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Farming Palestine

'Palestinian olive farmers face assault and interference by Israeli settlers some of whom are gun-hu

In what is becoming somewhat of an annual tradition, recent weeks have seen dozens of stories in the international media about the difficulties facing Palestinians during the olive harvest season. Ever since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000, the West Bank olive harvest has been extensively covered by the press, with reporters accompanying Palestinian farmers and villagers out to the groves.

The olive harvest, as a proportion of the Palestinian economy, is not particularly big, but for many families and villages, it represents the prime, or even only, source of income. The olive tree is also invested with heavy symbolic value; rooted in the soil, ancient, it has come to represent Palestinian steadfastness in the face of concerted efforts to remove them from their land.

The restrictions and problems faced by the Palestinians are easily summarised: some have land the wrong side of Israel’s Separation Wall, a no-man’s land totalling 10 per cent of the West Bank, increasingly cut off from the rest of the Occupied Territories. Those farmers separated from their groves by the Wall depend on permission by the Israeli military to reach their property, access that is often granted for far less time than is necessary.

There are Palestinians who complain that the IDF, while assisting in some places, cause problems in others. On the other hand, it is clear that in some cases the Civil Administration (the occupation’s bureaucracy for managing the Palestinian population) have coordinated the harvest ahead of time with the military and Palestinian communities, to ensure things go smoothly.

The reason why such a high degree of planning is required is not just because of Israeli measures such as travel permissions, checkpoints, and the Wall. Perhaps the most high-profile problem facing the farmers is assault and interference by Israeli settlers. Not all settlers are gun-hugging bigots – but the ones that are, cannot bear the sight of Palestinians working the land of ‘Judea and Samaria’ that belongs to the Jewish people.

Palestinians, international observers, and Israeli volunteers have all been subjected to threats, physical attack, intimidation, while olive trees and harvest tools have been vandalised. The extent of the violence across the West Bank provoked Ehud Barak into publicly lambasting the settlers responsible as “hooligans”, while Mahmoud Abbas wondered why the Israeli army could not simply stop the settlers.

The story of the olive harvest is repeated in similar fashion: Palestinian villagers face numerous obstacles due to Israeli security measures and the risk of attacks by extremist settlers. Some Israeli soldiers help and some don’t seem to do much, while other Israelis – like Rabbis for Human Rights – have actually chosen to help the Palestinians harvest.

This is often as far as it goes, with the bigger picture left out. Firstly, and obviously, the restrictions faced by Palestinians and enforced by the IDF are not just a problem in October and November, but all year round. Secondly, while sometimes presented as regrettably harsh but necessary security measures, the network of checkpoints, limited access roads and barriers – reinforced by paperwork – are in fact elements of the apartheid system in the West Bank, separating Israelis and Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land and livelihoods.

Secondly, a lot of the coverage of events in the West Bank in recent months has given the impression that there is increased tension and violence between settlers and Palestinians on account of a new, more ‘radical’ generation emerging – the so-called ‘hilltop youth’ settlers – who defy their elders and set up unauthorised outposts outside the established colony’s boundaries.

Yet these outposts are a distraction, their ‘illegality’ an entirely disingenuous distinction between one kind of illegitimate colony and another. Moreover, the problem in the West Bank is not one of ‘religious extremist’ settlers; it is the entire Israeli ‘matrix of control’ and colony network that covers Palestinian land with land-grabbing, territory-fragmenting fortresses.

The main settlement blocs, state-sponsored of course, have even been growing, along with their associated settler-only roads, ‘security’ buffer zones and the like. The right-wing nuts in the outposts might get the headlines, but it is the blocs of Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion (not to mention the East Jerusalem) that mean Palestinian statehood remains a hypothetical rather than anything approaching reality.

A reporter on the Arabic TV network Abu Dhabi observed the hurried, furtive olive-picking of the Palestinians and noted how it looked as if the farmers were stealing their own olives. An aptly ironic microcosm of Palestinian life under Israeli rule, as they are made to feel like interlopers in their own land by both settler extremists, and the Israeli state itself.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State