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Jerusalem Diary: Monday 27 October

Ramiz Barham harvests olives
Ramiz Barham takes time off as a policeman to help with the harvest

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

HARVEST FRICTION

Ramiz Barham's day job is Second Lieutenant in the Palestinian police force.

Last week, though, it was he who was threatened with arrest, by the Israeli army.

It had happened while the 24-year-old Ramiz was taking time off to help his family with the olive harvest.

He had been stopped by Israeli soldiers, as he advanced, holding a stick in each hand, on a group of settlers.

Ramiz said he was tipped over the edge when he had heard the settlers yelling that the Prophet Muhammad was a pig.

Ahmad, 5, picks olives, northern West Bank

The incident happened, just after Ramiz and his family had begun harvesting olives from their grove close to the Palestinian village of Kedum, and the Jewish settlement of Qedumim, in the West Bank.

I spoke to him on day six of the harvest, as he straddled a rickety, triangular ladder, to reach the highest branches.

"We are used to the stones, and to the fighting," he told me. "But the insults were too much."

Ramiz says that his family has grown olives on this land for hundreds of years.

The area has, since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, also become home to Jewish settlements.

In recent years, Ramiz says, the olive harvest has become more difficult.

"We have to leave at four in the afternoon, because the army won't allow us to stay. And then the settlers come in.

"They steal our plastic sheets [used to catch the olives], our olives, our ladders."

He says that the Israeli army and border police almost never intervene; and if they do, it is often to make life more difficult for the local Palestinians.

It takes Ramiz and his family around two hours to harvest the olives, from each of their 100 trees.

JEWISH HELPERS

Israeli-British activist Hellela Siew harvests olives
Ms Siew says settlers have thrown excrement and stones at her

We spoke against the gentle thrumming of the fruit hitting the tarpaulin around the trunk, like the pattering of fat rain drops against a window.

The harvesters were making slightly quicker progress on this day: helping them was a group of Israelis and foreigners, organised by the group Rabbis for Human Rights.

Among them was 64 year-old Hellela Siew.

She has helped Palestinians with the olive harvest for the past seven years.

And it is a journey she makes, every year, not from Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem - but from Hebden Bridge, a small, bucolic community in the north of England.

Hellela was born in Tel Aviv; she left Israel in 1972.

"I had finished university. I was very frustrated. I told my parents: I'm not coming back until there's peace."

Hellela paused, and smiled, sadly. "But there is no peace, and I'm not really a hostage."

She may be three times as old as some of the young Israeli volunteers, but the olives fell from her branches far more quickly, with her practised technique.

"I do get scared from the settlers," she said.

She said settlers have thrown stones and excrement at her.

"Things are worse now. At least when I left in 1972 there was hope. I wouldn't say such a thing nowadays. There's no chance now."

TEENAGE OUTPOSTERS

Yedidye Slomin at destroyed illegal outpost Shvut Ami Bet
Mr Slomin insists that all the olive groves are part of Israel

The reason for the change, Palestinians and Israeli activists agree, is the generational shift among the settlers - the emergence of what has become known as the "hilltop youth".

We tramped up the hillside to the ridge that overlooks Ramiz Barham's olive grove.

There was the latest "outpost", or attempt to set up a new Jewish encampment, in contravention of Israeli law (let alone international law, which regards even officially-sanctioned Israeli settlements as illegal).

Two young dogs bounded towards us, barking.

In the distance, sat three young men, dipping crackers in hummus.

As we drew closer, I recognised one of the three.

Yedidye Slomin is a teenager whom I first met in February, on the other side of the valley.

He had helped set up an outpost called "Shvut Ami". When I went back to see him in April, the young settlers of Shvut Ami were being evacuated, by the Israeli border police, for the eleventh time.

You can see the film I made about it here

Where we were now standing was, Yedidye told me, "Shvut Ami Bet", or Shvut Ami number 2.

Hilltop outpost and olive groves
"Shvut Ami Bet" is on a rocky hilltop above the olive groves

He, and a few other young men, had been here for the last four months.

Three weeks ago, the army came for the first time, to try to kick the settlers out.

Since then, he said, soldiers have returned five times, most recently just the day before.

Yedidye showed me what had been his cabin, and what was now just a few strips of shredded wood.

"We will not leave," he insisted. "The army can come, and we will repair, and each time we will be quicker."

Yedidye would not talk about the olive harvest, nor about any allegations that a minority of settlers vandalise and steal and fight.

But he did insist that this land, all this land, was the Land of Israel.

Within sight of "Shvut Ami Bet", Ramiz Barham, his family, and the Israeli volunteers, were painstakingly stripping the branches of their hard green fruit.

I had thought that olives were harvested by shaking the branches on to sheets below. Ramiz looked horrified.

"You mustn't shake the tree," he said. "It's far too sensitive."

