Fahmeyeh Fakheideh, farmer
My husband died when I was young. I have two married sons and also grandchildren. My husband and I had 12 dunams of land with very old olive trees. The land lies in the area of al- Al-Muttawe', about one kilometer east of my village, al-Janiya. When my children were young, I used to pick the olives on my own while my mother-in-law watched the children. When they grew up, they began helping me in the orchard. Nobody disturbed us and the money from the olive harvest enabled me to pay back debts, cover house expenses, and buy necessities. Our profit ranged from 1,500 to 2,000 dinars a year (1 Jordanian dinar = ~5 shekels). I also receive about 70 dinars a month, an allotment based on my late husband's job in the PLO.
About six years ago, settlers built a new settlement next to the Talmon settlement. They brought caravans and paved a bypass road. Six dunams of my land were enclosed by the new settlement's fence and six remained outside it. This land is my primary source of income, and I didn't know what to do. Because I was afraid of the settlers, at the beginning, I didn't try to go to my land that was inside the settlement.
"Zait Ra'ana", an extension of Talmon settlement that was built on Fakheideh's farmland. Photo: Iyad Haddad, B'Tselem./>
During the first year after the settlement was built, the settlers saw us picking the olives on our land outside the settlement's fence. They chased us and we ran away, leaving behind the ladders, sheets [that were laid on the ground to collect the olives], and the sack of olives we had already picked. We waited another two or three days to return. We hoped they would forget us. When we returned, we saw that somebody had burned the ladders and sheets and dumped the olives on the ground.
Another time, the settlers chased us, this time with their rifles. We were frightened, and we fled with the olives like thieves. After that, we began hiding the picked olives in the trunk of a tree, removing them at the end of each day. When we finish working, we load the olives on our heads and backs and walk 50 meters to the road, or call for someone to come and take us home by car. We don't dare speak with the settlers and confront them. Every time we see a settler, we hide. Settlement security people drive around the settlement, and every time they approach us, we hide and feel horrible, as if we are robbers on our land. We live in fear. When we are on the land, we just wait for the day to end so we can go home in peace. Our greatest fear is that the settlers will harm the children.
In the past three years, we have had to coordinate our entry into the lands that are located behind the fence. In the plowing season, which is in May, we can enter for a day or two, and they let us use tractors so that we can do the plowing quickly. In October, the harvest season, we can enter, usually for about 20-25 days, depending on how much fruit there is.
We arrive at 7:00 in the morning at the gate of the settlement, but can enter the orchard only after the police and army show up, and the settlers open the gate to the settlement. Sometimes, we have to wait in the heat until 9:00 or 10:00 for them to arrive. Soldiers enter in front and behind us, and accompany us to the orchard, and stay with us until 4:00, when they remove us. The soldiers are always next to us. They frighten us. To pray or go to the bathroom, we go where they can't see us. We are so rushed to finish the work that we have even stopped making tea and coffee over an open fire, and we bring it prepared. We eat quickly to finish and go home. Sometimes, the settlers try to attack us, but the soldiers don't let them.
In the past, we used to plow the land twice in the season. I nurtured the trees and they produced lots of fruit. Since the settlement was built, and we don't have free access, production has fallen because we don't care for the trees like we should, and don't plow the land. Once, in good years, we got enough olives for 50 to 60 tins of oil. Now, we get 20 to 30 tins in a good year. In seasons that are not so good, we go only to make our presence known and barely pick enough to fill a sack or two.
We used to love the harvest season. We would stay until the evening and not want to go home. We would drink tea and coffee and eat and listen to music and news in our orchard, and be happy. I would even cook there and prepare maklubeh, which really tasted good because we cooked it on the open fire. Now we don't dare talk while we're in the orchard, because we are afraid the settlers will hear us. We don't even dare say “be quiet” to the children.
Our situation would be much better if they hadn't built the settlement and the fence. We could have grown vegetables and planted more olive trees. Young trees and seasonal crops demand almost day-to-day care and watering, which we can't do. Now, we can enter our land only during the olive-picking season and only for a limited number of hours.
When I go onto the roof of my house and look at my land and olive trees, I feel sad, as if I were going to die from the sadness. The olive trees are dear to me, but there is nothing I can do to improve the situation. I barely manage to cover the household expenses. I raised my children as orphans and the olive trees were an alternative source of income after my husband died. Luckily, my children have grown and have jobs. Otherwise, I don't know how we'd get by.
Fahmeyeh Fakheideh, 55, married with two children, is a farmer and a resident of al-Janiya, Ramallah District. His testimony was given to Iyad Haddad on 27 July 2008 at the witness's home.