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2006 olive harvest

(Arabic and French follow)

Internationals start to arrive in West Bank for 2006 olive harvest

HARIS, Salfit; October 27, 2006 - The International Women's Peace Service (IWPS) launches its fourth olive harvest campaign with the help of delegations from the United Kingdom, Austria and Germany.

Although some farmers in the West Bank have already started to harvest, most will start picking after the feast of Eid al-Fitr this week, which concludes Ramadan. Olives are the agricultural backbone of Palestine, and the harvest is of tremendous importance to those who earn their livelihood from the production of olive oil. This year is expected to yield a particularly abundant harvest, and farmers hope they will be able to pick the fruit of their trees without violent attacks or denial of access to land.

Each year volunteers from around the world arrive in Palestine through organizations such as IWPS and the International Solidarity Movement, along with those from Israeli organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights, to support the farmers in harvesting their olives. Their role is to provide accompaniment, and their presence puts pressure on the army to protect the farmers and access to their land. It also allows non-Palestinians the opportunity to learn about the situation in the West Bank and assists in raising awareness of it throughout the world.

In past years Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian farmers and their crops during the harvest. Incidents have included the burning of trees, the destruction or stealing of picked olives, and violent attacks in which farmers have been injured or even killed. These incidents have deterred many farmers from harvesting, leaving their olives to rot in the sun.

The recent decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice confirmed the right of Palestinian farmers to access their land, and affirms the duty of the Israeli army to provide protection to farmers and their property (see H.C.J. 9593/04 Rashad Morar v. The IDF Commander for Judea and Samaria). However, early harvest experiences this year show that public pressure is needed to force the Israeli army to follow the court ruling.

Another barrier to Palestinian farmers during the olive harvest is the separation wall that prevents them from reaching their land, along with roadside and settlement fences and blocked agricultural roads. Many farmers are still uncertain if roadblocks will be removed and wall gates opened, whether permits will be required and how they can be obtained. In villages such as Masha and 'Azzun, where a permit system is already in place, many families are denied access completely while others were given permits for only one or two persons - not enough to manage the extremely labour-intensive olive harvest.

An important aspect of this campaign is media attention. We hope that the media will give this harvest the attention it deserves, and hold the Israeli army accountable should it fail to uphold the ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice. To this end, we invite reporters to accompany us in the harvest.

Ends

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