The olive harvest season is underway in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Approximately 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinian families depend on the olive harvest, which takes place every year between October and November, for their income, including more than 15 percent of working women.
According to the Palestine Trade Center, or PalTrade, the olive sector is worth between $ 160 million and $ 191 million in good years.
Traditionally a festive season, this year’s harvest is once again overshadowed by strict Israeli restrictions, settler attacks, and a weaker yield due to harsh weather conditions.
The olive and olive oil industry
Olive trees have been cultivated in Palestine for thousands of years and have become a symbol of Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.
Almost half of all cultivated land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is planted with approximately 10 million olive trees (PDF). The small green or black stone fruits are mainly used to produce olive oil, which is never lacking on a Palestinian table, as well as table olives, pickles, and soap.
The Palestinian city of Nablus has long been known for producing olive oil soap, rich in antioxidants and gentle on the skin.
In 2019, around 177,000 tons of olives were pressed, producing 39,600 tons of olive oil, approximately 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The Jenin, Tubas and Northern Valleys governorates produced the most olive oil with 10,442 tons, followed by Tulkarm (6,031 tons) and Gaza (5,582 tons).
Harvesting of olives under occupation
A study published in 2012 by The Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) estimated that since 1967, Israeli authorities have uprooted 800,000 Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank.
In the last year alone, more than 9,300 trees they were destroyed in the West Bank, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In addition to the physical destruction of these olive trees, many Palestinian farmers in the West Bank require Israeli permits to access their land in restricted areas near illegal Israeli settlements.
Israeli settlements are Jewish communities illegally built on Palestinian land. Currently, between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian farmers are prohibited from accessing much of their land in areas close to the settlements, except for a few days a year. According to the human rights group HaMoked, permit approval rates have been declining over the years. In 2020, only 24 percent of access permits to the land were approved.
Israeli settler attacks
During the 2020 olive harvest season, OCHA documented at least 26 Palestinians injured and more than 1,700 trees destroyed.
From October 4, 2021, the UN group for humanitarian affairs recorded at least 365 attacks by settlers against Palestinians. This week, a 10-day campaign was launched to help and protect farmers in areas considered high-risk from attacks by Israeli settlers.
The campaign, organized by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), will cover 12 villages, mainly in southern Nablus, but also in the Ramallah and Bethlehem areas.
Muayyad Bsharat, head of advocacy for the UAWC, told Al Jazeera that the main goal of the campaign is to “strengthen control over our natural resources, bringing Palestinian farmers to their land in Area C [under full Israeli control], and other areas threatened by the Israeli occupation ”.