The olive season is upon us once more. On the Shabbat before Sukkot we had the entire family, children and grandchildren, filling every nook and corner of our house. We took the opportunity to continue an almost yearly family tradition and dragged everyone outside for an olive harvest. Lots of olives this year on many trees, but smaller than we’d like. Still, we chose a tree, surrounded it, climbed it, spread a tarp underneath it, and about 40 hands of all sizes harvested enough olives to fill about 100 liters of large jars. God bless a large family that works together. Then again, after getting the olives home, the long mundane tasks of sorting, cleaning, soaking, jarring and heaving them up to the top shelf of an outside closet were left up to Iris and me. Now we wait and hope we put the right amount of salt, peppers, lemons, garlic, dafna leaves and love into each jar.
On the week of Yom Kippur the olive harvest started also in the occupied territories of the West Bank. That week I spent Erev Yom Kippur watching, guarding and picking olives in the groves of Kafr Saalem outside of Shchem. Here the harvest is a lot more complicated and frustrating. The farmers of Saalem need to get special permission from the army each time they want to go work their own fields. For many reasons this turns out to be a long and arduous bureaucratic process. After getting permission the farmers are still fearful of going to work. The fields belonging to the families of Kafr Saalem are in the vicinity of the so-called “legal” settlement of Alon-Moreh and the “illegal” Scali Camp. Jewish settlers from both of these have harassed, attacked, assaulted, maimed and hospitalized farmers attempting to work their fields or pick their olives. Groves have been set ablaze, whole areas of trees have been hacked, butchered and destroyed. Saalem farmers dare enter their own olive groves only when accompanied by Israeli “do-gooders” who keep the settlers at a distance. For the past few years I’ve been coming to the groves of Saalem. My encounters with settlers have at worst been in the realm of name calling, from “leftist shit” to “traitor” and the such. On the day two settlers opened fire with their army rifles slightly over the heads of our group I wasn’t there. Today, on days the army allows the farmers and us to climb the hills leading to the olive groves, there is also somewhere nearby a police or army vehicle. They are there to prevent incidents between the Jewish settlers and the Israeli “leftist weirdoes”. They are not there to protect the farmers from the settlers. That’s why I continue going to the groves of Saalem, huffing and puffing my way up. The difficulty of working their own land is only one of the absurd and frustrating facts of life in Kafr Saalem. While being there we encounter the theft of land and water by the settlers of Alon-Moreh. We drive on a road forbidden to Arabs. Without army permits (each time) they can’t even cross it to get to their fields. Though they are almost a suburb of Shchem, they can only get there by a long round-about route to the Chawara Checkpoint where hours of waiting and frisking are the norm. Here, every so often someone dies or looses a baby while waiting to go thru the checkpoint in the hot sun or drenched rain. A complex situation. Some of the restrictions are to protect our country, but most are to protect the pseudo-legal and blatantly illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Sometimes I cry, but mostly I just make another trip to the olive groves of Saalem near the “pseudo-legal” Alon-More and the “illegal” Scali Camp. So be it.