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Palestinians harvest olives during a temporary truce with Israel

Delayed by war, Gaza's olive harvest is too little, too late, say farmers

A Palestinian man collects olives on a farm during a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 28, 2023. (Saleh Salem, Reuters)

By Reuters

LAST PUBLISHED 29.11.2023  |  09:00 AM IST

Farmers in Gaza were taking advantage of the truce between Israel and Hamas to harvest what was left of their olives after weeks of fighting during which they dared not go to their lands for fear of getting killed.

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In a normal year the harvest would have started weeks earlier, but until the truce farmers were afraid of being mistaken for Hamas militants and targeted by Israeli forces if they ventured out into the olive groves.

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Some lands were also damaged by fighting or the passage of military vehicles, while some farmers were displaced from their homes and unable to get back to their groves.

"This war destroyed us. There's hardly any production. The majority of the harvest was wasted," said Fathy Abu Salah, who was picking olives with a small team, sorting them from leaves and twigs on a groundsheet and collecting them in a wheelbarrow.

He said that normally they would harvest enough olives to fill 12 containers, but this year they would fill just one. There were other problems linked to the war, he said, such as a dearth of fuel to transport the olives to the nearest press.

"We are trying to do this with all of the resources we have in these six days (of truce)," said Abu Salah. "This fruit is all we have. This is how we make a living year after year."

At the Wafy press in Khan Younis, the machinery had cranked into operation weeks late. Sacks of olives were being brought in on the backs of carts pulled by donkeys.

Olives were coming down a chute that rattled from side to side before falling into the press. Thick golden oil was pouring out into a metal vat, while men waited to collect it in yellow jerry cans.

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"When the truce started, we were thinking about whether or not we were going to work. But then came the problem of the olive press which needs electricity, and there is no electricity, meaning we had to find fuel, and finding fuel is a crisis that everyone is facing," said manager Mohamed Wafy.

"There were some who were able to transport their olives to us and had to buy fuel in the black market at much higher prices. As soon as we secured access to fuel, we were able to open the olive press, even if it's working at minimum capacity."

Wafy said almost all of his own olives fell to the ground before he was able to get to his land. He said some farmers had found nothing, while others had harvested a fraction of what they would normally expect.

"The season is gone," he said.

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