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Palestine olive harvest from an Oxford activist

An Oxford Activist | 13.10.2004 22:08 | Oxford

It's difficult to measure your success as an activist in Palestine,
but after 4 days that I can only describe as a nightmare, I finally
feel that today the fifth day was some kind of success.

The second day of the olive harvest ( Sunday) was fine in the
morning, but then we got a call from Nablus saying that the soldiers
had entered the new campus of An Najah University and were detaining
up to 50 male students and one was being beaten. The medical teams
asked us to come right away. So I took a small group with me. By the
time we got there, the students had all been released except the one
who had been beaten, who was in the jeep. We asked the university
staff if they wanted us to try to do something, and they said no.
This was really frustrating for me, but I won't go into my
frustrations with the university staff, who basically let the army
take the boy away in the end, without even letting us try to
negotiate. I'm sure they have their reasons, I just hope the boy
will be ok.
Then we had a call from our group in the village telling us that
everything was going badly wrong and that the army had arrived and
could we come back asap. So we left Nablus and headed back to Salem,
literally running up the mountain to try and get to where we were
told a Palestinian had been detained. We couldn't find him, and in
the end, due to a lot of mis-communication in our group, none of us
were able to get to the jeep that had the young man. Apparently the
soldiers had more or less walked past the activists who were with
the family, grabbed the boy and walked off with him. When the
activists tried to follow one soldier put his M16 on the ground and
said he would shoot if they took another step. I had thought that he
had been released, so I stayed with other families in the area who
had not yet been seen, but later when I accompanied them down I was
told the man had not been released. He was released the next day.
On the third day of the harvest (Monday), as I was on my way to meet
the group at about 7:45am, I got a call that there were soldiers in
Balata, occupying a home. A group of us decided to stay in Balata
whilst the rest went on to the village. To sum up the day, we went
to the houses to try and get in, but were unable to, the army jeeps
kept coming up to us and blocking us every way we went. During the
course of the day 7 people were injured, including a guy who was
shot with a live bullet in his neck, a 12 year old girl who was shot
with a live bullet in her foot, and a 9 year old boy who was shot
with a live bullet in his thigh.
I think most of the injuries were caused by the soldiers in the
police jeep. They were really enjoying themselves and would mock us
and wave at us and make all kinds of stupid gestures through their
windows. At one point another girl and I were trapped by the jeep
and then they threw a sound bomb at us, which exploded just a few
feet away. They just kept driving up and down the small alleyway
where they had occupied two homes. Eventually we went to another
jeep to ask when the soldiers would be leaving from the occupied
homes. The soldiers just wanted to make pointless conversation with
us and at first lied and said no homes were occupied. During this
time we were told by a woman that the jeep had a small boy inside
that they had grabbed off the streets. We asked the soldiers about
this and they drove off to a bigger jeep and we saw them
transferring the boy from one jeep to another.
We quickly made our way towards them and started to ask about the
boy. They told us he would be kept in the jeep because he was
throwing stones. Then they told us that if one of us wanted we could
accompany them into the occupied house. We told them that we didn't
want to accompany them into any houses, but if they could open the
door of the house and allow us in to see the family we would
appreciate it. Then they drove off.
After a few minutes all three jeeps drove up to the alley where the
occupied homes were and we saw large smoke bombs, which are usually
used to obscure the view when soldiers empty out from houses. After
the soldiers evacuated from one house, they returned to evacuate the
second house. We were told they also dropped off the small boy. The
operation ended around 1:30pm.
After this we went to the hospital to take pictures of the victims.
The 9 year old boy was lying there, still waiting to have the bullet
removed from his thigh.
Later we went to the two homes which had been occupied. One was of
the political prisoner Hussam Khader. His brother Ghassan told us
about what happened. The soldiers had come at 2am and forced the
family all into one room. The children kept talking and the soldier
kept telling them to be quiet but one girl wouldn't so the soldier
told Ghassan to tell her to shut up. Ghassan asked the soldier if he
had any tape that he could put over his kids mouths.
The next day (yesterday) we went back to Salem village for our
fourth day of picking. Our group split into two and we went up to
the families in the high risk areas. We picked for about an hour,
before the group lower down called us and told us they were going to
