For 55 years, an elfin, sun-wrinkled woman named Diyaa Shatara
has come to these fields in early November, spreading blankets
under the olive trees while the men in her family shake the fruit
from their silvery green boughs. Olives fall, leaves are culled,
the fruit is bagged. The rhythms are as old as the trees themselves
- planted by the Romans, Mrs. Shatara says. But the recent violence
is making this a bitter harvest.
Farmers have been shot, and trees bulldozed. For Palestinians,
the risk to the olive harvest is one of many economic challenges
stemming from their uprising or intifadah, along with Israeli
limits on their movements and shipments. But if the economy is a
weapon, it is a double-edged one, which hurts the Israelis as well.
The six-week-old uprising has only served to underscore the
intimate economic relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli
societies. Since Israel's economy is 20 times the size of the
Palestinians', Israel has that much more insulation against
financial hardship. On both sides, though, the fallout is plain to
West Bank construction sites stand empty. Gaza Strip grocery
stores have so few customers that clerks convert checkout stands
into food displays. And in homes across the territories, budgets
are being reexamined.
In order to control the uprising that has claimed more than 190
lives to date, Israel has curtailed the movement of goods and
people to, from and within the territories.
Day laborers working in Israel account for 20 percent of the
Palestinians' $5 billion annual gross domestic product. With 120,000
of those workers now unable to get to their jobs, the loss of
revenue has triggered an economic slide, says Palestinian economy
minister Maher al-Masri.
"First labor is cut off, Palestinian purchasing power slows by
the day, more businesses shut down, then industry slows because of
lack of raw materials," says Mr. Al-Masri. He also says that
imports and exports are deliberately held up by Israeli security
Muhammad Shatayyeh, managing director of the Palestinian Economic
Council for Development and Reconstruction, says the conflict shows
the degree of Israeli control over the Palestinian economy.
He points out that not only is 80 percent of Palestinian trade
with Israel, but Israel controls all Palestinian land-and-sea
routes to the outside world. "They control 100 percent of our
electricity, they have their hand on our water taps," he says. "It
shows you how fragile our economy is."
For many ordinary Palestinians, the troubled olive harvest is a
more immediate concern. They must be picked now or lost. Olives are
a central part of life and account for a quarter of Palestinian
agricultural output. This year promised a bounty crop after a few
drought-plagued seasons, but getting olives off the trees has proved
The left-wing Israeli activist group Gush Shalom has documented
several attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers. At
least two farmers have been killed while working in their olive
orchards and scores have been injured, according to the Palestinian
Agricultural Relief Committees. In the Gaza Strip, more than 250
acres of olive trees have been uprooted by Israel, according to the
Palestinian Center for Human Rights. …