The Observer / March 5, 2023
As an Israeli minister calls for a Palestinian town to be ‘wiped out’, olive farmer Doha Asous tells of living with fear in the West Bank.
Just as I left Burin last Sunday – taking several buses to Amman in Jordan before a flight to London – news broke about violence and shootings in several villages, including mine, which is just south of the city of Nablus. The centre of the attacks has been on neighbouring Huwara, where nearly 400 Palestinians were injured by Jewish settlers. But Burin was also hit. Houses and cars were burned, stones were thrown and some of our goats were killed or stolen. The assaults have carried on since, though, thankfully, not quite as bad.
Sadly, this is nothing new – though the intensity these past few days has been very frightening.
I have lived in Burin since I was born, 61 years ago, working as a farmer for most of those years in groves I inherited from my father, plus others my family have since bought. My father was killed in the 1967 June War, and his body was brought back to Burin for burial.
My village is situated in a valley, now surrounded on three sides by the illegal Jewish settlements of Yitzhar, Har Bracha and Givat Ronin. These hilltop towns loom over us as they get bigger and bigger, and more and more threatening. The settlers, many from America, are extremists, who simply want our land and even to destroy us. This was brought home to me after speaking to my daughter on Wednesday night. She told me how Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s minister for Civilian Affairs in the West Bank, had said that he wants Huwara “wiped out”. Then, on Friday evening, I learnt that the Israelis had put up posters calling on settlers to “obliterate” the town.
This is what we fear. Look, I don’t hate Israel, and want a two-state solution. And I certainly do not hate Israelis or Jews. It is the settlers who are the problem – uncontrolled, with the Israeli army, supposedly there to protect us, usually turning a blind eye.
I look after about 700 olive trees around the valley. But I and others with groves have lost about 70% of them in the past five years. Some were taken by settlers; others have just been made impossible to cultivate.
These are our groves on our ancestral land, but we have to get permits from the Israeli authorities to nurture them and pick. Believe it or not, during last autumn’s olive harvesting, in some of my groves I was given permission to pick for only two days when it needed two weeks.
The day we started – 1 November – the settlers began their attacks. The next day I went to look to find that they had uprooted trees – some hundreds of years old. Others were cut down to their trunks with the olive branches taken.
Every so often, the self-styled head of security from Yitzhar drives in his huge car into my fields to tell me that they “belong to his people”. I sometimes try to engage in conversation, but to no avail.
These attacks during harvest are, sadly, not new. It is like this every year, even though international volunteers have been coming regularly to help with the picking, and acting, too, as a protective presence. But even they have been set upon. Seven years ago, an elderly Englishman was stoned and had to be taken to hospital, while others, since then, have been injured.
But these assaults do not take place just during the harvest. Our village is regularly ransacked, most frequently on Saturday evenings by the young men from the settlements. It is a sport for them. Our school and agricultural college have been damaged too, while burning cars is treated as a game.
And there is more we have to endure as we also have far less water now to help nurture our trees – just as the climate is in crisis. The Israelis, who control 85% of our water, regularly cut off our supplies. Yet Israel has built up water reserves for 30 years.
Despite all this, I want to carry on, in memory of my late father. It is the children and young people I especially feel for. Their future is not safe. It is also affecting them psychologically, with many suffering from mental health issues. There is a high dropout rate among the boys at our secondary school. It is similar in many other nearby villages and towns – with Palestinians either evicted or simply leaving, in despair, to live in other countries.
And yet I feel encouraged being in Britain to tell people about our produce, and give them some insight into our way of farming.
I have been giving talks across the country to tell people how our goods are ethically and environmentally sourced. We are selling through a British company, Zaytoun, which is Arabic for olive.
I have loved the welcome here. The pity is that, though my body is in Britain, my mind is back in Burin.
Doha Asous is an olive farmer from a village near Nablus in the occupied West Bank; she is in Britain for Fairtrade Fortnight to talk about agriculture in Palestine and to promote local produce – olives and their oil, as well as other typical foods, such as dates; here she describes life in her village during the recent violence between Palestinian locals and Jewish settlers