Saturday, November 6, 2010

Picking Olives with Nabil in Kufr Rai

It may well be more burden than help for Palestinian farmers to welcome internationals to their olive harvest - particularly for short periods - but Nabil Nasser, president of the farmer's cooperative, met us this morning in his village of Kufr Ria to lead us to one of his farms for a morning of olive picking. As it was a weekend, sons and nephews were already at work when we got there. Large black tarps were spread under the tree to catch the olives as they fall. My group of about 8 stayed on the ground stripping olives from the branches we could reach while Nabil's sons climbed into the trees to get the upper branches. Nabil owns about 600 trees and it takes him nearly 50 days to harvest his crop. He explained that diminishing rains and a shorter winter are effecting their harvests. He projects this one to be about 40% of "normal" harvests.

Stripping the branches takes little skill - and is quite satisfying - but negotiating the rocky ground is another matter. The soil is rich, but the hillsides are strewn with rocks, making walking difficult. With six trees harvested by noon, I began feeling we had actually been some help, and Nabil's wife and sister-in-law had prepared a feast for us in the shade of several trees.

When I drove from Jerusalem to Jenin on Thursday, an Israeli soldier at a check point cautioned me to "be very careful" when he learned I was headed for Jenin, suggesting I was entering dangerous territory. Part of the tragedy in this land is the enormous misperception most Israelis carry of Palestinians. Due at least in part to the structured separation Israel has created between the populations, Israelis do not benefit from knowing their Palestinianl neighbors. Whenever we leave our Palestinian hosts, we ask them what they most want us to tell the world. "Tell them we are not terrorists" is their frequent response. Unless there is dramatic change here, it's not likely that poor Israeli soldier at the check point will ever enjoy the laughter, delicious food and good will we enjoyed sitting with Nabil Nasser and his family under those olive trees.

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