Palestinian farmers are known for ‘samud’ – their determination to stay on the land. But the percentage of West Bank land they can farm is shrinking and today, according to World Bank figures, only 8 percent of the Palestinian population is employed in agriculture.
Meanwhile, Israel has been steadily increasing its confiscation of Palestinian agricultural land through various maneuvers, such as the regulation that if land is left uncultivated for 3 years it can be seized as abandoned property.
Such may be the fate of Palestinian land in the so-called ‘seam zone,’ the 12 percent of the West Bank that is trapped between the Green Line and Israel’s Apartheid Wall.
Back in July 2004, the International Court of Justice had ruled that Israel’s Wall was illegal where it was built inside the West Bank and should be torn down. Instead of that happening, it is Palestinian access to their ‘seam zone’ agricultural land that has been largely dismantled.
Between the years 2014 and 2017, Israel refused to give permits to farm their land in the ‘seam zone’ to 30 percent of Palestinian farmers. The percentage of denied permits soared to 72 percent in 2018.
Palestinians have similarly been blocked from accessing their fields and orchards throughout the 62 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, now appropriated by sprawling illegal Israeli settlements. In some cases they have been forced off their land by the ‘agricultural terrorism’ practiced by Israeli settlers and soldiers, who have uprooted 2.5 million fruit trees and 800,000 olive trees over the last few decades and poisoned Palestinian farms with raw sewage.
Israel’s restriction of Palestinian use of their own West Bank water for irrigation of vegetables and fruit trees has taken a huge toll. Many farmers assumed they would be better off with olive trees, since they did not need that much water.
But they do need some. And when rain is scarce, so is the output of olives.
During Eyewitness Palestine’s Olive Harvest delegation last November, we visited a farm in Asira Shamalya, near Nablus, to help the Yasin family pick their olives. It was in an idyllic hilly location that looked like the perfect place to practice ‘samud,’ without an Israeli settlement in sight.
But even here, with their olive trees spread over the hills, it was not easy to make a living off the land. While we ate lunch with the family under the trees, we were joined by Hamad Yasin, who works as a civil engineer.
He told us:
“We are facing so much trouble due to lack of water. It is not allowed for us to excavate ground wells deeper than 150 meters, and to get to the water we have to go down more than 450 meters. Because we don’t have water, agriculture is not progressing. This farm needs 11 cubic meters of water per year for each tree to get good production. Now we depend entirely on rainwater and we don’t have enough rain. And sometimes Israel says you are not allowed to collect rainwater. What can we do?”