2021 Olive harvest season in the West Bank amidst a triple challenge

12 October 2021
2021 Olive harvest season in the West Bank amidst a triple challenge
A Palestinian farmer during the Olive harvest in Burin

Jerusalem – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls for safe, timely, and adequate access to olive groves of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank during the yearly olive harvest season. This call comes amidst a triple challenge farmers and their families in the West Bank face, namely (1) access restrictions imposed on farmers whose groves are located behind the West Bank barrier and close to certain settlements, (2) increasing harassment and violence by residents of certain settlements and outposts against the farmers and their property, which tend to peak during olive harvest season, and (3) the growing impacts of climate change.

ICRC data shows that over the period of one year (August 2020 – August 2021) more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank. This further complicates an already difficult situation where farmers whose groves are located behind the West Bank barrier or close to settlements have to apply for special permits and coordination mechanisms to access their land.

"For years, the ICRC has observed a seasonal peak in violence by Israeli settlers residing in certain settlements and outposts in the West Bank towards Palestinian farmers and their property in the period leading up to the olive harvest season, as well as during the harvest season itself in October and November," said Els Debuf, head of the ICRC's mission in Jerusalem. "Farmers also experience acts of harassment and violence that aim at preventing a successful harvest, not to mention the destruction of farming equipment, or the uprooting and burning of olive trees. This is an important concern that we continue to share with the authorities in charge," she added.

ICRC field teams across the West Bank closely monitor both access restrictions and hotspots of violence impacting Palestinian farmer communities during the olive harvest and engage with the IDF and the Civil Administration for the purpose of achieving a safe and successful harvest season. 

On top of the ongoing restrictions and violence, climate change and changing weather patterns have further deepened the crisis for farmers. The year 2020 has witnessed an exceptionally poor olive harvest season, with over a 55% decrease in the harvest yield. This has been attributed to the alternate fruit-bearing "on and off seasons", coupled with uneven rainfall distribution and temperature extremes during the growing cycle.

The ICRC supports Palestinian farmers whose olive groves are located near the West Bank barrier or close to settlements and outposts throughout the season, to help them reach their land safely and timely. The ICRC also seeks solutions that help maintain a safe olive cycle in the absence of regular visits by farmers, by providing them with long-lasting ecological bio-traps for fruit flies.

While these solutions do help farmers in maintaining the productivity of their land more needs to be done. The olive harvest represents one of the main sources of livelihood for Palestinian farmers, with over 100,000 families working in this industry. Hence, the ICRC's call to ensure that farmers have continuous and safe access to their olive trees and other crops across the West Bank.

For further information, please contact:

Yahia Masswadeh (Arabic, English), ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 9148
Chris Hanger (English, French, German), ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 9150