It is true that the olive oil from this part of the northern West Bank is stunningly good. For me, it is the best I have ever tasted, the best I have ever cooked with - better than anything I have tried in Italy or Greece. But it comes at a price.


Here are some of your thoughts and comments on Tim Franks' diary:

I was born in Israel and lived there for 15 years. My family is from Surrey and we moved back about eight years ago. So I have both an Israeli and Western view of the conflict. These "We will not leave" comments from the Jewish settlers anger me to the point of seeing red!! I think one of the many reasons Israel has so many issues is due to these Jewish religious fundamentalist settlers (who seem to mostly come from the USA with a typical gung ho American attitude). Also the fact that Israel has religious political parties. Shut down these settlers and make religious political parties illegal! It would solve so many problems.


Tzuri Baharier, Redhill, Surrey UK

These settlers who steal land or abuse the owners are the shame of the Jewish people. In the rest of the world, Jews are at the forefront of the fight for justice and human rights. It just goes to show how religious fundamentalism dehumanizes people. There's a lesson here for members of all faiths.
Joshua Frost, Sacramento, USA

Good old-fashioned religious fundamentalism. This olive grove belongs to me because God said so long ago in this Book here. The way forward is for Israel to recognise its crimes and make amends. The world must hold Israel to account, we are the ones who gave birth to Israel, we have a responsibility to ensure Israel abides by our rules, just like any other child.
Londoner, London, UK

Why don't the Israelis leave the Palestinians alone? This is their home and their land. They had pity on the Jews and let them settle on their land but the Jews have completely taken over and want everything. At least let them earn their livelihood in peace. People forget they will have to stand on the day of judgment and answer for the deeds they have done in this world.
Zainab, Leicester UK

I live near this area and have to tell you that around my neighbourhood the local Arabs have almost completed harvesting their olives as usual, undisturbed by anyone. The rains have also just begun. A few extremist youths, suffering from a faulty educational background give the peaceful Jewish residents of whole region an undeserved bad reputation. Since, as ever politics are never black and white, a few nasty incidents have been blown up into a major propaganda campaign against Israelis.

I would also like to comment that years ago it was apparently not necessary for foreigners to come over especially to help pick olives. This is a politically motivated programme. The families owning the trees seemed to cope very well with their annual harvest by themselves. Also, from what I can see, there are far more trees than are needed all over the Samarian Hills. Since the late King Hussein of Jordan withdrew from our region, there is no market for the surplus oil which used to be sent to Jordan. It tastes fine to me, but the quality unfortunately is not up to EU standards.
Meira, Israel

Thank you for writing your important story. When the majority of the world community get access to the truth of what is happening on the ground we will be closer to an end of blind support and demand true solutions and final peace.
Kathleen Lynch Hazimeh, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

As a South African I am dismayed at the blatant arrogance of these Jews. We were condemned for apartheid practises, but this is exactly what these Jews are practising, something that the world conveniently chooses to ignore.
Justin van Heerden, Johannesburg, South Africa

Where are the human rights the US government claim against other countries when it comes to the issue of Israel's treatment of Palestinians? We have more than 1.5 million Palestinian prisoners in Gaza and two more million in the West Bank. The only request they have is to let them live free and in peace like any Israeli citizens. Is this too much to ask for?
Ghassan Tafla, Bowling Green, USA

The majority of Israelis and Palestinians are ready to live side by side but facts are telling us that Israeli activists are happy with current situation.
A.R.Sheik Fareed, Obfelden / Switzerland

I have lived in Samaria in a Jewish town for 24 years and never saw any problems with olive harvests. Why look only at the problems? Also, why not explain that when I moved here, there were open borders, Arabs came into our towns and we to theirs. They started this war and they are suffering more from it. It is their choice. Imagine if I reported on the suffering of German civilians in Dresden after the British firebombed the city and ignored the London Blitz! Besides, the Bible proves to us that the Holy land belongs to the Jewish, not Arab peoples, no matter what.
Israel Dalven, Emanuel, Israel

It is the land of the Prophets and only a Prophet can bring peace to it.
Azam Fazili, Abu Dhabi - U.A.E.

Dear Mr. Franks, if the Palestinian village of Kedum existed before the settlement by Jews, as you implied in your article, why is the name of the Palestinian village merely an Arabification of the name of the original Jewish city?
David Silberman, Alabama

Israel's occupation of Arab lands and Palestine in particular has to be the biggest land grab in contemporary history. The world looks away as future seeds of ever more radical Islam and its ensuing instability are daily sown in this region by Israel's continuing aggression, outright theft, and cynical attempts at a one sided peace.
Dokun Oyenuga, Lagos, Nigeria

It is really sad that family olive farms, over 100 years old, are being destroyed by members of illegal Israeli settlements. There should be international pressure from leading EU nations (and if we're lucky, from the US as well) to put these attacks to an end, and to conserve those olive farms. These are hard working Palestinian families that have no link to any political party or armed militias, why should they suffer?
Saeed , Canada



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