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Palestinian farmers mourn crops lost to settler attacks in this year’s grape harvest

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Every year, in late August, Palestinians begin celebrating the grape harvest, a quintessential part of Palestinian life and heritage.

Grape vines can be found on nearly every street in Palestine — on apartment balconies in cramped refugee camps, to sprawling fields and courtyards in cities and villages.

For farmers, a years worth of intensive labor has led up to this moment, when they cut the grapes off the vines and take their goods to markets and street carts. For most, the profits made off of a year’s harvest will support their entire family financially until the next year.

This year’s harvest, for many farmers across the occupied West Bank, is bittersweet, marred by the violence of months past.

Between the months of May and July 7, according to documentation from NGO B’Tselem, more than 2,000 grape vines were cut down, directly affecting dozens of farmers and hundreds of their family members, amounting to material damages in the hundreds of thousands of shekels.

While settler attacks on Palestinian farmers is nothing new, this years marked a significant uptick in violence, drawing the attention of rights groups, and Israeli and Palestinian media alike.

In addition to direct attacks on grapevines, and other crops, in several incidents, several Palestinians were assaulted while tending to their land.

Though attacks on grapevines have seemingly quieted down since July, the violence against Palestinian farmers and their crops have remained steady, with settlers setting their sights now on olive trees ahead of the olive harvest which begins in October.

A Palestinian farmer collects grapes during harvest season at a vineyard in the West Bank city of Hebron, on September 2, 2018. (Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/APA Images)

A lifetime of work lost

For many farmers, the vines to which they tend had been tended by their fathers and grandfathers. The grapes are more than just a fruit to enjoy or a means to sustain families economically, but a skill, and love for the craft passed down generation by generation.

The story of the family of Ameen Issa, 74, and their grapevines is no different.

Within seconds of arriving to Issa’s home, the deteriorating walls plastered with photos of his eight children, she sets a plate of freshly picked grapes from their vineyard on the table.

“Eat the grapes, eat,” she insists, over and over again, a look of pride on her face. The grapes that she so graciously offers to her guests are the product of years of her husband and nephews’ work. They are also some of the only grapes that the family has left.

On July 7th, after a few days of not tending to his crops, Ameena’s husband Hassan went to check on his land just off of Route 60, some five kilometers away from his home in the al-Khader village, in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.

Expecting to find his grapes slowly beginning to ripen, he instead found them dead, beginning to dry up.

Khader Issa, 46, Hassan’s nephew, recounted to Mondoweiss what happened that day.

“My uncle called me and said come quickly, the grapes are dry the grapes are dry!”

“My brothers and I went to the land and found my cousin Omar with his father, my uncle, who was on the ground crying next to the trees, which had been cut near the roots,” Khader said.

Khader Issa, 46, has worked on his uncle’s farmland since he was a young boy. (Photo: Yumna Patel)

“He couldn’t bear to even look at the trees. They were his whole life; he spent years taking care of them and loving them, and then they were gone.”

“It was like losing a child, like there is a death in the family. We took care of these grapes, cultivating them, giving them water, and caring for them, just as we do our children,” Ameena said.

The family believes the trees, 168 of them, were cut down by settlers from the Israeli settlement of Elazar, which was built just opposite of his plot of land, which measures around half of a hectare.

“One of my uncle’s friends called the DCO,” Khader said, referring to Israeli Civil Administration authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the government’s policies in the occupied territory.

“When they arrived, with the police, they started to take photos of the damage and told us to go file a report in the Beitar Illit settlement police station.” Almost two months later, Khader told Mondoweiss that Israeli police had made no arrests in connection to the attack.

“These trees that were cut down, they were new. We had planted them three years ago, and this was the first year that we were planning on harvesting the grapes and selling them,” Ameena said. “And now there are only a few trees left, not enough grapes to sell”

Khader estimated the material damages amounted to some 100,000 shekels. “It’s a lot of money, but the emotional damage, it is far worse.”

He added that Israeli authorities offered the family material compensation for slashed trees, but they refused.

According to him, they were asked to sign documents, all in Hebrew, saying that the family  have accepted compensation for damage to the land.

