A successful olive harvest season in Judea and Samaria

Credit: COGAT Website

IDF (Zahal) took many steps to ensure a productive and safe harvest season for Palestinians

Date: 25/01/2012, 5:27 PM     Author: COGAT Website

The olive harvest season has come to an end and figures published by the Palestinian Olive Council indicate that 80 kilograms of olives were produced per dunam this year.

Israelis and Palestinians agree that this was a good harvest season in terms of coordination and cooperation between the various relevant entities.

Olives are a mainstay of the Palestinian agricultural sector in Judea and Samaria. Around 45 percent of cultivated Palestinian lands produce olives, totaling around 530,000 dunams and close to 8 million olive trees from which more than 100,000 Palestinian families make a living.

The importance of olive harvesting to Palestinians is more than economic, it is also a fundamental part of Palestinian culture.

With olive production being such a meaningful activity, it is no wonder that the IDF (Zahal), COGAT, and security forces consider the mission of coordinating the olive harvest an important and sensitive one.

The harvest season lasts from October to early December.

“Every District Coordinating Office conducts joint meetings and discussion with representatives from the police, Palestinian Agriculture Department and Palestinian Olive Council, in cooperation with local Palestinian authorities,” Lt. Col. Sharon Ben-Ari of the Civil Administration said about preparations for olive harvest season.

“We see that over time, in comparison to previous years, there has been a marked decrease in complaints and friction,” Lt. Col. Ben-Ari continued.

“You have to understand that coordination is not limited to meetings and deploying forces in the field,” said Lt. Col. Grisha Yakubovich, COGAT’s head of infrastructure. “This is a complex task that requires cooperation with governors and heads of local Palestinian authorities, prior mapping of lots and the setting of daily harvest schedules. Advance patrols are conducted before Palestinians enter closed areas to harvest and they are updated ahead of time on any damage or harm to trees, if there is any. Also, commanders at all levels are involved in events in the field in order to mitigate conflicts. All of these are just part of the activities that we prepare for every year and this requires huge mobilization on our part.”

COGAT says that coordination tasks touch on all stages of the harvest process, and not just with the arrival of the harvesters in the field. Picked crops are loaded onto trucks and transported to presses for the production of olive oil. Palestinian families sell olives for consumption and most of their yearly income comes from olive harvest season.

During this period, there is a sharp increase in the issuing of permits to thousands of harvesters. It is important for families to celebrate the season together and thus criteria for the issuing of permits are loosened out of socio-cultural considerations.

Palestinians praised the successful coordination during harvest season this year. “The presence of forces greatly helped us complete the harvest without many incidents,” said one Palestinian liaison manager in central Judea and Samaria.

In many Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians rose above expectations.

“Landowners harvested this year without interruption and our vehicles even helped transport sacks of picked olives into the village,” said a security official for some Israeli communities in Samaria. “We take care not to touch their livelihood and property and in some areas we even built special gates and improved roads in order to allow for easier access to the village.”

Of course, one cannot ignore problems in the field, and some occurred this year. However, there was less friction and Palestinians filed fewer complaints than the previous year. During harvest season, there was a 52 percent drop in incidents of friction, thanks to thorough preparation and cooperation in the field ahead of time.

The coordination work includes cooperation with international entities. The involvement of these international entities during harvest season was very beneficial. A summary of the harvest season in the Nablus sector compiled by the Red Cross found that, from the perspective of Palestinian landowners, the olive harvest was good this year. The IDF (Zahal) presence in harvest areas and friction points was impressive and the IDF (Zahal) functioned properly against violence committed by Israeli citizens during friction incidents. The report also noted that the preparations of the DCOs with Palestinians were effective and a key part of the success of the harvest.

The positive lessons from this year’s harvest season have been studied by all relevant parties, so that they will be successfully and effectively implemented during the next harvest season.