- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

TSOFIM, West Bank - The Nofal brothers Ali and Helme, from the Palestinian village of Jayouss, have farmed olives for oil and pickled olives for as long as they can remember.xxxxx Handed down from generation to generation, their 90 acres of olive groves and a 25-acre cotton field are their main source of income.

When Tsofim, a small Jewish settlement about 65 miles from Jerusalem, was built in 1990, some of the Nofals’ trees were uprooted, but not many. The Nofal family asked the settlers to build their security fence on the edge of Tsofim. But like the fruiting prickly cactus called sabra, which is also the nickname for native Israelis, the settlers’ pointed defiance made them difficult to approach. They built a security fence 20 yards from their villas’ back yards, in effect annexing more than 120 olive trees belonging to the Nofal family.

An olive tree can yield 50 to 150 pounds of olives, from which a farmer can press 1 to 4 gallons of olive oil. A gallon of oil in the territories will fetch about $8.

The 120-plus trees annexed by the settlers could cost the Nofals olive oil worth nearly $4,000 a year, a good sum on the West Bank.

The Nofals are lucky that Tsofim is a “moderate” settlement. Other settlements in the West Bank have bulldozed entire groves of olive trees, or simply taken them in the name of security and used the fruit to make their own oil. Worse yet were several incidents of settler violence against Palestinian olive pickers during this year’s harvest.

In the first two weeks of October, at the beginning of the monthlong harvest, one Palestinian was fatally shot and another critically hurt by settlers or during scuffles with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which were called in to settle disputes between farmers and settlers.

Yoav Ende, an observant Jew who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, says, “The situation is very tense and complex and full of fear from both sides. I myself was called a traitor a few days ago by a settler.”

There has been movement to bridge the divide. The IDF has announced that it would protect the farmers for up to three days during this harvest season. Israel’s High Court of Justice said on Nov. 3 that the IDF must protect the Palestinians from attacks by settlers, but left the planning and coordination of such protection to the army.

The Palestinians and their supporters are trying to work out a protection agreement that is realistic — harvesting dozens of acres in a mere three days is an impossible goal. But the IDF says it lacks the manpower to protect all Palestinian farmers for the entire harvest.

The settlers point to the increased violence in the territories since the uprising began four years ago. After killers from Arab villages infiltrated settlements — which are illegal under international law but are being expanded and subsidized by the Israeli government — settlers razed entire olive groves for security’s sake.

The Nofal family has been lucky. They still have most of their trees, but to reach them from their fenced-in village, they must cross a gate that opens only three times a day. The security wall that Israel is erecting eventually will separate them from their trees. The Tsofim settlement will be inside the wall, as will the Nofal family’s olive trees.

On Oct. 4, the Nofals were joined by Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli group that supports Palestinian rights and works on behalf of battered women, the homeless and other causes. Twenty non-Arab volunteers, Israelis as well as foreigners, left Jerusalem at 5:45 a.m., long before sunrise, to help.

After arranging access to the trees within the settlement and waiting for the Tsofim settlement security officer to open the gate — quipping, “If everyone works hard, you won’t have to come back tomorrow” — the volunteers and the Nofal family began picking olives.

Tarps are spread under the trees, and the olives rain off as little rakes are used to shake the branches. After several hours, the pickers stopped for tea, and later for a lunch cooked by Sohad Nofal, Ali Nofal’s wife. By 4:30 p.m., the pickers were finished for the day, although the trees still bore olives. Everyone agreed to return the next day to finish the harvest.

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