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Bitter Olives

Olive oil is a lifeline for 100,000 families in the West Bank. However, the harvest has halved compared to ten years ago as a result of changing weather patterns which make it harder for the trees to grow and bear fruit, increasing settler-related violence and limited allocation of Israeli permits impeding the essential year-round agricultural activities. Palestinians owners access their fields in the vicinity of settlements at the risk of being attacked and seriously injured by settlers throwing stones and tear gas.

 

The olive harvest carries more than just economic significance in the lives of Palestinians. It’s considered a symbol of Palestinians' bond to the land and an opportunity to pass down traditions to children. However, attracted by the Western lifestyle, many Palestinians youths are reluctant to participate in the harvest.

 

The olives are sold as food and used to make olive oil, soap and cosmetics, once a flourishing industry in the north of the Occupied Territories, while the olive pomace is dried and used as a fuel. In the West Bank the act of planting or destroying a tree carries a deep symbolic significance. When Israel was declared a Jewish state in 1948, native trees such as oaks and olive trees were uprooted and replaced by European pines as an attempt to make the land appear as an extension of Europe. Acidic pine leaves prevent the growth of underbrush plants.

 

I chose not to focus on military actions or physical conflicts between settlers and farmers, but rather on people’s refusal to surrender to both asphyxiating bureaucracy and illegal occupation, as well as their perseverance to maintain their rituals in a conflict zone.

Battir, Bethlehem - A family of farmers pray and rest under a three in their olive grove during the 2022 olive harvest. 15th October 2022.

Battir, West Bank - A centenary olive tree scattered in pieces by Har Gilo settlers stand like an extinguished cigarette butt in Mohammed Harbouk's family olive grove located in the village of Battir, southwest of Jerusalem. 15th November 2022.

Al-Mughayyir, Ramallah - Palestinian children helping their families during the olive harvest. Olive harvest carries more than just economic significance in the lives of Palestinians. It is considered a symbol of Palestinians' bond to the land and an opportunity to pass down traditions to the children, connecting them to the Palestinian heritage - 18th November 2022.

Al-Mughayyir, West Bank - 45-year-old father of four farmer Kazem Al-haji Muhamad portrayed in his field. On 12th October 2012 he lost his left eye to a settler attack while harvesting his olive trees. 18th November 2022.

Bethlehem, West Bank - 96-year-old Amina Sabat portrayed during the harvest in her olive grove in Bethlehem. She said this year's crop went unharvested as she struggled to recruit young seasonal workers for the harvest as they're attracted by more competitive Israeli salaries and don't want to do heavy work for what they feel is low pay. 26th October 2022.

Beit Jala, West Bank - The "Tunnel’s road" crosses over the olive cultivated lands of Beit Jala residents stretching all the way towards Jerusalem. It is part of the Separation Wall. 25th October 2022.

Burin, West Bank - A group of men wait their turn to collect freshly pressed olive oil at the local oil mill in Burin, south of Nablus. 100,000 families in Gaza and the West Bank rely on olive oil as a crucial source of income (UNDP). However the harvest is expected to fall by 60% this season as a consequence of changing weather patterns, settler-related aggressions and limited allocation of permits impeding the essential year-round agricultural activities. 8th November 2022.

Battir, West Bank - Sixty-two-year old mayor of Battir Zaki al-Batmeh strolls in his 8 dunams olive grove, south-west of Jerusalem, which is just behind the hill planted with European pines. When Israel was declared a state in 1948, native trees such as olive trees were systematically uprooted and replaced by European pine trees in a reforestation effort financed by the Jewish National Fund. Pines reduced biodiversity and harmed the local environment because of their acidic leaves.

A family of farmers ploughs her land the old way. Agriculture is a lifeline for 80% of the village residents. Farmers are also the ones who suffer the most from the Israeli restrictions on agriculture as 94% of the village is located in Area C, where year-round agricultural activities such as pruning, ploughing or fertilizing are forbidden - 11th November 2022.

Al-Mughayyir, West Bank - Farmer Kazem Al-haji Muhamad had 80 of his olive trees trees uprooted by Israeli settlers of Adei Ad outpost on 20th October 2022. Settlers burn or destroy Palestinian trees to increase their control over the region. 94% of the total area is classified as area C, under full military and administrative Israeli control. 18th November 2022.

Rujeib, West Bank - After attending a class on Palestinian identity, children of Ammar Bin Yasser school plant an olive tree in their school garden, southeast of Nablus. Since their childhood, Palestinians learn to relate their struggle to the olive tree. Being draught-resistant and growing under poor soil conditions, olive trees are considered the symbol of Palestinian resistance and resilience. 27th November 2022

Nablus, West Bank – Olive oil is used to produce soap and cosmetics. Soap production is an ancient tradition in Palestine dating back to the Ottoman period when the urban bourgeoisie made the soap industry the dominant economic sector in Nablus. Today, only two traditional soap factories are still in business. 28th November 2022.

Al-Mughayyir, Ramallah - A family of farmers ploughs her land the old way at her own risk in area C, where year-round agricultural activities such as pruning, ploughing or fertilizing are forbidden. Agriculture is a lifeline for 80% of the village residents. Farmers are the ones who suffer the most from the Israeli restrictions on agriculture as 94% of the village is located in Area C, under Israel military control. 18th November 2022.

Surif, West Bank - A Palestinian mother nurturing her two-week-old daughter in the family olive grove. Along with their economic importance - 100,000 families in Gaza and the West Bank rely on olive oil (UNDP) as their main source of income - olive trees are considered a symbol of Palestinian identity and connection to the land.

As-Sawiya, West Bank - A group of Israeli volunteers gather in prayer after spending the morning picking olives with a Palestinian family in the eastern West Bank. 24th October 2022.

Burin, West Bank - Sixty-year-old farmer Doha Asous carries a sack full of olives on his head - 2nd November 2022.

Burin, West Bank - A military aircraft flies over the Doha Asous olive grove located in Area C, just a few hundred meters from the Yitzhar illegal settlement, which is known for the violence of its inhabitants.

Al-Mughayyir, West Bank - The empty shell of a tear gas shell lies on the ground of an olive grove after the Israeli army cleared a farming family during the olive harvest in a field located in Area C. 17th November 2022.

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