A symbol of peace uprooted
In the West Bank, where terraced hillsides are brushed with low-lying, gnarled olive trees, olives are a staple crop for rural villagers – keeping food on the table of the impoverished and providing extra cash for the better off.
Olives have been known as a symbol of peace and good will from antiquity. The harvest once was an anticipated time of festivity for villagers, But over the past decade it has become a source of strife and fear.
After the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, Israel's army began restricting access to olive groves by declaring security zones around settlements. The separation barrier snaking through the West Bank to block potential bombers from reaching Israeli cities made reaching groves harder still. Palestinians accused settlers of picking fights with them.
Despite a 2006 Israeli High Court decision ordering the army to guard Palestinian farmers during the harvest and a recent relaxation in movement restrictions, Palestinians reported new incidents last month in which trees have been cut down or burned, as well as settler intimidation.
Salah says that when the fire broke out that damaged his trees and 600 others, Israeli soldiers prevented Palestinian firefighters from dousing the fire for at least an hour. "We were going crazy,'' he says. "We couldn't do anything.''