Olive tree sabotage plagues Palestinian farmers

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More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations. (AFP)
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Palestinian farmer Mahmoud Abu Shinar stands next to destroyed olive trees, near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, north of Ramallah. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018

Olive tree sabotage plagues Palestinian farmers

  • Olives are perhaps the most well-known and abundant Palestinian product
  • More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations

NABLUS, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian farmer Mahmud Abu Shinar surveys two rows of severed olive trees — something he says has become a sadly familiar sight.
He didn’t see who took a chainsaw to them at night, but he blames residents of an Israeli settlement a few hundred meters (yards) away.
“We came on Sunday and were shocked that all these trees were cut down,” Abu Shinar said.
“I called the landowner. They came and the (Israeli) army and security forces came too. But of course, it was useless.”
Olives are perhaps the most well-known and abundant Palestinian product, with trees lining valleys and terraced hillsides throughout the occupied West Bank.
The first rains after the hot summer months are the signal for farmers to begin harvesting their crop, but it can come with risks.
In many places, farmers say they face intimidation and violence from nearby settlers and call in support from foreign and Israeli supporters, including Jewish rabbis, to protect them and their crops.
Some of the incidents are seen as attempts at revenge following Palestinian attacks on Israelis, even if the farmers targeted were not involved.
In other cases, say rights groups, there is little motivation other than just to destroy Palestinian property.
Some rights groups have distributed video footage of such incidents in a bid to pressure Israeli authorities to act.
Israeli settlers charge that their crops have also been damaged by Palestinians, including an incident in May when around 1,000 grapevines were allegedly destroyed.
More than 7,000 Palestinian-owned trees have been vandalized so far this year, according to the United Nations.
In the whole of 2017, it was less than 6,000, the year before only 1,600.
Abu Shinar said that in recent weeks around 200 trees had been destroyed in fields he works on near Ramallah in the central West Bank, costing thousands of dollars in lost earnings.
“They want the land,” he said, of the settlers. “Who else would come and commit a crime like this?”
The body that represents West Bank settlements said there was also an increase in attacks on Israeli-owned farms, labelling it “agricultural terror.”
Israeli police said they were “investigating a number of incidents when damage was caused to olive trees.”
“There have also been a number of complaints made by Jewish owners of fields of damage caused to olive trees.”
Patrols have been stepped up, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
But rights groups charge that Palestinian crops have long been vandalized by settlers without any serious effort by the authorities to stop it.
Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements that dot the West Bank and range in size from large towns to tiny hamlets.
The international community considers them illegal.
A few dozen kilometers north of Abu Shinar’s trees near the city of Nablus, a small group huddles under a tree, picking through the leaves for olives.
Just 10 meters away stands an abandoned house daubed with Hebrew graffiti, while the Israeli settlement of Har Brakha is over a hill.
Israeli forces patrol the area, with one soldier telling the Palestinians they are “there to help.”
But the farmers said that two days earlier settlers had run down and damaged trees. They claimed the army is often slow to react and sides with settlers.
They invite international and Israeli supporters to attend the picking season to help protect themselves.
Retired British woman Caroline, who declined to give her full name, said she had been coming each year for a decade to work with Palestinian communities close to “particularly difficult settlements.”
This year, she said, she went with a female farmer to her land near a settlement, but the army blocked their path.
“When she eventually got into the groves, 100 of her trees had been chainsawed down by settlers. There weren’t even any olives for us to pick,” she said.
Rabbi Gil Nativ makes sure to wear his kippa cap as he picks olives to show Palestinians not all Jews support Israeli settlement expansion.
“Some (Israelis) consider us as traitors,” said Nativ, who volunteers for the Rabbis for Human Rights organization.
“For me the main principle of the Jewish faith is all men are created in the image of God and all human beings are descendants of the same Adam and Eve.”
Yigal Dilmoni, CEO of the Yesha Council which represents Israeli settlements, said in a statement to AFP that they “deplore all acts of vandalism and purposeful destruction of property.”
He highlighted a series of Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlements.

A project helps Syrian entrepreneurs in four countries escape the shadow of war

Updated 13 December 2019

A project helps Syrian entrepreneurs in four countries escape the shadow of war

  • Start-ups are offered competitions, bootcamps and training programs
  • 'Spark' has been running an entrepreneurship program for five years

CAIRO: The Startup Roadshow was founded in 2018 to help Syrian refugees and expats in four different countries: Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan.

It was established when Spark, a Dutch organization supporting youth projects all over the world, reached out to Jusoor.

“We have been running our entrepreneurship program for five years, and we’ve been running training boot camps and competitions for Syrian startups,” said Dania Ismail, board member and director of Jusoor’s Entrepreneurship Program.

“We have also developed our own proprietary training curriculum, which is tailored to Syrian entrepreneurs, in the region and around the world.”

Spark sought out Jusoor to create a project to support Syrian entrepreneurs in those four countries, later bringing on Startups Without Borders to handle the competition’s outreach, marketing and PR.

“We came up with this idea where a team of trainers, facilitators, and mentors would move from one city to another because it’s hard for Syrian youth to travel around. So, we decided to go to them,” said Ismail, a Syrian expat all her life.

The competition goes through five cities: Beirut, Irbil, Amman, Gaziantep and İstanbul.

The boot camps last for five days in each city, and throughout the Roadshow, 100 entrepreneurs will undergo extensive training and one-on-one mentorship to develop their skills and insights into the business world.

“We have five modules that are taught on different days. Then, the pitches are developed, practiced and presented,” Ismail, 39, said.

“In each location, we pick the top two winners — in total, we’ll have top 10 winners from each city.”

The top 10 teams pitched their ideas live in front of a panel of judges, at the second edition of Demo Day 2019, which was held in Amman on Nov. 4.

The best three Syrian-led startups won cash prizes of $15,000, $10,000, and $7,000, respectively.

They also had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas during Spark Ignite’s annual conference in Amsterdam. The competition aims to give young Syrians the hard-to-get chance to secure a foothold in the business world.

“We’re trying to empower young Syrians who are interested in the entrepreneurial and tech space. We want to empower them with knowledge, skills and confidence to launch their ideas,” Ismail said.

Despite the limited duration of the Roadshow and the lack of financial aid, the people behind the program still do their best to help all applicants.

“We try as much as possible to continue supporting them on their journeys with mentorship, advice and connections through our very large network of experts and entrepreneurs,” she said.

Jusoor’s efforts to help Syrian youth do not stop at the Roadshow, and the future holds much in store for this fruitful collaboration.

“We’re expanding our entrepreneurship program, and our next project will be an accelerator program that will continue working with a lot of the promising teams that come out of the Startup Roadshow,” Ismail said.

“We want to provide something that has a partial online component and a partial on-ground one, as well as an investment component where these companies receive funding as investment, not just grants and prizes,” she said in relation to the second phase of the Entrepreneurship Program, which is launching in 2020.

Ismail said: “The Roadshow was created so that Syrian youth can have the chance to change their reality, becoming more than victims of an endless war.

“The competition gives them the tools to become active members of society, wherever they may be, contributing to the economies of those countries.

“Once you’ve built up this generation and given them those skills and expertise, they’ll be the generation that comes back to rebuild the economy in Syria, once things are stable enough there.

“We hope that a lot of these young entrepreneurs the Startup Roadshow was able to inspire, train or help will be the foundation for the future of a small- to medium-sized economy inside Syria.”


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.