17 Oct

Peace being sown among olive trees

Jewish volunteers help Palestinians harvest crops

Texts & Pictures by John Murphy,

The day is hot and dusty on this West Bank hillside, but 53-year-old Fuad Amer moves with the energy of a man half his age, stripping the fruit from his olive trees in giant handfuls, plucking others from the high branches with a surgeon’s care.

His enthusiasm is understandable. This is the first time in four years that Amer has been able to harvest his olives.
Last year, he says, Jewish settlers set fire to his olive grove and destroyed his harvest. Before that, gun-toting settlers forced his family from the grove when they started picking. Israeli authorities, trying to avoid further confrontations, ordered him to stay away, Amer says, and the settlers helped themselves to his olives.

But this season, an Israeli high court decision granting Palestinian farmers protection from settler violence means that Amer will be able to harvest the olives from his 60 trees.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police are patrolling stony hillside groves near Jewish settlements in the West Bank, vowing to keep the peace. Palestinians, usually fearful of Israeli authorities, are welcoming their presence.

“We are happy that the army is here. We feel like we’re being protected,” said Amer, who has been harvesting his olives within shouting distance of the hilltop settlement of Bracha. So far, he says, there have been no problems.

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