“The land is dignity and we fight for our dignity,” says Ghassan, 33 years old, graduated in English Philology, farmer by choice in Burin, 12 kilometers south of Nablus, the largest agricultural area in the region and one of the hot spots of the West Bank. The village of Burin, in fact, is surrounded by 3 Israeli colonies, among the most aggressive of the occupied territories: Yitzhar, Bracha, Givat Ronen. A total of 1200 settlers, Zionists mainly of American origin, who disrupt the lives of 3500 locals, claiming ownership of the land in defiance of international law which has repeatedly sanctioned the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in defiance of the Geneva Convention of 1949, signed by Israel, prohibiting an occupying state from transferring civilians to occupied territories.
By Alessia Ricci
Yet since 2002, the average [number] of settler attacks on Palestinian land and homes in this area has been 3-4 times a week. In the middle of the night or during the day, they arrive in groups of 30-40 people, throw stones, often Molotov cocktails, burn cars, set fire to the land and olive trees, the main cultivation of this area and of Palestine. They cut down the trees, poison the land and the few water resources left to the Palestinians.
Today the attacks are made worse by an aggravating circumstance: Israel is welcoming thousands of Ukrainian refugees from the Jewish religion. [ It is] a controversial policy announced as early as 2022 by the World Zionist Organization, Yishai Merling, which presented at least 1000 colonies in the Occupied Territories ready to receive Ukrainian Jews and integrate them into the life of the settlers. 500 have arrived in Burin, bringing the number of settlers from 1200 to 1700. Ghassan tells us that they receive real training to allow them to be an active part in the settlers’ aggression policies.
When we met Ghassan, in the week preceding the interview alone, the first of August, 83 olive trees had been burned. Since 2004, the number of olive trees destroyed has amounted to 16,000, as reported in the district register. In this context, people live in terror. But the agricultural community does not give up : “If they cut down one tree we plant 600. They try to change the geography of our land: we cannot allow it. We must get up every morning and fight for our dignity.”
Ghassan’s commitment in this sense is also realized through an agricultural cooperative: the “Land and Farming Cooperative Association” in which 13 women and 2 men participate, including him who chairs it.
The 15 are all graduates. In fact, Palestine is the Arab country with the highest rate of graduates: it boasts enormous skills in the face of limited opportunities.
The young members have just over a hectare and a half, they have 3 greenhouses, and they mainly grow vegetables; they are trying viticulture but it is too expensive.
The cooperative is extraordinarily innovative in various aspects: it is agroecological, social, and revolutionary.
They work with compost, they have turned their backs on the agrochemical industry, they have created a laboratory where they can study new techniques, for example, to combat the poison that settlers throw on the land and plants, and they have created a school of agroecology, to transfer the skills acquired.
15% of sales go to the Burin community and they provide the livelihood of 15 families in economic difficulty by giving them the harvest necessary for sustenance free of charge.
Finally, men and women work together, a synergy not foreseen by local culture. Ghassan summarizes by saying that theirs is a triple challenge:
against the attacks of the settlers, against the agrochemical industry, purely Israeli, which threatens them because they do not buy their products, and against the local farmers, for whom the ecological value is difficult to understand as they are crushed by years of chemical logic as well as by cultural dynamics that are not very intersectional.
But the fruits of this work are arriving and as Ghassan says “so far we haven’t made any money but we have put an idea across and now the farmers come to ask us for advice, they want to join the cooperative”.
In the face of this smile, of this extraordinary energy for the dignity of all Palestinians, the difficulties remain very high.
Burin is in Area C for 90% of the territory, therefore under Israeli military and civil control according to the Oslo Accords, which makes it almost impossible to access the land occupied by Israel. Irrigation water here costs 5 times more than the price paid by Israeli farmers. Access to water is limited throughout Palestine. The springs are arbitrarily annexed by the settlers. Of the 7 present in the Burin territory, for example, 5 are controlled by settlers, inaccessible to locals. Palestinian fruit and vegetable markets are flooded with Israeli products, and government support for Israeli farmers is for the sole benefit of the latter. It is an unequal struggle on all fronts, which is why the agroecological cooperative Land and farming cooperative association is appealing for international support for the acquisition of agroecological skills, for the exchange of good practices or to support projects aimed at creating land perimeters, irrigation systems, compost. Italy shares the Mediterranean agricultural tradition with Palestine and boasts a record in ecological production: the opportunity for participatory solidarity is given!