On the evening of November 17, the villagers of Hares called and asked people from Gush Shalom to please come there. This Palestinian village is cut off from the world. The army is blockading it — no one is allowed to enter or leave. The olives, the only product of the village, are going to rot on the trees, especially in the orchard bordering the nearby Revava settlement. Anyone trying to harvest there is in mortal danger. A 14-year-old boy — alone in the orchard with his father — was shot and killed there only three days before. The villagers hope that the presence of Israelis will restrain the settlers and soldiers, allowing them to harvest the olives on which their livelihood depends.
Hares is situated on a hill, 100 meters away from the road, near the bypass road connecting Revava to Israel proper. The stretch is an ideal place for villagers to throw stones at settlers’ passing cars. The settlers are angry.
It was not easy for us to decide what to do. We would risk being stoned or shot at by Palestinians, who would think we are settlers. The army would say we were breaking the occupation laws. Gush Shalom activists who can come on a work day include teenagers and elderly people. Was it responsible to ask them to enter a war zone?
On the other hand, in these difficult days, in the middle of the Palestinian war of liberation, it is very important that the threads still connecting Israelis and Palestinians are not broken, as extremists on both sides would wish. These arguments won. By the morning of November 18, 20 activists had volunteered to go, some leaving their jobs for a day. From Jerusalem, another contingent, led by Rabbis for Human Rights, also came.
We entered the village by foot, climbing the hill, crossing a field of desolation — old olive trees cut down, ancient terraces destroyed, apparently to enable the army to shoot without hindrance. On the way to the olive groves, the army stopped us with armored jeeps and heavily armed soldiers. A tough officer quickly filled out a prepared form declaring the Hares groves a “closed military area.” We were requested to leave. We refused. We pointed out that the settlers, who were cursing us, were allowed to pass freely in their cars. Then a superior officer appeared. We were told that he was the brigade commander.
We argued with him. He was a sympathetic, intelligent officer, with a sense of humor, which made what he said even more objectionable. Why the discrimination between the settlers and the Palestinian villagers? Well, it’s because the villagers throw stones. Why punish a whole village for the deeds of a minority? “I am not sure it’s a minority.” It was quite clear that his heart is with the settlers, whose life, as he said, “had become hell.” For him, the Palestinians were enemies. Why does he not permit us to harvest olives? “Because you came here to provoke the settlers.” We answered honestly that we had no such intention.
While this argument went on, our activists started to infiltrate into the groves one by one. The brigade commander could call for reinforcements to get us out by force, or he could allow us to harvest olives. For the next six hours, we picked olives, one by one, from the trees nearest the settlement. We used our hats as containers, until buckets were brought. We climbed trees in order to get at the higher branches. Hard work, but really enjoyable. On the hill opposite us, a cluster of angry, bearded, skull-capped settlers had gathered, but soldiers prevented them from approaching us.
When the villagers saw us working, families of the tree-owners dared to come and harvest too. Friendships developed quickly. Everything was done at a hectic speed. The Palestinians knew that they could work there only as long as we were there. They resorted to work methods that were damaging to the trees, hitting the branches, gathering the olives on nylon sheets spread on the ground, in order to gather as many olives as possible.
When we were about to finish, our cell phone rang. We were asked to come as quickly as possible to the other side of the village, where a confrontation was developing with the army. The villagers wanted to remove the roadblock put up by the army to prevent them from having contact with the neighboring village. The Palestinians calculated that the army would not open fire in the presence of Israelis and foreign TV crews.
We drove into the village. Along the main street, a lot of children were standing around. At some distance, children were throwing stones at each other. Some local youngsters volunteered to tell the children that we were not settlers. Proceeding this way, we were nearing the place of the clash when we were stopped by the village head and an authoritative young man. The head said that the confrontation had ended and that he would show us the place. The young man said that the confrontation was still going on. It was clear that he was the boss. He strongly suggested that we go back the way we had come. But first he gave as a short, passionate speech, in which he called Ehud Barak some highly uncomplimentary names from the animal kingdom.
The village head volunteered to show us to the main road, so that we could view the site of the clash from the army side. But as we were leaving the village, we encountered an army jeep. A sergeant stopped us with a movement of his hand generally reserved for Palestinians. One of us asked him to be polite. He became very angry and told us that we could not leave the village. A blockade was in force: no one comes in, no one goes out. He doesn’t give a damn whether we are Israelis or not. Orders are orders.
Only with great difficulty did we convince him to call his superior, who told him, of course, to let us pass. We reached the main road and got stuck behind a convoy of settlers, when suddenly we were hit by a shower of stones. At some distance we saw a group of small children. At lightning speed police and army jeeps appeared on the scene and took up firing positions opposite the village. But the children had already disappeared.
We decided to make for home. The village head rode with us part of the way. When he got off, we waited to make sure he got home safely. He started to climb the hill, but he had gone no further than a few meters before soldiers ran after him, rifles ready to shoot. We disembarked and convinced the soldiers that the man was not a dangerous terrorist, but a villager who had been kind enough to show us the way. They let him return to his village. But in the meantime, police ticketed our bus, because it was standing on a part of the road where it was not allowed to stand. We finally convinced them to relent. After all, the bus had been standing there only because we were talking with the soldiers.
This is the reality of the occupation in November 2000.