move down to the settler road because a jeep had stopped there and
the soldiers were harassing a family.
We made our way closer, but tried to stay hidden because we didn't
want to draw attention to the families we were with, because they
wanted to continue picking without making the soldiers aware they
were there.
Myself and another activist called Becks made our way down towards
where the soldiers were talking to the other group of 5 activists,
but the activists waved us away, so we went back again. For the next
hour I stayed in phone contact with them trying to give them advise
on what to do. Becks took a group up to where one family was, and
myself and an Italian activist stayed with one family. We tried to
see what was going on and talked in whispers so as not to draw
attention to ourselves. After a while the activists told us they
were being arrested for being in a closed military area. They had
been given the option to leave, but had decided to stay as long as
they could to make sure the family was ok. One of them managed to
get away but four of them were arrested (they were all released
later the same day).
With all the activists gone from that area, we suddenly heard
screams coming from the family, where the soldiers had obviously
started making problems for them. Myself, Becks and a guy called
Rich, tried to make our way down, without giving away the direction
we were coming from. We saw the soldier leading the old Palestinian
man down the mountain and another soldier was walking with an old
Palestinian lady who was yelling at the soldiers to release her
husband. We caught up with them and asked the soldiers what was
going on. We then tried to stand in front to stop them from putting
the old guy in the jeep. The woman was telling us he was sick, so we
asked the soldiers to release him, but they were really aggressive
and wouldn't listen to us. Myself and Becks decided to block the
jeep and stood infront quickly, before they could drive off with the
man. Meanwhile the man's wife and other women tried to speak to the
soldiers at the back to release the guy. The soldiers were so angry
with us and jumped out of the jeep pushing us and trying to drag us
away. Each time they pushed us down we got up again and jumped in
front of the jeep. This happened for about 20 minutes until the
District Co-ordinating Officer jeep arrived and he and other
soldiers got out and tried to speak to us. They asked us to move
away from the jeep, but we refused and asked them to speak to the
soldiers to release the man, so we could go back to the village with
him. Meanwhile the other soldiers kept shouting at us and saying "We
just arrested your friends, do you want us to arrest you too?" At
first the DCO was sympathetic and gave us the impression he would do
something, but after he spoke to the soldiers, he told us that the
man had done something wrong and that's why he was being arrested.
Becks tried to keep negotiating with him, while I blocked the jeep
and Rich stood with the women who were shouting at the soldiers.
Then the DCO drove off and another jeep drove up. These soldiers
were obviously looking for some trouble as they ran straight towards
us and started pushing us and grabbing us and screaming in our faces
and threatening us. We gave up on blocking the jeeps, as it was
going to be near impossible and tried to walk away from them. They
kept walking behind us and one very aggressive and disgusting
soldier kept putting his leg in between mine from behind. I stopped
and told him I would refuse to walk if he kept doing that, but he
didn't care and kept pushing me forward and kicking me from behind
and threatening to punch us. It's so difficult to describe how it
feels when someone is continously provoking you, but you know you
cannot even touch them. It is a great test of patience. They pulled
out a blindfold to put over Rich's eyes at first, but I told them
very unkindly to put it away. I told them to leave us the hell
alone, as they were saying disgusting things to us and laughing and
jeering that the family would never be able to see the old man again.
I recognized them from the day before in Balata camp and they
obviously recognized me. I mentioned the fact that they had injured
7 people including young kids and they said they were proud of this
and they would shoot me too next time, and then they were smiling
and winking and saying, "See you in Balata tonight". I told them
they should be ashamed of themselves. I think it was incredibly
unfortunate that every single one of the soldiers in the jeep was a
complete b******d. We kept walking down with the women, who were
really amazing and not at all scared of the soldiers, they even told
the soldiers they would be back to pick the next day.
After that we went down to the village and started making some calls
about the guy who had been arrested. Shortly after that we got a
call from our final group which consisted of three people up in the
mountain. They told us that the jeep had stopped near them, but no
soldiers had gotten out yet. Becks and I made our way back up again
and sat far enough away from them, but close enough to see what was
going on. They got out of their jeeps and stared at us for a while,
but then they got back in and drove away. After that we moved back
