The olive harvest season has begun throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.
About 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinian families depend on the olive harvest, which takes place each year between October and November, for their income – including more than 15 percent of working women.
According to the Palestinian Trade Center, or PalTrade, the olive sector is valued between $160 million and $191 million in good years.
Traditionally the holiday season, this year’s crop has been overshadowed by tight Israeli restrictions, settler attacks and a poor yield due to harsh weather conditions.
Olive and olive oil industry
Olive trees have been cultivated throughout Palestine for thousands of years and have become a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness against the Israeli occupation.
Nearly half of all cultivated land throughout the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is planted with an estimated 10 million olive trees (PDF). The small fruits with green or black stones are mainly used to produce olive oil, which is never in short supply from the Palestinian dinner table, as well as table olives, pickles and soap.
The Palestinian city of Nablus has long been known for producing olive oil soap that is rich in antioxidants and gentle on the skin.
In 2019, about 177,000 tons of olives were pressed, to produce 39,600 tons of olive oil — about 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The governorates of Jenin, Tubas, and the northern valleys produced the largest amount of olive oil, reaching 10,442 tons, followed by Tulkarm (6,031 tons) and Gaza (5,582 tons).
Olive picking under occupation
A study published by the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ) in 2012 estimated that since 1967, Israeli authorities have uprooted 800,000 Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank.
Last year alone, more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Besides the physical destruction of these olive trees, many Palestinian farmers in the West Bank require Israeli permits to access their land in restricted areas near illegal Israeli settlements.
Israeli settlements are Jewish communities established illegally on Palestinian land. Today, between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian farmers are prevented from accessing most of their land in areas close to settlements, except for a few days a year. According to the human rights organization HaMoked, permit approval rates have been declining over the years. In 2020, only 24 percent of land access permits were approved.
Israeli settlers’ attacks
During the 2020 olive harvest season, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented the injury of at least 26 Palestinians and the destruction of more than 1,700 trees.
As of 4 October 2021, the United Nations Humanitarian Cluster has recorded at least 365 settler attacks against Palestinians. This week, it launched a 10-day campaign to help and protect farmers in areas considered highly vulnerable to attacks by Israeli settlers.
The campaign, organized by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, will cover 12 villages, mostly in the south of Nablus, but also in the Ramallah and Bethlehem areas.
Muayyad Bisharat, head of the advocacy department at the Union of Women and Young Children, told Al Jazeera that the main goal of the campaign is to “strengthen the control of our natural resources, by bringing Palestinian farmers to their lands in Area C. [under full Israeli control]and other areas under the threat of Israeli occupation.”