Every autumn, Mina Tours UK and the Friends of Madama and Burin coordinate a team of up to 30 volunteers to go out and support Palestinian farmers bringing home their valuable olive harvest. The aim is not just to pick olives, but also to be with the farmers in case of Israeli settler or army harassment.
In the UK we ask interested volunteers to complete an application form which is followed up by a phone interview. A training and assessment weekend is later organised by the Friends of Madama and Burin where the team discusses the practice of non-violence in the specific context of Palestine and the cultural issues involved. In one or two cases the applicant may be considered unsuitable for the tour.
How the tour works
We start in Jerusalem where members of the group meet, staying at hostels or hotels at their own expense, before setting off the next day for the West Bank by public transport. The group is split into three or four teams, staying in different villages for the fortnight, with one day off. This gives time for side-trips to Nablus, Ramallah or Jericho.
Volunteers need to be fit, able to walk about 5 km a day, often uphill over steep, rough terrain, as well as harvest from early morning till late afternoon. Conditions are basic with shared bedrooms and washing facilities for which we pay a modest rent to the house-owner. Cooking facilities are rudimentary, but village shops are reasonably well stocked. Volunteers must be ready to share cooking and/or cleaning responsibilities in the house they stay in - a kitty system is set up for food.
It is not all tough though. The Palestinians are welcoming and appreciative of our presence as it means they have not been forgotten. Harvesting itself is sociable and fun, bringing friendships with the farming families and also between the volunteers. One of the greatest pleasures is sitting down for a sunny picnic lunch in an olive grove, sharing farmers' homemade food (laced with fresh olive oil) and our own contributions, and hearing their stories. Another is getting a tractor ride to or from the olive grove!
What is Protective Presence exactly?
We offer solidarity to the farming communities who are most at risk from settler and army harassment in the West Bank. Settler violence and the military closure of olive groves and access routes have created severe problems for Palestinian farmers and families. The groves that are closest to Israeli settlements are most threatened. Although our presence usually deters attacks, volunteers have on occasion been targeted.
For the last few years we have been part of the Protection Cluster in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This is coordinated by OHCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) to collate information about antagonistic settler activity; we register any incident that we witness, whether theft of olives, destruction of trees or actual physical attacks. This provides statistical evidence of settler violence and the lack of law enforcement and accountability by Israeli authorities. Participation in the harvest can be life-changing. The opportunity to witness at first-hand the conditions in villages of the occupied West Bank enables better campaigning against the injustices as well as an understanding of the value of olive oil in the fragile Palestinian economy. Just as importantly, however, are the friendships struck up by our visits, as these personal connections with the Palestinians bring authenticity and passion to the articles and talks we make on our return. We welcome applications from people of all ages, backgrounds and with differing levels of experience in NVDA and the Palestinian context. Below you will find more information in reports and photographs from past volunteers.