It is mid-morning, early November in Wadi Fukin in the West Bank, Palestine. The family leave their olives on their trees until later in the season than most other farmers in the area, because Abu Nedal thinks it is better to leave the fruit of the baladi (native) variety to ripen longer and so produce more oil. The harvest here runs from mid-October to early November, after the first rains of the season have rinsed the long dry summer’s dust from the trees.
Their terrace is located outside of the cluster of houses, the mosque, the main spring and the council building, towards the bottom of the wadi. The olives are picked mainly by hand in a movement resembling the milking of a goat. The fruit is dropped onto a tarpaulin sheet, collected into buckets, then into mesh sacks ready to be transported to the press in a nearby town.
Wadi Fukin is a village of about 1,200 residents, made up of a few extended families from two hamoulas (clans) thought to have lived continuously in these central hills of Palestine for thousands of years. Village families share an ancient system of irrigation sourced from natural springs, whose water is collected into pools from which tunnels transport water to the vegetable plots on the wadi’s flat plains. The village recently lost several hundred acres of land to the expansion of nearby Israeli colony Beitar Illit, and its natural springs are drying up due to Israeli extraction and a drop in rainfall likely to be a result of global warming.
Abu Nedal has just returned to his village after several decades in a nearby town, where he was involved in various political and social activities, for which he spent some time in prison—the experience of almost half of the adult male population in the occupied Palestinian territories. While he was away his now separated wife Um Nedal and his son Nedal tended the land. Um Nedal is a member of a women’s co-operative in the village, where they make foodstuffs such as hawthorn jelly and weave baskets from olive shoots. Nedal has a permit to work in construction in Israel, something granted to a number of the villagers by the Israeli authorities. He has a barbershop in the village, where he works evenings and weekends—a necessity for the main breadwinner of three households: his mother’s, his father’s and his own.
The family feel they are part of a revival in olive planting and growing since the 1980s, when illegal Israeli settler-colonies began to encroach on their land. Local committees have been established to support people in planting olive trees that require little care through the seasons, some of which live for thousands of years. For them this approach is crucial to preserving their connection to the land, because plots that go unworked for a number of years can be claimed by the Israeli authorities using an Ottoman rule that is centuries old. It was a regulation aimed at expropriating communally-owned land in order to privatise it. The practice was continued by the British Mandate from 1918 to 1948, and now the Israeli authorities use it to appropriate land and water resources, as well as to expand existing settler-colonies and establish new ones. Villagers feel the ultimate aim of such measures is to make life in the village so unbearable and unviable that the indigenous villagers leave—a slower, more subtle expulsion than those carried out by the aerial bombardments by the Israeli armed forces that destroyed most of village buildings in the mid-20th Century. Following that catastrophe, and after years of resistance in exile, living in caves and refugee camps, the villagers negotiated their return to the village. This was an unusual outcome not shared by the 500 or so Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed in 1948’s Nakba (catastrophe), and again in 1967 when Israel occupied more Palestinian land.