The YMCA-YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), in cooperation with the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), has ended its annual Olive Picking Program, as part of the ongoing Olive Tree Campaign. The 130+ activists/participants of the program come through Christian organizations, Churches and solidarity movements from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Palestine.
The program lasted from the 19th to the 28th of October 2013, through which participants where divided into 3 groups for logistic purposes, with similar schedules, and helped to pick olives with Palestinian farmers and landowners in various villages and fields the Bethlehem area. The lands and farms selected are under threat of confiscation by the Israelis, continuously attacked by settlers, located beyond the apartheid wall or have Jewish colonies constructed adjacent to or on part of the land. Participants helped farmers in Wad Foukin, Nahhalin, Makhrour and Bir Oneh areas in Beit Jala, east of Beit Sahour, and Teqoua'.
The participants were introduced to the Palestinian farmers' stories and people suffering under the Israeli occupation and the practices of its settlers. This was also done through field trips and guided tours inside and around the cities of Hebron, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, as well as guided visits inside a refugee camp, and lectures on the geopolitical situation, ongoing displacement of Palestinians by Badil, and other issues.
The program included introductions and discussions on main issues of Palestinian life under occupation and international advocacy campaigns including: the Kairos Palestine Christian Initiative, the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) campaign, Palestinian Children in the Israeli prisons and detention centers, Palestinian popular resistance, Apartheid against Palestinians in comparison with South Africa, and others.
Participants stayed either with Palestinian families or at local hotels, where they got the sense of the Palestinian hospitality and culture, while the program ended with a Dabka (folklore) and oriental music show evening. Before the end of the program, participants were presented with potential campaigns, activities and actions they could be involved in when returning to their countries and organizations.
Aine from Ireland said: "I am so delighted to be here in Palestine. With this program, I see that there are lots of hopes. There is a sense of solidarity at the same time there is fun. People here, the Palestinians, are so strong and I do not see them broken. It is great to work in their shoes. My friends were telling me that I am going to a terrible place. But I am not afraid. The people are friendly and peaceful…for learning point of view, it is necessary to go here and see the situation with your own eyes."
Tazim from England said: "This is my second trip to Palestine since my last trip 18 months ago for olive planting. This kind of activity is a very nice way of learning the real situation in Palestine…you do not just hear stories…you are also doing it in practical way by helping the Palestinians and interacting with them…it connects things…It is nice to see at the end of the day that bags are full of olives…"
Luke from the UK said: "I am definitely going to come back here! I mean how can I NOT come back?"
Kaur from Norway said: "It is very interesting to see how the occupation makes impact on the lives of the people…It is good to get to know with people here in Palestine…Staying with a host family is really beautiful. It is so good…they have children in my own age...Also, by helping the farmers to pick their olives I am feeling it is rewarding".