Jerusalem Diary: Monday 27 October
Ramiz Barham takes time off as a policeman to help with the harvest
By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem
Ramiz Barham's day job is Second Lieutenant in the Palestinian police force.
Last week, though, it was he who was threatened with arrest, by the Israeli army.
It had happened while the 24-year-old Ramiz was taking time off to help his family with the olive harvest.
He had been stopped by Israeli soldiers, as he advanced, holding a stick in each hand, on a group of settlers.
Ramiz said he was tipped over the edge when he had heard the settlers yelling that the Prophet Muhammad was a pig.
Ahmad, 5, picks olives, northern West Bank
In pictures: Harvesting olives
The incident happened, just after Ramiz and his family had begun harvesting olives from their grove close to the Palestinian village of Kedum, and the Jewish settlement of Qedumim, in the West Bank.
I spoke to him on day six of the harvest, as he straddled a rickety, triangular ladder, to reach the highest branches.
"We are used to the stones, and to the fighting," he told me. "But the insults were too much."
Ramiz says that his family has grown olives on this land for hundreds of years.
The area has, since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, also become home to Jewish settlements.
In recent years, Ramiz says, the olive harvest has become more difficult.
"We have to leave at four in the afternoon, because the army won't allow us to stay. And then the settlers come in.
"They steal our plastic sheets [used to catch the olives], our olives, our ladders."
He says that the Israeli army and border police almost never intervene; and if they do, it is often to make life more difficult for the local Palestinians.
It takes Ramiz and his family around two hours to harvest the olives, from each of their 100 trees.
Israeli-British activist Hellela Siew harvests olives
Ms Siew says settlers have thrown excrement and stones at her
We spoke against the gentle thrumming of the fruit hitting the tarpaulin around the trunk, like the pattering of fat rain drops against a window.
The harvesters were making slightly quicker progress on this day: helping them was a group of Israelis and foreigners, organised by the group Rabbis for Human Rights.
Among them was 64 year-old Hellela Siew.
She has helped Palestinians with the olive harvest for the past seven years.
And it is a journey she makes, every year, not from Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem - but from Hebden Bridge, a small, bucolic community in the north of England.
Hellela was born in Tel Aviv; she left Israel in 1972.
"I had finished university. I was very frustrated. I told my parents: I'm not coming back until there's peace."
Hellela paused, and smiled, sadly. "But there is no peace, and I'm not really a hostage."
She may be three times as old as some of the young Israeli volunteers, but the olives fell from her branches far more quickly, with her practised technique.
"I do get scared from the settlers," she said.
She said settlers have thrown stones and excrement at her.
"Things are worse now. At least when I left in 1972 there was hope. I wouldn't say such a thing nowadays. There's no chance now."
Mr Slomin insists that all the olive groves are part of Israel
The reason for the change, Palestinians and Israeli activists agree, is the generational shift among the settlers - the emergence of what has become known as the "hilltop youth".
We tramped up the hillside to the ridge that overlooks Ramiz Barham's olive grove.
There was the latest "outpost", or attempt to set up a new Jewish encampment, in contravention of Israeli law (let alone international law, which regards even officially-sanctioned Israeli settlements as illegal).
Two young dogs bounded towards us, barking.
In the distance, sat three young men, dipping crackers in hummus.
As we drew closer, I recognised one of the three.
Yedidye Slomin is a teenager whom I first met in February, on the other side of the valley.
He had helped set up an outpost called "Shvut Ami". When I went back to see him in April, the young settlers of Shvut Ami were being evacuated, by the Israeli border police, for the eleventh time.
You can see the film I made about it here
Where we were now standing was, Yedidye told me, "Shvut Ami Bet", or Shvut Ami number 2.
"Shvut Ami Bet" is on a rocky hilltop above the olive groves
He, and a few other young men, had been here for the last four months.
Three weeks ago, the army came for the first time, to try to kick the settlers out.
Since then, he said, soldiers have returned five times, most recently just the day before.
Yedidye showed me what had been his cabin, and what was now just a few strips of shredded wood.
"We will not leave," he insisted. "The army can come, and we will repair, and each time we will be quicker."
Yedidye would not talk about the olive harvest, nor about any allegations that a minority of settlers vandalise and steal and fight.
But he did insist that this land, all this land, was the Land of Israel.
Within sight of "Shvut Ami Bet", Ramiz Barham, his family, and the Israeli volunteers, were painstakingly stripping the branches of their hard green fruit.
I had thought that olives were harvested by shaking the branches on to sheets below. Ramiz looked horrified.
"You mustn't shake the tree," he said. "It's far too sensitive."
It is true that the olive oil from this part of the northern West Bank is stunningly good. For me, it is the best I have ever tasted, the best I have ever cooked with - better than anything I have tried in Italy or Greece. But it comes at a price.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle ... 688768.stm
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