Rural Palestinian Farmers Resist Occupation
The Palestinian struggle for liberation is not only ideological and moral. Israel's occupation of Palestine violates numerous human rights, including food sovereignty.
"To exist is to resist," says one famous graffiti message written on the apartheid wall. For farmers, to farm is to resist. And for Palestinians who have joined in non-violent resistance such as the boycott against Israeli products, to buy local produce is to resist. Food sovereignty of the Palestinian people is one fundamental issue that is complicated, intentionally, by Israeli policy. On the other hand, food sovereignty is a pivotal point for a Free Palestine.
The Occupation's Impact on Farmers
Since the start of construction of the apartheid wall in 2002, farmers cut off from their lands by the wall have only been able to access their land by showing a permit issued by the occupation authorities. The occupation has been steadily decreasing the number of permits issued, often invoking unspecified ‘security reasons’, and additionally by gradually narrowing the criteria for farmers deemed to qualify for a permit. Because the restrictions seem to have been imposed in an arbitrary way, it is difficult to identify a timeline for the narrowing of restrictions. Farmers report that initially permits were given to the majority farmers, and the additional workers employed by the farmers. After a time, this was narrowed so that only the family of the land owner were given permits; then, only the sons of the landowner; finally, only the landowner and his eldest son. Further, restrictions have been placed numbers of animals and tools that farmers are allowed to bring onto the land. As a result of these restrictions it has become almost impossible for farmers to work on the land in many places affected by the Wall.
The yearly olive harvest becomes weaker each year and beyond normal factors that farmers face such as weather, Occupation policy is a key factor for a healthy crop. The olive trees bear less fruit after farmers have been expelled from their land and are prohibited from plowing and maintaining it. Settlers, who light fires, bulldoze groves, and allow pollution from hilltop settlements to run down onto agricultural areas, also contribute to the debilitation. Settler violence has increased dramatically in 2011 with nearly 1,000 olive trees destroyed. Farmers across the West Bank experience assaults on their person and property, in addition to facing the ongoing closure of their agricultural land. Furthermore, Occupation forces have also taken to suppressing the traditions associated with harvest. In the village of Salem, soldiers barred people from preparing tea over a fire amongst their fields, an age-old custom done daily during the harvest.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, despite intense pressure from Israel, the US and EU Governments, confirmed in 2004 what Palestinians and the world have known since the beginning of its planning and construction: The Apartheid Wall is illegal. The ICJ Advisory Opinion clearly calls for a complete stop and reversal of the Wall. In response to the ICJ opinion, the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign is calling for immediate action: Construction on the Wall must be stopped immediately, all existing sections must be dismantled and compensation must be offered to those who have suffered from its devastation.
Under the slogan "You Will Not Face Settler Violence Alone," organizations like the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign have organized international and Palestinian human rights defenders to attend the annual olive harvest. This year, the olive harvest season comes with a great increase in the number of attacks by settlers on Palestinian farmers and villagers. It is imperative that the campaign, along with other Palestinian organizations, local youth movements, and activists, organize volunteer activities to strengthen and support the farmers in the most threatened villages by helping them to harvest their olive crop, thereby providing witness and protection from violence.
Palestinian civil society recently celebrated a victory of the international boycott campaign against Israeli products. Agrexco is a partially state-owned Israeli exporter responsible for the export of a large proportion of fresh Israeli produce, including 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israel’s illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In a translation of the court documents on the liquidation process that the BNC obtained, it is clearly stated that Agrexco acted as an arm of the Israeli state, effectively providing state subsidies to the agricultural sector. Court papers warn that company is Israeli symbol whose downfall will have ‘wider implications.’ The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee (BNC) has called on the movement internationally to celebrate this victory and to intensify BDS campaigns.
In conclusion, food sovereignty is a central issue for Palestinians under occupation. Since the second intifada, Palestinian resistance is most notably taking place in villages and rural places most deeply affected by the Wall and settlements. The rural nature of today's popular resistance is an important aspect to consider when analyzing the Palestine question. Offensive actions by Israeli forces, enacted by government policy, include land and property destruction, isolation, and forced migration. These are met by Palestinians living in village with completely non-violent tactics such as weekly demonstrations, boycott, and simply refusing to leave their land.