An olive tree vandalized by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Qaryut, Nablus, April 2023. Photo by OCHA
An olive tree vandalized by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Qaryut, Nablus, April 2023. Photo by OCHA

Olive harvest 2023: hindered access afflicts Palestinian farmers in the West Bank

The 2023 olive harvest season was particularly difficult for Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. Taking place around September-November, it coincided with the 7 October attack on Israel and the escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. During that time, Palestinians across the West Bank faced a spike in movement restrictions and violence by Israeli forces and Israeli settlers.

For Palestinian olive harvesters, this resulted in immense hardships as they often could not access their olives. More than 96.000 dunums of olive-cultivated lands across the West Bank remained unharvested following the 2023 season, due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access. They include cultivated olives in four types of locations:

  1. Behind the West Bank Barrier, in the so-called “Seam Zone”
  2. Bordering the Barrier, within 150 metres on the “West Bank” side
  3. Near settlements, where scheduled military permissions (referred to as “prior coordination”) have traditionally been required
  4. In other areas adjacent to settlements

In previous years, the Israeli authorities would require a so called “prior coordination,” in fact a scheduled Israeli military permission, farmers to access their lands in certain areas. However, in the 2023 season, the Israeli authorities cancelled almost all of these approvals, effectively preventing farmers from accessing their lands. Agricultural gates along the West Bank Barrier remained overwhelmingly closed.

According to the Food Security Sector, a partnership of dozens of humanitarian organizations, Palestinian farmers suffered an estimated total loss of more than 1,200 metric tons of olive oil in the 2023 season, resulting in a direct financial setback of US$10 million. The impact was particularly harsh in the northern governorates of Tulkarm, Qalqiliya and Nablus.

The olive harvest is a key economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians. As the Occupying Power, Israel should ensure that Palestinians are able to participate in, and fully benefit from, this activity. This includes ensuring that farmers can access their olive trees throughout the year, and that their trees and agricultural property are protected from damage and theft.

Additionally, during September-November, OCHA documented 113 harvest-related cases where Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians, damaged their trees or stole crops and harvesting tools. Of these, ten incidents resulted in casualties and property damage, another ten resulted in casualties but not property damage, and 93 incidents resulted in damage but not casualties. Over 2,000 trees were vandalized during these incidents. The highest numbers of incidents were recorded in the governorates of Nablus (40) and Ramallah (31). OCHA estimates that, overall in 2023, over 10,000 Palestinian-owned olive trees were vandalized presumably by settlers across the West Bank.

On 28 October, a 29-year-old Palestinian, a father of four children, was shot and killed by an Israeli settler while harvesting olive in As Sawiya village, south of Nablus. Bullet holes were observed in his chest and left forearm.

On at least 38 occasions, Palestinian farmers or other eyewitnesses reported that Israeli forces had accompanied the attackers or that the latter had been wearing military uniforms while expelling Palestinians from farmlands or taking over olives and tools.