down towards the village because by now I was getting really hungry.
As we made our way towards the village we got another call saying
the jeep was back. We quickly made our way up again and called to
let the three activists know that two soldiers were making their way
up to the farmers. After a few minutes they called back and said
that the soldiers were calm and we should stay down and the farmers
were going to leave with the internationals as requested by the
We stood close enough to see what was going on and saw that it was
the same soldiers, then we saw them line up and face us and then
they fired a tear gas canister towards us. As the effects of the gas
took on, we tried to run from it and cover our faces. As Becks and I
were trying to deal with the gas, the soldiers took the other
activists and made them sit down and then they arrested three of the
young male farmers. We could see what was going on and tried to make
our away forward, but another jeep came and blocked us off. We tried
to get past and block the jeep with the farmers in, but we were too
late. After that we made our way up to the where the rest of the
farmers were, and all the soldiers and they laughed and smiled at
us, happy that they had arrested more Palestinians.
We all felt incredibly upset and frustrated that we had allowed them
to arrest a total of four Palestinians in one day just for
harvesting olives. The families also seemed very disappointed,
although the one family who had been with Becks and I when we tried
to block the jeep, appreciated our small efforts. We made more phone
calls and managed to get a member of the Knesset to work on having
the Palestinians released. Later that night they were.
That evening we discussed everything we had done wrong and said we
would only go to Salem today, if we felt we could do something
effective. This morning we didn't go as early as we normally do,
instead we sat and discussed how we would work. The four activists
who were arrested the previous day, left Nablus and the rest of us
formed an affinity group of 7 and some Japanese activists who didn't
speak any English or Arabic joined us and we all went to the
We went to a family that was close to the settler road and started
picking with them. After about an hour a jeep came and three of the
girls went forward to negotiate with the soldiers. The rest of the
group focused on being near the Palestinian man as we knew there
would be a high chance of him being arrested. The soldiers moved
from the road towards us and I could hear them saying that we all
had to leave within ten minutes. The old man and woman asked if they
could have an hour, because they needed to get the trees done before
Ramadan, which starts tomorrow or the day after. The soldiers
weren't having it, although they were not aggressive. Then after a
few minutes I saw another jeep pull up and recognized it as the same
one from the day before with the aggressive soldiers in it. They
rushed towards us, one of them winked and saluted me, he was
obviously excited to be there and clash with us again. They tried to
get around us to the Palestinian man and woman, but we managed to
block them as we had discussed in the morning and half the group
left with the Palestinians as quick as they could, while the rest of
us could pushed and flung about. After that we quickly tried to grab
all the bags with olives, but the soldiers kept pushing us down and
tried to grab the bags of olives and spill them everywhere. We hung
onto the bags, but they kept pushing us. Every time I got up I fell
flat on my back and so I stayed down and told them, to calm down.
Then I saw them trying to push one of the girls over the side of
some rocks backwards, I couldn't believe it and rushed forward to
grab the girl before he pushed her down. I managed to grab her arm,
but then I felt the soldier pushing me and I shouted something along
the lines of "please don't do this", before I screamed and we both
fell over onto some of the rocks below. Thankfully it wasn't too
high, but my body is aching and bruised from the experience.
I was so angry and determined to get the olives so I climbed back up
and so did the other two girls and we all grabbed a bag of olives
each. They were really heavy and the soldiers laughed and pushed us
as we tried to pick them up. By then I was so angry I just wanted to
strangle them, but I focused on making sure that we got all the
olives and then we made our way down the mountain with them
following us. When we got down the family told us that some olives
had been left behind. We waited for a while and then went back up,
when we were sure the soldiers had left. When we got back up we saw
that the soldiers had spilt the olives all over so we tried to
gather as much as we could and take them to the family. Although the
fact that the Palestinians had been driven away in such an awful
manner may not seem in any way a success, the fact that the family
was able to pick for most of the day without getting arrested, and
managed to keep most of their olives, to me was a sign of a
successful day.

An Oxford Activist


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  1. Action not pontification — Paul
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