November 15, 2013 by cosmoakacitizensmith
One of the main reasons I’m here with other international volunteers is to help out with the Palestinian olive harvest. It’s not only an important time for the economy, but as an act, harvesting olives also has enormous symbolic significance. The reason help is needed is not so much assistance with manual labour. It is more to have internationals protect Palestinians from Israeli soldiers and illegal Israeli settlers while they’re harvesting on their land. The Israeli settlers are without doubt the strangest group of people I have encountered here.
They are either economic migrants lured by the promise of cheap land and property. Or they are ideological zealots who see themselves at the vanguard of driving the Palestinians out of the Occupied Territories and claiming it for Israel. Their presence is illegal under international law, and despite numerous UN resolutions to stop the building of these settlements on Palestinian land, the Israeli government still allows it to happen.
Settlers are armed, and when it comes to Israeli soldiers, internationals, the UN or ANYONE, they don’t give a fuck.
Twice, the group of international volunteers I am with were called out because settlers had disrupted the harvest by throwing stones at Palestinians picking olives. In both cases, we were lucky. Either some soldiers intervened, or the presence of internationals stopped them. However, the army’s attitude can be ambiguous. I have heard cases from the ISM of settlers being violent towards people, even shooting at them, and soldiers turning a blind eye.
One time, our group got called to a small village outside Hebron. A Palestinian family were harvesting olives on their land only to be attacked by settlers, some of whom were kids. The settlers had been there for five years, and turned out to be the relatives of Baruch Goldstein, a fanatical Jewish-American extremist who murdered 29 Palestinian Muslims praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1999. This is a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. Imagine living next door to this man’s family if you were a Palestinian Muslim?
Abdullah was in his 80s and the head of the Palestinian family. He was defiant but he had a cheerful glint in his eye. “Before five years, no problem,” he says of his situation in his broken English. “Since five years, BIG problem!” I liked Abdullah. The fanatics next door had just attacked him and his family with stones, but he wasn’t going to let it ruffle him. He handed me an almond. “Good for men!” he said to me, clenching his fist and raising his arm slightly from his side before giving me a wink.
The recent history of nearby Hebron or al-Khalil in Arabic is very much a tale of two cities. Uniquely, after a 1997 agreement between Palestine and Israel, Hebron was split into two zones: H1 and H2. Around 120,000 Palestinians live in H1, while around 30,000 Palestinians along with around 700 Israelis remain under Israeli military control. The Israeli settlers live mainly in a gated community but go out on Fridays walking around the city guarded by the army.(Contrast this with the treatment of Palestinian victims of house demolition). These can be a flash point for clashes between the two communities.
From the heady days of the birth of the State of Israel, Zionism has had threat teams that operate outside the law yet have tacit or at times overt approval by official bodies. The Stern Gang and Irgun were organisations that existed in the years prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 and engaged in acts that would now be considered terrorism by large sections of the international community. The settlers seem to me to be a threat team too, although adapted for a different age where blowing up buildings and killing people has been replaced by ethnic displacement and low-level, state sanctioned violence. I was glad to get away from them. Goodness knows what it must be like living with them in your shadow.