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Report A nice hot day in Palestine

For a decade, JENNY KASSMAN has returned to the occupied West Bank to bear witness to the increasingly brutal treatment of native villagers by Israeli settlers and soldiers — without international pressure, the outlook remains bleak

EVERY October, when I tell people I am travelling with a group to the village of Burin in Palestine for the olive harvest, someone will respond — not really knowing what else to say — with “oh, how lovely! The weather will be nice and hot!”

In fact, in October the weather in the part of Palestine where we stay — the occupied West Bank — tends to be variable, with overcast and rainy days, particularly in the second half of the month.

However, our group from Britain and Ireland feels the heat in other ways — the heat generated by the burning of olive groves belonging to Palestinian farmers by Israeli settlers (who I prefer to call colonists) who also attack village homes.  

These settlers are enflamed by their obsessive hatred of Palestinians who they want to drive away in their deluded belief that the Jews are a people chosen by God, who has promised them the land they occupy.

This year was no exception. One Friday towards the end of October, three of us went to support Anwar, a Palestinian farmer who wanted to harvest olives in his grove on the outskirts of Burin.  

Shortly after a pleasant picnic lunch with Anwar and his young teenage son Hamoudi, Anwar drew our attention to increasing numbers of Israeli settlers from the illegal Har Brakha settlement, one of three settlements — all illegal under international law — on hills overlooking Burin.  

The settlers were running towards a Palestinian house half-way up a hill, near the settlement. As they approached, we could see they were throwing rocks at the house and setting fire to the olive groves nearby where farmers were harvesting their olives.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers arrived. We saw the dense white fumes of tear gas rise among the olive trees and heard live rounds being fired at Palestinians who were trying to prevent the settlers from attacking the house and their olive groves.

Soon after, we observed more settlers streaming down towards a second Palestinian home on the other side of the hill near our farmer’s olive grove. Two women appeared on the roof then rushed inside, terrified that their home had been chosen as the target of a settler attack.

The number of settlers continued to increase as they ran down the hillside towards the house, picking up rocks. Again, they were protected by Israeli soldiers who were throwing tear gas grenades at the growing number of Palestinians arriving from the village to turn away the settlers, but who were being driven back towards the road by our olive grove. All this time, we could hear a siren sounding full blast.

We rushed over with Anwar and Hamoudi to collect the equipment and sacks of olives and made our way to the tractor parked at the roadside.  

Suddenly we found ourselves enveloped in a thick white cloud of tear gas emanating from grenades thrown by the Israeli soldiers who had reached the road, intent on ensuring the settlers carried out their attack.  

My eyes were smarting painfully and also watering, which caused a burning sensation on my cheeks. At the same time, I was experiencing a sharp burning pain in my throat which worsened as I tried to breathe, so I pulled up my shirt over my head to try to lessen the impact of the fumes.  

I felt someone take me firmly by the arm, leading me to a place more removed from the fumes where I had to crouch down as he sprayed my face and put a gel on my hand. He asked me gently whether I spoke Hebrew or English, whereupon my stomach churned as it struck me that the noxious fumes around us may have come from a British export.  

The gentleman explained that I needed to inhale the gel as he also handed me a couple of impregnated tissues. Then he disappeared before I could thank him.

When the fumes dispersed, I set off in search of the tractor, passing a man who was spreadeagled face down on the ground, gasping for breath while ambulance personnel were clapping him on the back.  

I saw another man on a stretcher being rushed to an ambulance which sped off immediately. There were also those who had learnt to deal with tear gas from past experience, with their faces covered by scarves and sniffing onions. They were moving purposefully through the fumes to try to ward off the soldiers who were still pursuing us.  

Finally, our group met up and as we prepared to leave, the soldiers bade us farewell by throwing a tear gas grenade at our tractor. We felt the tractor start to lurch out of control as Anwar inhaled the fumes, but he managed to bring it to a halt. In the trailer, Hamoudi let out a shriek of pain while the rest of us covered our faces while trying to comfort him.

Once again, we received prompt relief from the efficient and kindly ambulance personnel, evidently well-practised in the routine required on such situations.

The following day, we returned to the olive grove to finish the harvesting and found the ground littered with tear gas casings. We met the owner of the nearby house which had been attacked the day before who brought us a cup of tea. He explained that the colonists’ attack was one of many carried out against his home and countless other Palestinian homes and olive groves all over the occupied West Bank.

Indeed, on the same day as the settler attack near Anwar’s olive grove, in the neighbouring town of Huwara a group of Israeli settlers, guarded by soldiers, assaulted Palestinian residents by hurling stones at them, causing head injuries. Vehicles and shops were also attacked.

Since our return to Britain, there have been more settler attacks in Burin: on November 3, colonists, as usual protected by Israeli soldiers, attacked Palestinian homes in the village, firing indiscriminately, smashing windows of homes and terrorising residents.  

Three days later, Israeli settlers from Givat Ronen, again protected by soldiers, attacked Palestinian farmers working on their lands near Burin. On that same day, our host in Burin, Jamila, went to harvest olives at her grove near Givat Ronen. She had been given permission to access her grove with one other worker for just two days this year.  

Many trees had already been destroyed by settlers. On the first day, because of constant verbal abuse from settlers — including from their children — Israeli soldiers ordered her to leave at 1pm. Jamila had filled just half a sack from trees she had been unable to tend during the year. The following day, she arrived to find 11 trees had been cut down.

The latest figures from the International Committee of the Red Cross state that 9,300 trees in the West Bank were destroyed by settlers between August 2020 and 2021. It is probable that a similar number, or more, will have been destroyed in 2021-22.

As settlers and soldiers commit their brutal acts of violence, in the absence of any concrete measures taken by Western governments, it is evident that the Israeli state feels at complete liberty to endorse all forms of violence and violations of human rights against Palestinians. All settlers involved act with complete impunity.  

By Israeli law, Palestinians have no right to self-determination, and those living in the West Bank are subject to military rather than civil law even though, according to international law, they are entitled to full protection by their occupiers.

Over the 10 years I have been visiting Palestine, I have witnessed rapidly increasing settler and army violence, injustice and destruction which is only very rarely reported in the Western media. With the recent election of a far-right government in Israel, the plight of the Palestinians can be guaranteed to deteriorate still further with more deaths, more violence, more expropriation and more destruction.  

I feel ashamed at the fulsome and unconditional support given to Israel by the British government and its Western allies, who will be very aware of the persecution, discrimination, destruction and violence suffered by the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israelis, yet who choose to turn their backs on them in the interests of political alliances, military co-operation and commercial ties.  

Sanctions, the revocation of trade agreements and the cessation of military sales only appear to be available to deal with states like Russia, Iran and Myanmar.  

Shamefully, in the short term I believe it will be hard to bring about a change of attitude in our government, however violent and untenable the situation becomes for Palestinians — but on an individual and group level, we can take a stance.

At the very least, while the current situation continues, I would urge people to support the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions by refusing to buy Israeli goods and to not invest in companies with links to Israel.

Jenny Kassman is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jewish Voice for Labour and the Labour Party.

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