This year's Olive Picking Program of the YMCA-YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), in cooperation with the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), took place from the 11th until the 20th of October. The 70 international participants were between 13 and 85, who came from various countries all over the world, namely: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA. This is in addition to the JAI and ATG staff. They were divided into two groups, for logistic purposes, one of those staying with Palestinian families and one of those staying at the hotel. They went on picking on 5 days in different threatened areas. The lunch during the picking days was served by local families and the participants got to taste different Palestinian dishes like Maqlubeh, Mulukhia, Mjaddara, and others.
On Sunday the 12th, the hotel group went to Wadi Ahmed near Beit Jala, and helped the family of Ayman Zidan picking in his field, which is located beyond the Israeli fence. The families group went to Al-Walajah village, west of Bethlehem, and helped the family of Omar Hajajra, where the Israel settlements and bypass road were constructed near by and under threat of confiscation. Each group had picked 300 kg of olives that day.
In the afternoon both groups had a guided tour in Bethlehem. They went to see the Apartheid Wall, a Refugee Camp and the Church of Nativity. One of the women participants said about the Refugee camp: "It is so sad and stupid!"
On Monday the 13th, the hotel group went to Hebron. They had a guided tour and briefings in the old city and visited the Ibrahimi mosque and Shuhada street. After their lunch in a Palestinian family, they visited the glass and the Kufiyya factories.
The families group went to a guided tour through the old city of Jerusalem and had a briefing about the history and the political situation of Jerusalem. At lunch time they went to the YWCA East Jerusalem in Sheikh Jarrah. In the afternoon they had a political tour in the bus by an Israeli activist, where they witnesses house demolition and saw the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, which occupies land that is as twice as big as Tel-Aviv.
On Tuesday the 14th, the hotel group went to Wadi Foukin village which is surrounded from 4 sides with Israeli settlements, roads and settlement outposts. A month ago hundreds of dunums of land from the village were confiscated by the Israelis. Every Friday they have a demonstration against the settlements' expansion. The participants helped the family of the farmer Mustafa Abu Sa'ady and did a whole day of picking. Before they left, the Israeli police showed up. In the afternoon they visited an olive press factory in Beit Jala.
The families group went to Jaba'a village, west of Bethlehem, and helped the farmer Khalid Masha’la. The farmers at Jaba'a are not allowed to do anything on their fields because they are on Area C. The village had over 10,000 dunams of land, now there are only 1,000 dunums left. The farmer hoped that internationals would put international pressure on Israel.
In the afternoon they had apresentation at BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency & Refugees Issue on Israeli apartheid and the ongoing displacement of the Palestinians.
On Wednesday the 15th, the participants had a free day. The ATG offered two guided tours. One tour went to Nablus and Ramallah and the other one to Jericho and the Jordan Valley. In Nablus they went to see the soap factory and ate Knafeh. Some other participants just took the day to walk arund and relax.
On Thursday the 16th, the hotel group went to Battir village, west of Bethlehem, and helped the farmer Wisam Owaineh picking on his field, where an Israeli settlement of "Beitar Illita" is constructed very close to his field and threatened it with expansion. The BBC Arabic came to made a report (in Arabic). In the afternoon they had Presentation on the geopolitical situation under occupation by ARIJ.
The Families Group went to Hebron and enjoyed almost the same tour as the hotel group before.
On Friday the 17th, both groups went to Al-Makhrour in Beit Jala, and each group helped a farmer on his field. Around 50 Palestinian youth from the YWCA and the YMCA Jerusalem joined that day for picking olives. In the afternoon, the hotel group went to BADIL Resource Centre in the afternoon and the families group kept on picking.
On Saturday the 18th, the hotel group went to Jerusalem and enjoyed the same tour as the other group in the morning. At lunch time they went to the YMCA in Jerusalem, and in the afternoon they had a political tour in the bus, by an Israeli activist, where they visited some Bediuns and settlements.
The families group went to Wadi Foukin and did olive picking in the field of Mustafa Abu Sa'ady. After lunch they walked through the village and realised how near the settlements are. In the afterwards they went to ARIJ and had a presentation on the geopolitical situation under occupation, after which they visited an olive press factory.
On Sunday the 19th, both groups went to Tequa'. The families group went picking with the Asakra family and the hotel group helped the family of Salem Al-Sha'aer. The participants had great interaction and food with the families' members.
In the afternoon the participants went to the YMCAto an advocacy session. They exchanged their thoughts and goals they want to reach at home after that program.
At the last evening the participants enjoyed a cultural night at the YMCA with Dabka, music, singing and dancing. It was a wonderful ending for a wonderful Olive Picking Program.
Every evening there were sessions about the, the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) campaign, Child Rights by DCI, Kairos Palestine, Right to Entry Campaign, and other, which took place at the YMCA in Beit Sahour.
Some reflections from participants:
Report for an interview with the Farmer Khaled Masha'ala (Abu Firas) from Jaba'a:
In 2008/09 the soldiers and the settlers came to the field, while they were planting. They wanted to prohibit the planting and to confiscate his documents. He resisted and insisted on his documents. After that they did not show up again while the planting. A few weeks ago they confiscated 2000 dunums of his Land.
His family is exposed to a lot of verbal violence. They wanted to go to a part of their land that is behind the nearby checkpoint. They prohibited it and were really rude. They feel the racism every day.
He wants peace and justice for the future. He is pessimistic it is a vicious circle, which does not end without the pressure from the international community. Israel does whatever it wants to. The US only puts a little pressure to stop them for a moment and after a while they continue.
He has no problem with Jews, he has troubles with the politic, the Zionism and the racism. The Palestinians are the ones who suffers from the Holocaust. He is really bitter, his face, his look, his gestures.
Report for an interview with the Farmer Mustafa Abu Sa'ady from Wad Foukin:
Last Friday they had several clashes with the soldiers during the picking on a piece of land near the settlement. The trees there are more than 30 years old.
The only state that has shelter underneath there houses and shops is Israel, because they are afraid. Only thieves are afraid. Occupation is steeling land. Palestine does not need shelters, they did not steel anything, they do not have to be afraid.