The Palestinians and Israelis are concluding the 2011 olive harvest with great satisfaction. Even though the harvest is over, the olive branch won't be able to appreciate the agricultural results until nest year. That is the way it is every year in a branch characterized by intermittent principle – meaning to bear fruit alternately` one year the crop is successful and the next year the crop isn't as successful.
Data, published by the Palestinian Olive Committee, shows that this years crop was 80 Kilos per Donam, compared to last year, 122 Kilos per Donam. Despite the lower number, the Palestinians and the Israelis concluded the olive harvest as a good season, taking into consideration the civil coordination with the military forces and the police.
The olive branch is a main pillar in the Palestinian agriculture. Forty five percent of the processed Palestinian land has olives planted in it. We are talking about 530 thousand Donams, 8 million olive trees that provide for over a hundred thousand Palestinian families. The importance of this branch isn't only agricultural, it is cultural as well. The Palestinian family works hard all year round to reach the time when they gather together and experience the familial bond and the sense of belonging to the fruitful land, as they harvest and eat together under the shade of the tree.
When the activity has such a meaningful scope, it is no wonder that the IDF, COGAT and the security forces view this time of year as one of the most important and sensitive tasks, with no regard to the expected amount of the crop.
The olive harvest starts in October and ends in the beginning of December. This year it started in September, which was characterized by a number of sensitive events: the Palestinians approach to the UN in order to receive recognition of a Palestinian State, the release of prisoners as a part of the Shalit Deal and the increasing number of "price tag" events due to the demolition of illegal buildings.
"COGAT and the IDF recognize the great importance of conducting the harvest without any disruptions and show the utmost sensitivity to the Palestinian population," says Lt. Col. Sharon Ben- Ari, the Head of the Foreign Relations Branch in the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria. "Even during a time so sensitive the forces and systems involved began the preparations and necessary coordination ahead of time; starting from the commanding level to the level of the Brigade. A joint team of Israelis and Palestinians convened prior to the olive harvest in order to coordinate the entrance of the farmers to the Palestinian land in the Seam Zone adjacent and inside the settlements. This team was also responsible of finding solutions to problems reported from the field."
"Each DCL conducts joint meetings and discussions with representatives from the police the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, the Palestinian Olive Committee in cooperation with the local Palestinian counsels," adds Lt. Col. Ben- Ari. "The positive Israeli activity and the engagement of the Brigades in Judea and Samaria for the success of the harvest, speaks for itself. We can see that compared to previous years there is a substantial decrease in the number of complaints and frictions. I would like to remind you that this season was shorter due to the decrease in the crop, however the Palestinian activity in the area was extensive and required the recruitment and coordination of joint forces in order to enable a quite harvest."
"It must be understood that the coordination isn't concluded with meetings and sending forces to the field," says Lt. Col. Grisha Yachobovich, the Head of the Infrastructure Branch at COGAT, "this is a task that requires the cooperation of the local Palestinian governors and heads of councils, prior mapping of the sections and scheduling a daily time table for the harvest. Preliminary tours must be conducted in the closed areas prior to the entrance of the Palestinians and they must be updated about any damage done to their trees, if there were any. Furthermore, commanders of all ranks are involved in events in the field in order to moderate frictions. All these are only a part of the actions we prepare for during the year that requires am immense recruitment from our side."
COGAT explains that the coordination done involves all the phases of the harvest and not only the family's arrival at the field. The crop is picked, loaded on to trucks and tractors and led to the oil presses in order to make olive oil for export. The Palestinian families sell their pickled olives and most of their yearly income is derived from the laborious effort that season.
During this time, there is a high increase in the number of permits issued for the farmers. It is important that the families celebrate this season together, and that is why the DCL issues permits on a larger range of criteria then the usual.
The Palestinians praise the successful coordination during the days of the harvest, which allowed the arrival of the families to the field. "The presence of the forces assisted us a lot, in order to complete the harvest without many incidents," notes the liaison officer in the main sector in Judea and Samaria. "This year's crop wasn't as good as last year's crop and that is why the frictions and damages to olive trees create a much more serious problem for our income."
In many towns the cooperation between the settlers and the Palestinians is better then expected. "The owners of the land went through the harvest this year without any interruptions and received assistance from our jeeps to transfer olives harvested, in to the villages." That is what came up in a conversation with the people responsible of the security in some of the towns in Samaria. They also mentioned the direct connection between them and the Palestinians and the preservation of the olive trees belonging to the neighboring land lords. "We are concerned that someone will touch their property and their land even though we built a special gate and improved the conditions of the path to enable easy access to the village."
We can't ignore the problems that occurred this year. However, there were fewer frictions and complaints from Palestinians compared to last year and this olive harvest there was a 52% decrease in the number of friction events compared to last year. This was enabled thanks to the thorough preparations and cooperation in the field.
Both sides learned the positive lessons of this harvest, and hopefully will implement them effectively and successfully in the harvest next year that is expected to bear a lot of fruit.