergrowth covers the base of the trees and grass grows high in the unplowed fields, sapping water from the trees and causing the olives to be underdeveloped.

Repeat this scenario over some years, and the yield from the olive trees is dramatically impacted. An area of trees that used to produce fifty bags of olives, now only gives five to ten bags. A tree that used to produce a gallon of oil, now only gives a quarter. This year is widely thought of as an off-season, but the majority of the trees in Yanoun are in especially bad shape.

Once the signal is given by Rashed, the mayor of Yanoun, the families begin the trek to the upper groves along paths well known and well worn from years past. An excitement and energy is widespread as the villagers reach the expansive valley filled with olive trees that they have not seen since last year's harvest. Tarps are laid out, brush is quickly cut back, olives are hurriedly picked, branches are roughly pruned, picked olives are immediately sorted and put in sacs and with no time for idle conversation the family moves to the next tree. The time crunch is apparent as they have only four days to pick what used to take twenty.

Around midday a heavily armed settler approaches, dumps over a fifty kilo bag of olives representing a morning's work, and confronts Hani - telling him that he has gone too far, crossed a line too close to the settlement, and is not allowed to pick olives from these trees. Three Israeli soldiers join the settler, higher military and police authorities are called in, and discussions ensue about rights and access, but it is clear as the chaotic situation develops that the settler has the upper hand. With the forbidden areas never clearly defined by the military, Hani and the others were picking olives from trees belonging to their families without regard for their proximity to unmarked outer border of the settlement's outpost.

After an hour's time, having been held under threat of arrest for his transgression, Hani is finally told to leave the area. He is given five minutes to descend from the upper olive groves and is not to return the next day. Complicating the situation is the presence of five international Ecumenical Accompaniers and an Israeli activist, who are threatened by the Israeli police with arrest and deportation if they remain picking olives alongside the families of Yanoun. Apparently, unannounced to the internationals or the mayor of Yanoun, this upper olive grove had been declared a 'closed military zone' for the duration of the olive harvest, which in effect means that Palestinians, security forces, and permanent residents (accounting for the settlers) are allowed access, while Israelis and, by default, internationals are not.

With no option we, the Ecumenical Accompaniers, follow Hani down towards Yanoun, escaping arrest and abandoning the work that continued in and around the olive trees. The families continued to pick, prune, and collect olives for the next three days, free of further harassment. The settlers are apparently satisfied in having effectively curtailed the access, aid, and accompaniment that internationals and Israelis were able to provide the Palestinians of Yanoun during the most controversial and anxiety ridden part of the olive harvest.

Karin Brown
EAPPI Team 24

(these are all my thoughts and do not neessarly relect those of the EAPPI).


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