Olives and the cost of Israel’s occupation

October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

The olive harvest is a, “key economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians,” stated OCHA’s 2012 report on the annual harvest published Tuesday 16 October. The report iterated Israel’s obligation to protect Palestinians and their property while ensuring accountability when attacks occur.

Palestinians harvesting their olives in the West Bank village of Burin (Photo: Ryan Roderick Beiler)

Palestinians harvesting their olives in the West Bank village of Burin (Photo: Ryan Roderick Beiler)

In an overwhelming majority of cases, Israel has done neither.

Settlers cut down or set fire to over 870 trees during the first week of the 2012 olive harvest.

The Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that of 162 filed complaints of settler attacks since 2005, only one has led to an indictment of a suspect. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld called the findings, “inaccurate and out of date.”

On Monday, however, a report published by the AIC catalogues the increasing intensity and frequency of settler violence in the West Bank from May to August 2012 demonstrating the, “reality that Palestinians have no one to turn to for physical protection and legal recourse.”

OCHA estimates that there are 12 million olive trees in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), mostly in the West Bank. In total, the olive oil industry makes up 14% of the agricultural income for the oPt (1.4% of GDP) and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families, says OCHA. One third of all Palestinian women working are employed in the agricultural sector.

The olive harvest is a litmus test for the economic costs of Israel’s occupation. While settlers are guilty of vandalizing over 7,500 trees this year, the state of Israel is also a purveyor of direct and structural violence against Palestinians impacting the olive harvest in numerous ways.

This video from 9 October 2012 shows IDF soldiers using teargas to forcibly stop Palestinian farmers and Israeli volunteers from picking olives in the town of Tarqumia. In addition to cases of direct military intervention, Israel’s land expropriation policy in the West Bank consisting of its 144 settlements, Separation Wall and effective annexation of more than 60% of the territory via control of Area C, undermines any economic normalcy.

The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem estimates that since 1967 and the occupation’s origin, Israel has uprooted 1.2 million Palestinian olive trees. Systemic damage to land is irreparable and further erodes economic conditions. Even the World Bank recently concluded that Israeli restrictions are primarily to blame for economic dependency in the oPt.

For example, Israel’s permit system along the Seam Zone between the Separation Wall and the Green Line impedes maintenance of farmers’ olive groves reducing productivity on a mass scale. OCHA documents that 52 out of 73 barrier gates Israel regulates on Palestinian agricultural land are closed year round except for limited hours during the olive harvest period. Oxfam estimates that once the Wall is complete 1 million olive trees will be caught in the Seam Zone. Under the pretext of security, the permit system effectively bars Palestinians from their trees and from taking full advantage of the olive harvest.

In Gaza, a surplus of 7,000 tons of oil, approximately $28 million, went unsold in 2006/2007 due to restrictions on agricultural fields, processing, markets and transport, according to OCHA. Obstacles to trade place the Palestinian farmer at a comparative disadvantage to countries in the region whose cost of olive oil production is significantly lower, such as Syria (10-15% lower) and Turkey (35-40% lower).

Settler and military attacks on farmers, land and resource appropriation, the blockade of Gaza and impediments to accessing local and international markets are the Occupation’s added costs to production on Palestinian olive farmers.

Israel’s legal obligations

In June 2006 the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that, “Protecting the security and possessions of the local residents is among the most basic obligations of the military commander in the field.”

The ruling was a response to five West Bank villages’ petition against violent bullying from neighboring settlers that included attacks on villagers, chasing away flocks and uprooting olive trees. Despite the ruling, settler violence has become increasingly systematic, widespread and frequent demonstrating the military’s impunity even in the face of an Israeli court.

This year, the government appointed and mandated Levy Commission ‘found’ that Israel is not an occupying force. In contradiction to international opinion, the Commission’s conclusion was an attempt to shirk obligations of an occupier under international law. However, human rights organizations from the United Nations to the Ramallah-based al Haq, maintain Israel’s primary responsibility in the oPt.

Israel’s main unfulfilled legal obligations pertaining to the olive economy in the oPt are:

  • The destruction or seizure of property, such as olive groves and means of production, violate Articles 23 and 57 of the Hague Convention.
  • An occupying power may not transfer its citizens to an occupied territory. Israel subsidizes and provides other economic, infrastructural, social and political incentives to promote the viability and expansion of West Bank settlements populated by over 350,000 settlers. Another 300,000 settlers live in East Jerusalem. “Extensive destruction and appropriation of property,” by the settlement policy and against olive agriculture, constitutes a war crime.
  • Israel’s Separation Wall was ruled illegal in a landmark case at the International Court of Justice in 2004. The Wall’s affiliated regime, including checkpoints and obstacles, must be removed along with a wall that, when completed, will annex 9.4% of the oPt. Proper permits to harvesting in the Seam Zone, should be granted until the Wall is dismantled. Reparations for damages are also required according to the 2004 ICJ opinion.
  • Israel is under a duty to protect the occupied Palestinian population and their livelihoods from attack as well as prosecute Israelis who are guilty of crimes. Yesh Din’s recent report focusing on olive tree vandalism finds this obligation severely unfulfilled.

Israeli civilians in the West Bank violently target the iconic Palestinian olive tree, a symbol of rootedness and a means of livelihood. However, governmental support of settlers goes far beyond criminal impunity. Israel disenfranchises Palestinians of their rights by stifling the oPt’s economy.

When pressed, Israeli-manufactured economic desertification leaves an oily stain.

*This article was published by the Alternative Information Center on 23 October 2012. 


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