“We didn’t want to sign the papers because you never know, they can use it in the future to say that we sold the land and then take it away from us,” Khader said.

Dead grapevines from the Issa family.

Becoming a statistic

In B’Tselem documentation of settler attacks on Palestinian agriculture between May and July, the group reported at least 440,000 shekels ($123,200) in damages in five out of the 10 cases recorded, excluding the case of Hassan Issa.

The attacks took place across the occupied West Bank, from the southern Hebron-area town of Yatta, to the northern West Bank district of Nablus.

In several cases of settler attacks documented by local Palestinian and Israeli media, Hebrew graffiti was found on the site of the attack saying “we will reach every place” and “enough of the agricultural terrorism,” a phrase used by Israeli settlers to describe attacks on their crops allegedly carried out by Palestinians.

Though settler attacks on Palestinian property, including agriculture, have long been a part of life in the occupied territory, B’Tselem noted the increase in attacks over the past few months as “unusual.

In April of this year, The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, said that there were 13 attacks in the first four months of the year – more than in the whole of 2017, when there were eight, according to the agency.

Despite widespread documentation of attacks, Israeli authorities rarely arrest or prosecute the settlers responsible.

According to Israeli rights group Yesh Din, Israeli authorities in the past three years served indictments in only 8.2 percent of cases of Israeli settlers committing anti-Palestinian crimes in the occupied West Bank.

“The police makes no substantial effort to investigate the incidents, nor takes measures to prevent them or stop them in real time,” B’Tselem said in their report.

“Israel benefits from the repercussions, as settler violence has gradually dispossessed Palestinians of more and more areas in the West Bank, paving the way for a state takeover of land and resources.”

While the Issa family has suffered the same fate as hundreds of other Palestinian farmers and their families, with, to their knowledge, no action being taken against the settlers responsible for the attack on their land, they say they refuse to become another statistic.

“This was devastating for our family,” Ameera told Mondoweiss, as she washed and plated more grapes. “But we have been here for hundreds of years, and we will stay. My children and their children. Nothing can make us leave our land.”

“Even if they were to offer us a million shekels, we would never give even a handful of soil to the Israelis. Never.”

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

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13 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on September 13, 2018, 2:29 pm

    RE: Palestinian farmers mourn crops lost to settler attacks in this year’s grape harvest

    ‘Kill Every Buffalo You Can! Every Buffalo Dead Is an Indian Gone’
    By J. Weston Phippen | | May 13, 2016
    The American bison is the new U.S. national mammal, but its slaughter was once seen as a way to starve Native Americans into submission.

    (EXCERPT) It was near the end of September, an unusually warm week in 1871, and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and a group of wealthy New Yorkers stood atop a grassy hill near the Platte River in Nebraska, where two miles off they spotted six huge brown beasts.

    Cody was a legend of the frontier era, part myth conjured in dime novels. The men from New York had expected to find him as a “desperado of the West, bristling with knives and pistols,” but they did not. Cody was loquacious and friendly, an expert hunter. He knew that with the wind blowing from behind, the men risked their scent being carried to the animals and scaring them away. Then again, a buffalo is a lumbering, hirsute cow, and the men were outfitted with some of the quickest horses and held the best guns owned by the U.S. Army, which was outfitting the hunting expedition. The Army wasn’t in the business of guiding hunting trips for soft-skinned Wall Streeters, but it was in the business of controlling the Native Americans in the area, and that meant killing buffalo. One colonel, four years earlier, had told a wealthy hunter who felt a shiver of guilt after he shot 30 bulls in one trip: “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

    Cody and the men made a contest of the hunt. Whoever killed the first buffalo would win an engraved silver chalice. Years later, in an article he wrote for the magazine Cosmopolitan, Cody would call this trip the best equipped he’d ever taken. The Army had supplied an armed escort and 25 wagons filled with cooks, linen, china, carpets for their tents, and a traveling icehouse to keep their wine chilled. The reason for such extravagance was undoubtedly because the New Yorkers were well-connected, but also because Major-General Phillip Sheridan, the man with the task of forcing Native Americans off the Great Plains and onto reservations, had come along with them. This was a leisure hunt, but Sheridan also viewed the extermination of buffalo and his victory over the Native Americans as a single, inextricable mission––and in that sense, it could be argued that any buffalo hunt was Army business. After the men circled the herd, they charged down the hill, chasing after the six buffalo, eager for the first kill.

    On Monday, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, making the American bison––or the buffalo as it’s more often called––the national mammal. It’s only the second animal to represent the U.S., joining the bald eagle. It’s ironic, of course, because at one time American settlers and hide-hunters killed the animal to near-extinction, and tourists shot the animals from the windows of trains as if the slaughter could last forever. Buffalo had once numbered more than 30 million, and by the end of the 19th century there were only a few hundred in the wild. Today, some 20,000-25,000 remain in public herds.

    Many things contributed to the buffalos demise. One factor was that for a long time, the country’s highest generals, politicians, even then President Ulysses S. Grant saw the destruction of buffalo as solution to the country’s “Indian Problem.” . . .


    • JLewisDickerson on September 13, 2018, 2:56 pm

      P.S. RE: According to him, they were asked to sign documents, all in Hebrew, saying that the family have accepted compensation for damage to the land.
      “We didn’t want to sign the papers because you never know, they can use it in the future to say that we sold the land and then take it away from us,” Khader said.
      ~ Yumna Patel

      Auction Scene from Werner Herzog’s Stroszek

      ENTIRE FILM: STROSZEK (1977) – full movie/English subtitles [VIDEO, 1:47:58] –

  2. Maghlawatan on September 13, 2018, 3:01 pm

    Prayers in Israel are supppsed to be worth more than prayers anywhere else. The religion has a weird land fetish. The land was elevated to a pedestal beyond reality that means nothing.

    Jewish settlers who mutilate olive trees and destroy fruit crops are the lowest of the low. The prayers are worthless.

  3. Kay24 on September 13, 2018, 4:21 pm

    Only sadistic people will do such vicious things to people who are already struggling to survive. Depriving people of being able to feed themselves, earn a living, to just exist, is just evil. To the majority in the world, it only reflect badly on the perpetrators, to the US who keeps enabling them, they are the “victims” of these helpless people. Sheer madness.

  4. drhmay on September 14, 2018, 8:22 am

    Does no one see the hypocrisy of condemning the grape destroyers (rightfully so) while glorifying forest and crop burning in Israel from Gaza incendiary kites?

    • eljay on September 14, 2018, 8:51 am

      || drhmay: Does no one see the hypocrisy of condemning the grape destroyers (rightfully so) while glorifying forest and crop burning in Israel from Gaza incendiary kites? ||

      You’re right – it’s like condemning the friends who descend to the rapist’s basement to assault his victims (rightfully so) while glorifying the slaps and punches the victims throw at the rapist. Shameful.

    • Mooser on September 14, 2018, 1:16 pm

      “Does no one see the hypocrisy…”

      “Oh is there not one maiden breast,
      Which does not feel the moral beauty.
      Of making worldly interest,
      Subordinate to sense of duty.”

      • RoHa on September 15, 2018, 3:19 am

        Poor wand’ring one!
        Though thou hast surely strayed,
        Take heart of grace,
        Thy steps retrace,
        Poor wand’ring one!

    • echinococcus on September 14, 2018, 2:53 pm

      Burning invader-occupied land is a right and, if considered necessary, a duty of the Palestinians. It’s theirs. Destruction of any Palestinian crop by the invaders is a crime against humanity punishable by the Nuremberg laws.

      Don’t want the land you stole to burn? Get the hell out.

    • CigarGod on September 16, 2018, 3:08 am

      Has Ameera Issa (74) of Bethlehem been flying incendiary kites into the illegal settlements?
      Are her grapes planted on stolen land?
      Do wheat plants take 7 years to bear a commercial crop and do they live for 50 to 100 years?

      What kind of hypocrisy are you judging King Solomon?

    • dionissis_mitropoulos on September 20, 2018, 10:33 am

      @ drhmay

      I left a response to your response to me in this past thread:

  5. Ossinev on September 14, 2018, 8:35 am


    Only sadistic people will do such vicious things to people who are already struggling to survive”

    Be careful. You may be accused of Anti – Sadism

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